Callum Radya wrote a great list of things he wishes he’d been told in drama school about acting in the real world, you can read his rather sincere list here. “Annoying Actor Friend” wrote a riff on it specific to NYC that you can read here. You should read theirs first if you have time. (Definitely read mine though.) I’ve taken their template and made it a little more specific to LA, and a lot more ridiculous (though unfortunately true in some places.) Enjoy. Or a cry a little. I might have done both.
1. “Stealing the show” is a compliment. It means everyone is waiting for your character to come back onscreen. The more of the show you steal, the more the show will be edited in your favor. Who cares if your co-stars grow to hate you? Your contract will be renewed.
2. You’d be surprised how few of your friends and family, or people with a personal connection are willing to show up to see you do theatre in Los Angeles, free tickets or not. They’ll show up at a red carpet at the drop of a hat though. And you’re not a real actor anyway until you’ve been on a TV show that Aunt Buela’s friends actually watch at the retirement center.
3. You can totally play high school in your 20s, but tick-tock because if you don’t start on ABC Family or the CW, good luck on getting reps after your current ones drop you.
4. By the same token, there are tons of roles for 20-year-olds, but only really attractive ones. Like really attractive. Almost alien-like attractive. Like if you were the hottest person in your town, high school or college drama program you might have a shot at playing the “ugly/quirky/nerdy” friend.
5. The first AD works harder than you. Be nice to them. Even if you have to bite your tongue completely off. This goes double for the line producer. In fact, most of the time, everyone else is working harder than you. Be nice. To everyone. And always know your lines. You thought high school was gossipy? Be inappropriately or unnecessarily rude to one crewperson or PA and wait six months.
6. Most people get drunk at red carpet events…and there will always be someone around to take photos of it. So be a little bit less drunk than everyone you’re with. The cutest person in the photo of the drunks is still the cutest person.
7. Being attractive and under twenty-five is the most important thing you can be in Los Angeles. Really under twenty-one is better and eighteen-looking is the best. No matter how long you’ve been here, if you can pull it off, lie and say “three to six months” – it makes you seem shiny and new. Someone will think they are getting to discover you. They like that.
8. Background work does shit for your career. Do not ever say you “worked” on something if it was background. Do it for the money, do it to learn about being on set – but lie and don’t tell anyone you did it. Vouchers may get you into the union, but you still have to pay $3000 to join (thanks merger!), and if you have no other work to back it up, being in the union doesn’t do anything for you but keep you out of non-union films. Your theatre resume isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
9. Unions are awesome when you’re on TV or in big budget film. If you aren’t, they’ll just keep you from doing low-budget work with good scripts to build an actual reel. Yes, you need to be union for the most part to book union jobs. Yes, you need jobs to get reps. Yes, you need a reel to get reps. No reel/no reps. No reps/no work. No work/no reel. Yes Yossarian, it’s a Catch-22. Unless you’re super hot.
10. When people said you would be poor thanks to your brilliant career choice, it’s because you don’t have a trust fund. No one in LA works. Pretend you don’t either.
11. Getting auditions is one level. Getting good auditions is another level. If you aren’t getting callbacks, you suck, no matter how good the auditions you’re getting are. If you audition for 21 pilots – congratulations, you have good reps, and are probably pretty. If you get no callbacks, you’re probably terrible. But at least you’re pretty.
12. Casting directors care that you look the part. Directors might care about your talent. Producers care about your Q score. If you don’t know what that is, move back to NYC and do real theatre. Or move back to Iowa and be a star.
13. Remember how you used to have five weeks to get off book? You have two hours before the biggest audition of your life. They’ll probably hand you an entirely different scene in the room and give you five minutes. Acting is not actually reacting. You’re reader will probably be terrible. So ignore every bit of your drama school training and learn to fake the hell out of it. And fast. When they give you direction, regardless of what you’re “magic if” tells you, give them what they want. You can be right, or you can book the job. In the rarest of instances you have both.
