How To Become an Actor: A Complete Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 June 2021

Actors are responsible for entertaining others at the theater, in the movies, on television and many other places. If you are someone who has a knack for engaging the masses through performance, then acting could very well be your calling. With the right skills, lots of practice and a pinch of luck, you could become an established actor in your industry and cultivate large followership. In this article, we will discuss what it takes to start a career in acting, the various responsibilities of actors and the skills required for the job.

How to become an actor

If you are not sure how to become an actor without any experience, here are some guidelines for starting your career:

1. Engage in school level activities

Start your endeavours by participating in school level theatre and film-making activities. This also enables you to connect and collaborate with like-minded individuals who have similar skills and ambitions.

2. Pursue formal education in acting

Although not mandatory, a degree course may expose you to the history of theatre and cinema, technical aspects of cinema and the works of established practitioners. Educational institutions provide a conducive environment for exploration and collaboration. The National School of Drama (New Delhi) and the Film and Television Institute of India (Pune) are some internationally reputed acting colleges in the country.

Here is a list of courses you can pursue to study acting:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Acting

  • Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA)

  • Bachelor of Arts in Drama

  • Diploma in Acting

  • Postgraduate Diploma in Acting

  • Master of Arts in Acting

3. Take part in local productions

Consider joining local production activities to get yourself in front of the camera and test your skills. Cinema is a culmination of the organised efforts of many professionals like camera artists, sound artists, light artists, producers and directors. There are many stakeholders in each decision-making process. This may put a lot of pressure on you if you are new to the field. Working in local productions can give you the required experience and confidence to perform in bigger projects.

4. Find small roles and work as an extra

When you are starting your acting career, you will need to take up small roles in commercials, short films and feature films. These small opportunities will collectively build your experience and network. Small acting assignments also provide you with a source of income to sustain your practice till you get established.

5. Get headshots taken

Being part of a visual medium of communication, you should have perfect headshots taken to help casting directors to visualise you in specific characters and roles. Ensure that your face is clearly visible in the photographs. Additionally, try experimenting with different personas, costumes and props in your headshots.

6. Create a resume and portfolio

Create a resume and portfolio to share with agents, casting directors, producers and other professionals in the field. Your portfolio must contain headshots, work samples and important information about your collaborations and projects you have participated in. Your resume should cover your formal training and education in relation to the field.

7. Create a demo reel

A demo reel or show-reel is a collection of short clips or snippets that showcase your abilities. You can record yourself during performances in school, local productions or commercials to create a show-reel. The length of a reel is typically between 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Shots should be around 10-20 seconds each and should collectively summarise the range of your acting capabilities.

8. Go on auditions for bigger productions

When you start your career in acting, you may have to keep giving auditions for roles in different projects. Auditions help casting directors to gauge your skills accurately before you can establish yourself. Auditions are typically fast-paced and casting directors go through many candidates in a day. It is up to you to showcase your skills to the best of your abilities and leave a lasting impression on the panel.

Related: How to Find Your Passion

Responsibilities of an actor

An actor's responsibilities lie in the following domains:

  • Portraying diverse characters accurately

  • Adding improvisations to bring characters to life

  • Researching characters, roles and contexts

  • Committing scripts/dialogues to memory

  • Developing character personas for authenticity

  • Performing for television, theatre, cinema and internet content

  • Modelling for still images, posters, advertisements and other promotional materials

  • Working with sound artists and editors in dubbing activities

Skills required for acting

These are some important skills that you must learn or possess to become a successful actor:

  • Communication: As an actor, you need to be efficient in both physical and verbal communication. You also need to maintain basic etiquettes while interacting with other professionals and superiors.

  • Creativity: You should be a creative person, as you might have to improvise in specific roles and bring depth to the characters you play. You may find yourself in a variety of situations where there is enormous pressure on you to find creative solutions to problems.

  • Choreography: Good choreography involves perfecting your own performance while coordinating it with the performances of other professionals. Sequences that require choreography may be demanding in terms of time and effort, often requiring multiple takes for individual shots.

  • Memory: Actors often need to commit lengthy scripts and dialogues to memory for different scenes. Depending on the project, you may have to improvise or stick to the script. You must be well-prepared for both these scenarios.

  • Technical knowledge: Technical literacy makes it easy for actors to communicate effectively with skilled technicians like cinematographers, set designers, sound artists and lighting professionals.

Read more: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Types of actors

These are the common types of job roles you can take up as an actor:

  • Film actor

  • Television actor

  • Stage or theatre actor

  • Extra

  • Voice actor or dubbing artist

How do I get into TV acting?

If you are a theatre actor who is looking to get into screen acting, you may have to unlearn a lot of things that theatre acting has made you accustomed to. The skill sets required for theatre and screen acting are fairly different. For example, in theatre, memory plays a huge role, while screen acting allows for multiple takes, where you have to maintain momentum and continuity throughout.

To start a career in TV acting, you should identify the job roles you are interested in and appear for auditions. These are some of the popular ones:

  • Extra: Extras usually have no dialogues and are a part of background activity within a scene.

  • Anchor: Anchors or leads are central to TV programmes. They may be news anchors, reality show hosts or the main characters of a narrative/documentary series.

  • Series regular: Regulars are part of the main cast of TV shows and their contracts require them to work on a project or its individual parts.

  • Guest actor: Guest actors have lesser screen time than anchors and regulars. They may play small roles in a few episodes.

How do I start an acting career with no experience?

If you do not have any prior experience in acting, you may follow these steps to get your career started:

  • Understand your industry: Do some basic research on the film and theatre industry, with a focus on actors and their practices. Watch films and participate in local theatre activities to understand what exactly the job entails.

  • Develop your skills: Once you have identified the skills required for acting, work consistently to develop them. You can take an acting course for this.

  • Connect with the acting community: Find people who have been practising in the cinema/theatre domain. Look for networking opportunities. For instance, attend events that established actors, directors, writers and casting directors attend.

  • Market yourself: Consider using social media as a tool to market yourself and your talent effectively. In addition to this, connect with talent agents to improve your opportunities.

  • Appear for auditions/casting calls: Initially, you need not approach auditions and casting calls with an intent to convert them into work opportunities. Instead, try to familiarise yourself with the processes involved and try to perform better with each audition that goes by.

Is it easy to become an actor?

It is not very difficult to become an actor. You can join a local community or amateur theatre with no previous experience. However, making a sustainable career as an actor is challenging, and only a small minority of the people who attempt it become successful. In the initial stages of your career, you may have to pursue opportunities to land a few contracts constantly.

Actors also have to monitor and study their own performances consistently to identify areas for improvement. Acting may require you to stick to strict diets and workout regimens for different projects. You should also develop your learning ability, as acting requires an individual to pick up new skills quickly. In creative fields, consistent practice and training can help continue an initial success into longevity.

How much does an actor make?

The average salary for an actor is ₹6,99,621 per year. However, the scale of your pay may depend on your experience and reputation in the industry. If you work for a regional, national or international association or union, your minimum salary becomes more or less fixed. Actors make more money if their projects consistently make profits for production companies. Actors also get paid well for advertisements and interviews, depending on their popularity and the size of their follower base.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article is affiliated with Indeed.