What is an Actor?

Oh the glamour of being a famous actor!

We see and hear actors almost everyday - portraying various characters in film, television, radio, or theatre productions. When most people think of actors, they think of major Hollywood stars. This, of course, is the ultimate dream of anyone pursuing a career in acting.

However, it is quite difficult to attain this type of success. The majority of actors perform in smaller productions, often starting out in commercials or as extras on television shows or films.

What does an Actor do?

There are many actors who make a successful career out of so-called bit parts, and never have a starring role, which can still be a very satisfying career. Others who achieve great success very early on in their careers become household names, and get many major roles. The majority of actors will have a career that is somewhere in-between these two extremes.

An actress working outside, playing a character in a film.

An actor's job is to fully represent the character they are playing and to convince their audience that character is real by engaging them and drawing them into the story. This applies to major roles and smaller parts, as all roles combine to create a successful production.

There are many ways to get into character and actors often research the jobs, hobbies, or activities of the characters they play so they are able to put themselves in that frame of mind. Physical appearance can be important in creating a character as well, and actors will often lose or gain weight, or change their hair colour to physically create the character they are playing.

If the part demands any kind of emotional drama (for example, coping with a death), an actor often researches people who have experienced what the storyline depicts in order to realistically understand and convey the emotions involved.

Are you suited to be an actor?

Actors have distinct personalities. They tend to be artistic individuals, which means they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive. They are unstructured, original, nonconforming, and innovative. Some of them are also enterprising, meaning they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.

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What is the workplace of an Actor like?

An actor's workplace will vary depending on the type of production involved. Some film and television shows, as well as most advertisements, will be filmed in studios and on sets. This can be quite exciting in itself, seeing how a location can be created by set designers and made to seem real. Other film and television shows are filmed on location and might involve a lot of travel - sometimes to distant and exotic places.

Theatre productions take place on a stage and have very different considerations than filmed performances. Performances will be in front of a live audience - in theatres and in studios for some television shows. Other performances do not have an audience and the feedback from these performances is not instant.

The workplace is highly varied, and actors need to be flexible with regard to where they work and the type of environment they work in. Those prepared to work in all kinds of different situations and who are able to adapt to their different environments will be more successful in finding their niche.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Actors happy?

Actors rank in the 98th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Career Explorer members only.

The acting business can get incredibly frustrating, and it’s easy to get down considering all of the rejection that comes along with it. Continually getting knocked down is difficult on the ego, and sometimes it gets harder and harder to keep getting back up and dusting yourself off. At times it may feel like everyone else except you is getting their big break, and wonder if your turn will ever come. This is the negative side of this career.

However, there is a positive side to pursuing this career as well (full-time or part-time). Actors act because they can't imagine doing anything else. It makes them happy, it drives them, and it gives them the freedom to explore themselves, both on camera and on stage. They get to play different characters, to interact with like-minded people, to let go and not worry about the consequences. For an actor, there is nothing better than walking on stage for the first time and feeling the audience respond, or saying a line on set for the first time. It is rewarding in ways that other non-creatives simply can't understand, and for most actors it’s not about the money, but about being creatively fulfilled, which is hard for non-actors to understand.

Should I become an Actor?

If you are considering becoming an actor, but aren't 100% convinced it is the right career path for you, ask yourself the following questions:

Are you confident, and are you ok with criticism?

  • From the first audition through to rehearsal, criticism on performance is a huge part of the acting process. It's essential to be confident and to keep trying, despite rejection, criticism, and setbacks.

Do you have tenacity?

  • Even the most successful actors face competition and rejection. Having the willpower and persistence to keep moving forward even after facing many rejections is the only way you can survive as an actor.

Are you observant and insightful?

  • Actors need to be able to observe and absorb what's happening around them in the world, as well as observe human interactions and emotions. They need to be able to successfully tap into the characters they are portraying by having insight into what makes different humans tick. These abilities are essential in order for actors to connect with their work.

Are you good at reading a script and following directions?

  • Being good at textual analysis, and understanding and drawing character information out of a script is a vital part of being a successful actor. Having the ability to listen and to follow directions is another big component of acting, as all actors need to work with and respect the vision of their director.

Do you enjoy working with others?

  • A lot of collaboration is required during the rehearsing and performing stages, and actors need to be able to work cohesively with others in order to make it a good experience for themselves and for those around them.

Do you need to have a regular schedule?

  • Unfortunately, most actors tend to have an abnormal schedule, working long days and weekends. Rehearsals and film shoots often run late into the night or start early in the morning.

Are you emotionally healthy?

  • Show business can be a breeding ground for eating disorders, drug abuse, and depression. If you’re already dealing with personal issues, better to seek help first before diving into this industry.

Can you imagine yourself doing anything else?

  • If you can imagine yourself doing a different job, you may not have what it takes to fully commit to acting. You have to be extremely driven to be an actor, and embrace the day to day struggles you will face. The life of an actor is incredibly competitive, and one of the hardest careers to make a living at. Actors spend the majority of their time trying to land an acting job, working at another job to pay the bills, training, and networking. If you noticed, none of those things involved acting. The level of commitment needed to succeed, and the thick skin required to survive the constant rejection that is the actor's daily routine, are both huge.

Is your goal financial stability?

  • If your goal in life is financial security, being an actor is not the best career option. You could quite literally spend the entirety of your adult life struggling to make ends meet with no hope of being able to afford retirement.

Will you spend your life acting anyway, even if you never make a cent doing it?

  • The only reason to become an actor is if nothing could stop you from doing so — and in that case, do it as an amateur, or as a hobby. If you reach the point at which you are equally determined to try it professionally, then and only then should you do so.

It's important to think about what you want out of life, as there are many choices and avenues one can take. Remember that if you do decide to pursue acting as a career, it may be very difficult down the road to switch careers if you find yourself midlife still in food service and auditioning.

An alternative path is to perhaps find a way to make a living that is not acting, but will allow you to pursue acting. There's nothing wrong with acting as a hobby in local community theatre or student films. Don’t pursue acting for the fame or for the money, because you will most likely be very disappointed.

Actors are also known as:
Actress Dramatic Artist Dramatic Performer Dramatic Character