People love to talk about the tens of thousands of hopeful actors who come to Los Angeles every year in hopes of landing that one magical role in that one magical project that leads them to a career of other roles in other projects. Some land in LA with “fame” as their goal. Others “just wanna work” at a level above the one they can find back home. Still others understand that the work is the auditioning and that it may be years before they are getting invited into casting offices by habit, rather than by the luck of the draw in what is often a huge numbers game.

But what no one ever really talks about is the tens of thousands of hopeful actors who leave Hollywood every year. Or who stay in LA but no longer pursue acting, even though that’s what brought ’em here in the first place. No one really talks about attrition in this industry, and I think it adds a nice bit of perspective to the picture, when we’re thinking about our odds of “making it.”

Yeah, we all develop our A-List Playlists and bring in our favorite actors on every project. That’s just a fact. And yes, a part of your job is to find your way on as many of those lists as possible. But actors often see that steady influx of new-to-town actors as competition for the too-few slots available to actors not already “in” our mix. What I’m asking you to remember is that every time CDs open submissions on a breakdown, someone from our “favorite actor files” is MIA.

It always seems surprising to me — and I don’t know why it’s surprising, since I’m an actor-turned-anything-other-than-an-actor myself — when a favorite actor isn’t pitched on a new breakdown I release. I mean, I get that actors leave the biz, or leave the acting part of the biz, or leave town altogether, or take a little break, but it’s still strange when actors I’m used to seeing on the submission screen every time are suddenly not there. At a little cocktail party last month, I asked one of my favorite agents how things were looking for my favorite of his amazing clients. “Got a good pilot season planned?”

“He’s out,” the agent replied.
“Out. Left the biz. Done.”

I was shocked. This was seriously one of the most naturally talented, compelling, delightful-to-work-with actors I have ever known. I’ve cast him twice and had planned on casting him many, many more times down the line. Was I wrong about this kid? What happened? Turns out, he was just done. Finished. Got whatever it was he needed out of acting, parted ways with his superagent, and burned his headshots on a bonfire. Just like that. The guy who had tested for seven pilots last year is now out of the pool. Your competition, if you went up against this guy in the past, is suddenly not as fierce. (Of course, another new-to-town hottie may have leap-frogged ahead of you and into that actor’s spot, but that’s a big “maybe.” Just by having stuck around another year, you’re closer to the front of the pack on our lists, because we know what you can do.)

While “attrition” means (according to the American Heritage Dictionary) “the gradual, natural reduction in membership or personnel,” it also means “a rubbing away or wearing down.” And I think it’s important to remember the value in endurance in this industry. It’s tough to weather some of what this business throws at you. There are entire packs of people who feed off the mistakes and missteps you may make along the way. And when things are going great, watch out! That’s when they’ll really come out of the proverbial woodwork to try and wear you down. So, just showing up and attempting a career as an actor every single day is a victory!

It’s not easy. There are many costs associated with this career choice. And there are days you’ll wonder, “Why do I bother?” Certainly, there is a lot to be said for packing it in and going home at the right time (and no one can fault you for being honest with yourself and making a difficult choice, ever), but if you’re not sure it’s time to quit, find ways to stick it out. One of my favorite actors loves saying, “Never quit five minutes before the miracle.”

How can you know that your career was about to jump a tier, had you just held on another day, another week, another month, another year? You can’t know. So, if you do decide to become one of the thousands who leaves acting behind, don’t second-guess yourself. You’ll make yourself miserable wondering “what if.” Be really, really sure you’re ready to be done. And then be done. But if you’re the kind of person who has decided she’s sticking with this crazy Hollywood thing, no matter what, then really dig in. And every time you feel yourself thinking, “this is too much. I should quit,” remember that there is someone out there doing exactly that. And by sticking with it, you’re closer “in” than you were a moment before.

How do you survive attrition? Pop your endurance tips in the comments below. So glad you’re (still) here!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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  1. Avatar Denzil Meyers August 13, 2014 at 10:31 am

    I first got the idea to be an actor at age 40, and moved to LA within 6 months. (Funny that for the previous 10 years, I thought I was doing all that training in improv, clown, and dance for my personal growth.)

    Now, I am encouraged everyday by the thought of all those folks who throw in the towel, for any reason. I’m like the guy on the football team who has not played all game, and is ready to rumble in the 4Q when everyone else is spent. Its part of my brand to be new, eager, and full of energy in my age range.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie August 17, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    LOVE this mindset, Denzil. You’re awesome and the industry is confirming that your mindset (and all that fun training) is right on point! 😀 Yay!

  3. Avatar Richard D. Reich August 29, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I love your posts, Bonnie, but this one really caught my attention. I left the business over 20 years ago because I just lost my passion for the business. I continued to do theater sporadically and a funny thing happened – I regained my passion for the art.

    In the past 20 years, I raised a couple of daughters and had some success in unrelated businesses and never felt the pull of getting back into the biz…that is, until recently. I’m starting fresh again and looking forward to working, even in small roles, which became boring to me in my “former” career.

    I have recently done some work in short films and web series and have loved every minute of it, no matter how “small” the part. Not needing to earn a huge income from acting makes it easier for me to take non-paying roles, but I’m enjoying it and building a reel, which is very much requested these days.

    I wonder how many other actors there are like me who were burnt out and left the biz and are now attempting a “comeback” and enjoying it again. I’m optimistic that, because of the attrition you mentioned there will be more parts for me.

  4. Avatar Bon September 3, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Absolutely, Richard! I love this. 🙂 Isn’t it so much more FUN when there’s not all that sense of expectation or self-definition coming from the pursuit of it all? Good for you, man, and welcome back!


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