5 Universal Mistakes I See Actors Make

One of the reasons I enjoy writing for Backstage so much is the opportunity to save my future breath. Do you have any idea how often I have to say the same stuff over and over to actor after actor when I’m casting or teaching? But every article is an opportunity to tell them to just read it so we can spend our precious time together acting or discussing something original.

So, in that spirit, here are a few of the mistakes that nearly every actor I encounter makes. I know them well because I’ve made almost all of them myself.

1. Not getting training, the right training, or taking it seriously. Somewhere along the way, perhaps in high school for most of us, aspiring actors got it in their head that acting is a matter of talent, not skill. That is insane. If you were naturally talented at surgery, I’d still insist you go to medical school before you slice someone open.

You need to get the right kind of acting training for what you want to do. Want to do theater? Study theater and work on play material. Want to do TV/film? Then get your butt into an on-camera class and use sides from TV and film. You can’t learn how to cook Kung Pao chicky by making pancakes, I always say (starting now).

And if you’re going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on training, why the hell wouldn’t you give it all you’ve got? Pour yourself into the training. Listen to your teacher and follow their instruction to the letter, at least for a while, until you know you’ve given it your best shot. Then, if it’s not for you, move on. Don’t just languish. If you’re not growing, you’re dying on the vine.

2. Not having a strategy when it comes to headshots. Yeah, you know, they’re only your main marketing tool. Sounds like the perfect thing to go into with no strategy or to skimp on to try and save a few bucks, right?

If you haven’t read my article on headshots, add it to your reading list. There’s a ton of preproduction that goes into ensuring a headshot shoot results in photos that will get you called in. 

Remember, the purpose of a headshot is so that casting clearly perceives you and your essence. It is not to try to be all things to all people or glamour shots. We want to know how to use you in our projects, not to be disappointed when you show up in person.

3. Not being stable. Don’t try to act professionally until you’ve been trained, and don’t start training until you can commit to it and be consistently in class on at least a weekly basis. That means being stable—having a roof over your head, reliable transportation, and enough dough to pay for class. If you’re constantly missing class you’re going to drive your teacher batty, stress yourself out, and make unbearably slow progress.

Once you’re ready to work, get yourself into a sustainable job that’s flexible with auditioning and acting. It may not be what you want to do or pay as much as you want, but what you really want is to act, right? So, make the necessary sacrifices. 

4. Hoping you’ll be “discovered.” Again, I say to you people, you will never be “discovered.” Not in the sense that some rando is going to pluck you out of a Starbucks and make you a star. You up the chances that someone in the industry will want to work with you if you’re well-trained, proactive, and doing great acting work on stage, TV, or in film. The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.

5. Not treating acting like a professional occupation. Another reason that you can’t allow yourself to pin your hopes on being “discovered” is that it’s a disempowering way to approach your career. You need to drive your progress forward, not sit on the beach waiting for your agent to call.

Know who the professional casting directors and their staff are, what they’re casting, which shows are in production, what pilots are in the works, build your team, have a complete team, expand your skill sets, create your own work, submit yourself for whatever work your team will allow you to, do casting director workshops, cultivate a community of support, set up your home studio for self-taping and voiceover, keep your instrument honed and healthy, keep training, and a bunch of other “duh” stuff. Take the fucking bull by the balls and yank yourself some success.

OK. I’m out of room. There was gonna be more, but I’ll save those pearls for later, gators.