How to Begin a Career in Acting

Profile of actress under spotlight on stage.
Dougal Waters / Getty Images

Did you know that there are more than 120,000 Screen Actors Guild members? Do you want to break into show business, but have no idea where to start? All your life, people have told you that you were born to be an actor, now here's your chance to really do it.

There are several things you must ask yourself before making any decisions:

  • What special talents do you have: Do you sing or dance?
  • What type of acting do you want to pursue: TV, film, or stage?
  • Are you prepared to accept rejection?
  • Are you prepared to accept a LOT of rejection?
  • Are you willing to dedicate yourself to acting, no matter how many years it takes?

When Sarah Michelle Gellar was four years old, she was discovered by an agent while eating in a restaurant. While these things do happen, they are extremely rare. Most actors spend years honing their craft and attending auditions before they get their big break.

Start with an Acting Class

You might be tempted to jump into the audition process, but if you are a beginner with no training, the best thing to do is find an acting class. No matter how good you may think you are, the last thing you want is to start an audition without knowing what you're doing.

Most actors have spent years training to become good enough for small parts. Acting is as much art as it is a talent and classes allow you to hone your technique.
In addition to attending acting classes and/or workshops, you'll need to get some headshots made and begin preparing a portfolio.

Building Experience

Once you're ready for auditions, check to see if your area has a community theater and pursue your first gig. There you can meet other local actors, build your community and support system, and learn from their experience.

You should also consider finding work as an extra. This will give you a better understanding of how television shows or movies are made.

If you live near a big city, check to see where upcoming films are being shot. Central Casting is a great place to find auditions for background roles in the New York and Los Angeles area.

Finding Auditions

There are a tremendous number of websites that offer auditions and casting calls. Most of these sites charge a fee to view the listings, so finding a reliable website is a matter of trial and error.

At some point early in your career, you'll need to join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and/or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

One of the most important things to remember is that learning this craft never ends. Even actors who have scored roles on major television shows continue to learn from their fellow actors. Don't ever take your knowledge for granted and always be open to suggestions.

Much luck on your journey to becoming the next Edie Falco or Hugh Laurie!