14. Save up a certifiable shit-ton of money if you’re going to move to Los Angeles. That is, if you want to actually be able to live off unemployment, spend the requisite hours at the right high-end gym, day drink, night drink, lunch, brunch, dinner, coffee, pay for parking tickets and be seen at all of the right places on all of the right nights and any of those other career-building networking essentials. Don’t ever actually call it networking. If you’re not a good enough actor to use people without them knowing it, you’re not a good actor.
15. Don’t do everything. Seriously. Know when to turn something down. And believe me, you’ll know. (i.e. student films, short films, your friend’s webseries, no-pay non-union horror films, bad 99-seat theatre, mediocre 99-seat theatre, really any 99-seat theatre that doesn’t have the best script you’ve ever read or a recognizable TV/film name attached as star, writer or director.)
16. It’s not unreasonable to expect to be paid for your work. But you won’t always be. So when you do film, new media or theatre work, make sure your trust fund, savings or day job will still be in existence to support you when you finish this really great “quality” free work.
17. Most of the time, when you don’t get the part, it’s not because you suck, it’s because no one behind the table knows you. Or anyone who’s worked with you. Or your name. Or you aren’t attractive enough. (Usually the last one.)
18. Nothing is more important than appearance.
19. Nothing is more important than appearance.
20. Nothing is more important than appearance. Seriously. It isn’t. No matter what drama school you graduated from, or how amazing you are, Los Angeles work starts and ends with your appearance. There is a brief moment in the middle where your talent matters, so rock the hell out of it, then remember your appearance. Remember, in LA casting, “attractive” means a 14 on a scale of 1-10, “average” means at least a six-pack, “quirky” still means hot, but offbeat. Unless you can regularly be seen for types that could be described as “forgettable” or “heinous” – hit the gym, remember to sleep (nothing important happens before 10 a.m. anyway) and that alcohol makes you fat and puffy.
21. Take your “me” time. Just make sure that what you do with it is awesome enough to tweet and have great Instagram photos to share about it.
22. Don’t embrace your “physical flaws.” If you have any, you should probably be in NYC working to be a “real” actor.
23. Don’t punch someone in the face just because they have daddy’s money paying for their car, their apartment and their life and they moved to LA and got some headshots taken by the most expensive photographer in town and are now calling themselves an actor and you feel that is an insult to the lifetime you have spent perfecting your craft. Make friends with them and let them pay for stuff.
24. The camera really does add ten pounds. You should be starting from about twenty under anyway. If you’re unsure, ask your reps, they’ll definitely tell you. For the record (and the stupid, but probably pretty) three cameras do not add thirty pounds. Just the regular ten. You’re welcome.
25. No matter how big of a star you were in school, out here, act like a bigger star. Name drop in front of stupid people, they’ll be impressed. Talk about how you want to find great material to expand your range in front of smart people. They won’t be impressed though. If all else fails complain about your reps. And your headshots. Do not, under any circumstances talk about your commercial auditions.
26. Acting is actually easier than you want to believe it is. And more people can do it naturally than you want to believe. And the ratio of hot-to-talent skews in favor of hot 100% of the time.
27. You are replaceable. With someone younger and hotter than you.
28. Stage and screen are completely different worlds. All those brilliant specific choices you perfected last night and in the car before you walked in will always lose out to the person who has the exact look and just says the words without thinking and comes off like the role. Accept this.
29. You thought there was “technique” to acting on stage? Remember that most LA casting directors are seeing a gajillion people and will know when the perfect fit walks in the door. Start your audition before you enter the room. The less they have to think to see you in the role, the better your shot. (Assuming you are hot enough.)
30. Rehearsals are hard. That’s why film and TV don’t do that much of it.
31. It is not okay to be drunk, stoned, high, or any other kind of intoxicated while you work. But this is LA, so the high thing is sometimes negotiable. And if it’s nighttime the drunk thing might be too. If you’re going to get arrested, make it spectacular and gossip-site worthy. Press is press, and it’ll up your Q score. And maybe get you Twitter followers. And you can post the photo on Instagram.
32. Try not to get discouraged/cynical/jaded/resentful right after graduation. Wait until your first pilot season for that.
33. And finally, don’t go down this path just because you’re “good enough” to be a professional actor. For the love of God, do it because you are pretty enough to be one.