13 Things You’ll Experience On Your Way to Becoming a Working Actor

Between weirdly timed naps, self-taped auditions, and existential crises, an actor’s journey can be very rewarding.

When it comes to working in the Entertainment industry, one universal truth is that everyone’s path is different, and there’s no magic formula to absolute success. That said, there are some experiences you are likely to have on your way to turn your passion into your profession.

1.) When you tell people your goals, some will assume you just want to be famous.

…as if there’s no other possible reason or motivation behind being an actor.

You might also be met with the occasional impulsive challenge to “prove” your ability, such as, “oh, you act? CRY right now!!!” Or the (somehow worse), “oh, you act? Have I seen you in anything?” Even if you have been in something well-known, these questions feel a bit patronizing.

A common misconception about all creative pursuits is that our success is defined by fame, when in reality, earning a living doing what you love, even without major recognition, is what makes you a professional.

2.) You’ll try to get away with using a selfie, or cropping an image from some other amateur photo shoot, as a headshot.

It might be a great picture, but trust me, casting directors know the difference, and it shows them that you’re new to the business.

You’ll learn that you need an array of professional headshots with different looks, because your glam modeling shots aren’t the most appropriate submissions for commercial or TV roles.

That said…

3.) You’ll get used to seeing yourself in new ways.

You may have a “normal” way you’re comfortable dressing or doing your makeup, but you’ll learn to let go of your ego and realize: that’s not you in the mirror, it’s your character.

You’ll figure out how to present yourself for a wide range of roles, from music video vixen to suburban parent, and everything in-between. Sure, there are usually people on set to help you achieve the desired look of the day, but unless you’re specifically asked to come with a fresh face, they’ll always appreciate you arriving as camera-ready as possible.

And besides, that’s only after you book the role. You’re on your own for auditions. Speaking of which…

4.) You’ll experience your fair share of rejection.

All actors are denied for more roles than they book, and you’ll learn not to take it personally. You’ll take constructive criticism with grace, and you’ll let go of opportunities that just weren’t made for you.

Fun Fact: Seth Rogan auditioned for the role of Dwight in The Office. His audition wasn’t necessarily bad. He just wasn’t the right fit. Yet he obviously moved on to be the right fit for many other great roles.

You’ll sometimes end up in positions you wouldn’t have imagined for yourself, but this will always turn out to be a valuable time of growth. That stands true, both on, and off-screen.

5.) If you’re offered an opportunity to work behind the scenes, even on a small indie project, you’ll take it!

Many industry powerhouses (like Seth, for example), are jacks-of-all-trades, ultimately writing, producing, and even directing their own films and shows in addition to acting! The more you know, the more of an asset you become.

And contrary to popular belief, set assistants don’t only go on coffee runs and set up crafty. As with any job, you get what you give.

So if you’re actively looking help whoever you can, with whatever you can, on any set, (without, of course, getting in the way or being a pest), your presence can be beneficial and enriching for all parties involved.

Plus, you can become better actor to work with by participating in all that goes on behind the camera to make that “Hollywood magic” happen.

6.) All of a sudden you’ll realize, you can’t watch anything without thinking about the making-of.

But that’s not a bad thing. Critical thinking is a valuable skill, and being able to recognize the good and bad in the media you consume is essentially studying for a raise in your job!

This is an actor’s brain when viewing any movie or TV show: “oops, continuity slip-up”, “this dialogue sounds unnatural but the they’re delivering the lines well”, “wow, that entire scene was CGI”, “the attention to detail in this set design is incredible”, and my personal favorite, “OMG… that extra looks so awkward.”

Speaking of extras…

7.) You will probably, at some point, do some background work.

And there’s no shame in that! Unless you get scouted off the street for something specific, which, honestly, rarely happens, your first few days on set will likely be as… well… a human prop.

Although background gigs aren’t exactly resume builders, they can be a really fun, easy way to get used to set-life.

Not to mention, all the down-time (likely without phones, because you’re on a job after all, and you’re not allowed to take photos) is a great opportunity to build rapport with your coworkers for the day, many of whom, you’re likely to meet again.

Regarding that “no photos” policy…

8.) You’ll probably end up in close proximity with celebrities sometimes, and you’ll learn to be cool about it.

You’ll remember that you’re not a crazed fan on the street; you’re a work associate, and you’ll conduct yourself as such.

You might even score a featured role and end up interacting with, or even taking direction from, an idol of yours. Congrats! But despite how excited you may be, you’ll realize your new A-list acquaintance is a person like you… only with a lot more industry knowledge and experience.

Sometimes stars end up being incredibly friendly and will banter on set, strike up conversation after wrap, or even offer to take photos with you, but you’ll know to never ask or be the instigator!

9.) You’ll get used to not having a “regular” schedule.

“The weekend” means nothing to you.

You might work from 2 AM to noon, have the next few days off set, (still hustling, doing auditions, curating your online presence, and going to classes), then get back to work 1 PM to midnight for a week straight. You just never know.

Some perks are that you can often avoid rush hour, overtime is common (which is a good thing when you love your job and extra money), you eat a lot of your meals on set, so you don’t have to worry too much about cooking, and you can go to the gym at weird hours to get the place to yourself.

Some downsides are that it’s nearly impossible to make plans with friends ahead of time, your car will likely turn into a mobile wardrobe (which can be seen as good or bad), and you can’t exactly have a disciplined sleep schedule or routine…

But you probably don’t like to the same thing every day anyway, so it’s fine.

10.) You’ll also get used to not having a regular “office”.

You’ll work in a lot of different environments, some of which, will be much more pleasant than others, but you’ll be excited about it all.

From lounging by a pool at a hillside Malibu mansion, to shivering the rain outside a creepy cabin in the woods, you’ll get to experience alternate lives you perhaps wouldn’t otherwise. Fully embracing these unique pockets of existence can be an inspiring practice in creativity and empathy.

11.) You will sometimes work with difficult people.

Despite how absolutely amazing your job can be, someone with a bad attitude can always find something to complain about.

Some examples of general buzzkill statements you may hear a bit too often are “my feet hurt”, “I’m tired”, “they’re taking too long to set up”, “it’s so hot out”, and “lunch sucked today”.

But at least you’ll learn not to be that person.

12.) You will get to work with some of the most interesting, fun, intelligent, creative, amazing people too.

From potentially performing alongside people who influenced your original decision to do what you do, to producing your own projects with like-minded individuals you meet along the way, to actually delivering performances that move an audience… acting is, at it’s core, about human connection.

So when you stay busy, keep the right mindset, are easy to work with, and foster the relationships you make, you’ll likely build some real friendships and partnerships for life.

13.) Finally, you’ll learn new things every single day.

Society, as well as the media industry, is constantly evolving, so you should be too. Whether you’re focused on comedy, science fiction, teen drama, or looking to win an Oscar, you’ll realize how education, whether through schooling, research, or experience, is the root of any job well done.

You will, perhaps, have an occasional breakdown about whether you know anything at all. But then you’ll be re-inspired, day after day…

and it’ll all be so, so worth it.

(A)uthor/ctress/rtist/ctivist/thlete | instagram.com/julietfessel

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store