I am 24 years old and I want to become an actor but I am intimidated by great actors in their 30s that are at the top of their careers (Reese Witherspoon, Angelina Jolie). They have had many years of training and experience that has allowed them to have a strong resumé and expertise in the craft.
I am afraid that I don’t have enough time to become a good actor. I have had things happen to me in my life that have given me a wide range of emotion. I am aware of my ability to “tap” into this emotion and with some classes and direction I feel I have the potential to be a good actor. Unfortunately, I have started late and I also feel that it will end up hurting me in the end. It’s a hard business to get into, and I am afraid that I will not be able to sell myself with some acting classes and “life experience.” Do you have any advice?
This has actually been a recent topic of discussion over at the Showfax-Actors Access message board. Emmy Award winner Kathryn Joosten first stepped on stage in community theatre at the age of 42. One of the most beautiful things about choosing a career in the performing arts is that there is plenty of room for “being new” at any age. Sure, many successful working actors started out young (some were even “born into” the business), but there are actors who show up “late” to the party and happen to do quite well for themselves. Do they become multi-million-dollar earners or Academy Award winners? Not usually. But if your real goal is to be a working actor, that life experience and the willingness to get the training you need could be enough to get you on the road to that goal.
My husband is an actor. He had done a play in college and nothing else. At the age of 35, he decided to try out for a play at a community theatre in Michigan. He was cast, had a wonderful time doing the play, and then moved to Hollywood to give it a go “for real.” Note: His “whole story” is in Judy Kerr’s excellent book, Acting Is Everything if you’re interested in all of the details.
I remember telling him, as he made the decision to move here, “Look, nobody in LA cares what kind of training or experience you have from some other place so you’re going to start over when you get here anyway. Why not just come on out and start your training here?” So, he landed in Los Angeles with basically no experience and absolutely no training, but what he had was a total willingness to learn and the ability to avoid the “Actor Mind Taffy” traps that often impede actors’ success. He immediately began taking classes; got some good “starter” headshots; and went out on as many student films, nonunion TV, stage, and spec projects as possible. He was never attached to the outcome of any audition, because, as he said, “I’m already doing something I never thought I’d be able to do. If someone were to pay me money to ACT, I’d freak!” He saw (and still sees) auditions as exciting opportunities to meet new people, show off some choices about the material, and nothing more.
So, here’s a guy who didn’t even have his first headshots until after his 36th birthday. Well, he recently turned 40 and had his first network co-star (on CSI: Miami), has been in SAG for three years, has done 30 films, and remains in a wonderful scene study class. He has two agents and a manager and for all intents and purposes, he’s a working actor who “started late.” He never tried to be anything other than what he was: Someone with life experience and the “I’m here to have fun” mentality, grateful for the opportunity to audition with “the big guys.” The fact that he was invited in to read for roles alongside actors with MFAs from League Schools was awe-inspiring for him. That’s a beautiful thing about this business: Anyone can have a shot at it.
Decide whether you’d be okay with only ever doing local theatre, unpaid student films, and spec work. If it’s the acting you love, then it shouldn’t matter whether you ever reach the level of the actors you mentioned in your email. Oh, and at 24, you’re not starting “late.” Sure, there will always be someone who started younger, had more training, or somehow has an “in” that you could never have. But there will also always be someone who decides to give it a go after the kids have gone off to college. Just remember that the best way to “make it” (no matter when you start out) is to know it’s a blast to even be pursuing it, have fun while doing it, and avoid Bitter Actor Syndrome. What are the odds that you’ll ever find success in showbiz? Quite frankly, the odds stink. But they stink for everyone, no matter how early they started pursuing acting. Remember: If you play the odds, there is no reason to ever attempt a career in show business. If you live your dreams, there’s no excuse not to.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000408.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.