You’re probably thinking: how can an actor under thirty talk about having a long-lasting acting career, when it’s barely even started!? Well, at the tender age of twenty-nine, I can already see talented actors dropping like flies and missing out on work for a number of reasons. For many, there are the usual suspects—financial pressures, rejection, lack of opportunities—but for others, it’s completely of their own doing. That’s why I wanted to write an article discussing some of the good habits that will lead to a lasting career.
I have had the awesome privilege over the years to sit down with some leading actors in our industry, from Hugo Weaving to Sarah Snook. And, funnily enough, you do start to see some patterns forming. While there is, of course, a huge amount of luck in this game, if you want to keep getting employed you should start to develop the following 10 habits…
#1 Stop climbing.
Focus less on reaching “career goals” and try to reach creative goals. It’s not about landing a role in a successful TV show, but instead about working with a TV director you resonate with. When all of your goals are simply based on success, fame or money, people can feel it. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t have all those things, but they are the by-products of being part of great projects. Seek out great writers, and other creatives—nurture your creative community and surround yourself with inspiring people who have motivated and focused energies. We guarantee you that you’ll feel the same way.
Idea: If you’re having a quiet year, take a look at a scene or a script you absolutely love and see if you can put it on with some friends. And if you’re looking for something a little more daunting, why not write a vehicle for yourself?
#2 Stop competing.
Your fellow actors are not your competition. I know it can feel that way as you are sitting in the waiting room with six other people who look just like you, but having a competitive attitude is not productive. It creates a feeling of scarcity and leads to bitterness, jealousy and resentment. Encourage friends, help others with auditions, and celebrate other people’s success stories. As Tony Robbins as it sounds, being supportive of other people’s success will inevitably lead to your own success.
“Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours.” Les Smith
This actually leads neatly into our next point, and it’s a doozy:
#3 Stop being too cool for your friends.
Your friends become the industry. The end.
So many actors are trying to get ahead of their peers, preferring a networking night over seeing your mate’s theatre production. This desire to make connections in the industry is admirable, but don’t leave your friends in the dust. When it comes to the entertainment business: “nobody knows anything,” (or so said screenwriting great William Goldman). Who, in your professional circle, can you safely write-off as having no chance whatsoever of influencing your career in the future? In 10-15 years time, your friends could be casting directors, ADs of theatre companies, even a famous star who puts you up for a supporting role in their next blockbuster! Moreover, in the 20-30 years after that, some of them will be industry leaders. Rise up together.
#4 Cut the attitude.
All great directors love working with creative and opinionated actors. They love seeing bold choices and having a collaborative approach. However, this isn’t always a utopian process. Sometimes directors are rushed, stressed or occasionally just don’t care. Whatever the situation, don’t EVER bite back. Don’t get snarky, don’t give attitude. Always be on your best behaviour, a bad reputation travels fast, and it’s not worth getting worked up over. You’ll inevitably be working with some terrible directors and other creatives, you’ll just have to find ways to work with them, and not against them. There are lessons to be learned from facing hardships. But in saying that, there is also a level of “terrible” that should not be tolerated, such as abuse and sexual harassment, in which case – please, do not stay silent. Just evaluate each situation as it arises, and ask for help or guidance if you need it.
#5 Start being good to people.
I am fortunate enough to be close friends with one of the most giving actors in the industry, Travis Jeffery. Travis has been an inspiration to me as an actor, but also as a person. Every project he works on, from a small TV role to a major film, he always goes out of his way to make cast and crew alike feel supported and cared for. He meticulously picks out gifts for everyone at the end of each production, and leaves behind a swarm of fans from Costume Designers to Camera Assistants. Travis does this because he is through and through a good guy, but I’m sure it has also been a huge factor in his re-employment. From directors to TV executives, they want to work with him again, because he is a great presence on set. This doesn’t mean you can simply “buy” a career by being nice to everyone, but it doesn’t hurt to be a good person to be around.
Idea: Next time you’re on set, make it your goal to at least say hello to every crew member. Bonus points if you can remember names.
#6 Stay in touch.
Every play I have ever been a part of has been like a little family. Of course, there are spats and people fall out at times, but mostly there is a lot of love and mutual respect. But often, once the play ends and real life creeps back in, you lose touch with the other actors. Don’t let this community go! Stay in touch with actors, and other creatives. Not only will this lead to more opportunities, but it will help you stay inspired and develop a great support network. If you can, make the effort to support the work of others: go see their shows and message them to tell them how amazing they were! Even if you were less than inspired.
Idea: Reach out to someone you loved working with who you haven’t contacted in a while.
#7 Start setting achievable goals.
Actors often underestimate what they can do in three years, and overestimate what they can do in six months. I get emails from lots of actors who want to land great agents who have been in the business for less than a year. Sorry, team: that’s just not how it goes. I also hear from actors who have been “acting” for 10-15 years and still are represented by an extras agency and have never been part of a paid production. The actors who have lasting careers set real and tangible goals, that are grounded in working with great people on great projects. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve been asleep at the wheel of your career for a bit (we’re all guilty of this at some point), there’s plenty you can do to get your head back in the game!
Idea: Spend an afternoon reassessing where you are at. Set some goals for the next 6 months, 1 year, 3 years and 5 years. Don’t focus too much on the things that are out of your control. Look at achievable goals and break them up into even smaller goals, so eventually you’ll end up with a to-do list.
#8 Develop other passions.
Even if your career is rolling along nicely, there will be down time. And it’s important you don’t eat yourself alive when the inevitable quiet times come. Finding other passions, however simple, will be fantastic. Music, pottery, poetry, chess, find somewhere else to put your energy. These passions will allow you to stay level-headed, and also could invigorate you creatively. A real no-brainer for actors is to use this time to get to know the canon: read plays and work at your understanding of the history of film and theatre!
#9 Develop great personal relationships.
I’ve mentioned a number of times the importance of being a genuine, good person. Your reputation is everything. But a lot of actors, so determined to be successful, are not kind to their friends and family. Your core relationships are so important in your life, and it is essential to keep investing in those. Whether it’s calling your mum every week, or going out for dinner with mates, make time for your core relationships and put the effort into them. Family and friends keep you grounded and happy!
Also, when it comes to friends and family, a word of warning. Not being in the industry—not knowing the highs and lows of our business and what it can take from a person—they’re never quite going to get it. They might love you and do their darnedest to support you, but they are always on the outside, looking in. Remember this when their reaction too good news seems less, or their sympathy feels diminished in the tough times. Go easy on them and meet them half way.
#10 Start thinking about ongoing training.
Whether you are consistently booking work, or having a quiet week/month/year, ongoing training is one of the key ingredients to a long and fruitful career. It does a couple of things: A) It shows the industry, and yourself, that you still want this and have an attitude to constantly improve and learn and B) It’ll keep you fit for that next big opportunity. The more you work on your craft the more likely you are to book work. The actors I have been fortunate enough to interview all share this common trait. They love the craft and are eternal students. And they’re constantly striving to become better at and more knowledgeable about this illusive thing we call “acting”.
Not sure how continue this ongoing training?
I’ll admit: classes can be expensive and intimidating, or just a two-hour drive away. So if you’re unsure of where to begin, why not try out StageMilk’s very own Scene Club? If you join up, you get access to a bucket load of resources including monologues, scenes, voice warm ups, plays, and much more. But, most importantly, you get to work on your craft with our coaches every month. It may not be the end of your journey, but it’ll sure as hell get you started.