I’ve watched literally thousands of auditions through the years and have seen even more performances on stage, television, and film.
And I can say with conviction that there are specific mindsets, habits, qualities, and behaviors which can indeed make you stand out among the rest – they can help you do something, and be someone, incredible in your career and your life!
What makes an actor successful?
The answer isn’t so far off from what makes a successful person in general. It’s simple: successful people strive to be the best they can be – not only in their careers, but in every aspect of their lives. Instead of measuring success in terms of winning and losing, highly successful people define it as consistently doing their very best, regardless of the outcome.
What if I keep failing?
The most successful people in life profoundly love what they do. If you love what you do, it won’t matter whether it takes 10 months or 10 years to achieve your goals.
Successful people aren’t afraid to fail. They meet challenges and obstacles head on, looking at ‘failing’ as an opportunity for growth. It’s all about perspective – those who scale mountains and reach summits in life tend to be eager and willing to put in all the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to attain their goals because there is no other option in their mind! Remember, fortune favors the bold!
Can someone just give me a guide to help navigate through this crazy business?
There is no one simple, magical, foolproof roadmap to follow but there are many helpful directions I can share based on my many years in the industry.
Something to keep in mind throughout your journey is a profound statement from Actress/Writer/Entrepreneur Shay Mitchell:
“Life is not a dress rehearsal. The curtain is up and you are on, so get out there and give it your best shot.”
More questions I get asked all the time:
• What does a Casting Director look for in an actor?
• How can I stand out in an audition?
• What can I do to give myself the best chance of success?
I’ll answer all those and more in my “10 Tips for a Successful Acting Career.”
1. Maintain a positive mindset
• Maintaining a positive mindset informs all aspects of your life.
This cannot be overstated. I believe the universe mirrors what you believe about yourself and your potential. Whatever you put out there comes back to you.
• A positive attitude will help you perform at an optimal level.
Thinking optimistically helps us feel and behave optimistically. In turn, this enables us to cope with what life brings, and to avoid anxieties which block us from moving forward. A positive mindset can be learned and practiced until it is habitual – i.e., a way of life.
• Positivity is a way of life which will make you happier.
It’s important to realize that thoughts and behaviors which benefit you in one area of your life will serve you well in other areas, which is why it is essential to develop holistically as a person, not just as a performer.
You have a choice every single day on whether to greet the day with hope and optimism or let yourself succumb to discouragement, skepticism, apprehension, fear, and cynicism.
If only for a week, try looking for the beauty in others and in life situations, instead of the flaws. Try feeling grateful for all you already have in your life. Try beginning your days believing that good things will happen. In other words, simply relax and stop worrying.
Sometimes it feels easier to give way to negativity, like feeling victimized by other people or life circumstances, to feel disillusioned by perpetual disappointments and unfair things that happen. It’s okay to be disappointed sometimes. But remember that staying in that space is a choice. Choose not to remain burdened by negativity. Choose to free yourself from the cage of a negative mindset and adjust your vantage point.
• You are in charge of your individual power and ability to create a positive reality for yourself.
2. Live in the Present
• In the present moment, our consciousness perceives things to be possible.
I remember reading a quote from Goldie Hawn many years ago, offering her advice on how to be happy. She said, “Learn how to say good-bye”.
As the years passed, this quote took on new meanings for me. Every new experience shed light on how imperative it is to live in the present, let go of the past, and not worry about the future. My take on this is that, when we are truly awake in and aware of the present moment, unfavorable thoughts and emotions about the past and future don’t exist.
To me, being truly present means releasing our mind, body, and spirit from anything unproductive to our wellbeing.
• Being in the moment means there is no doubt – only belief.
In more practical terms, an actor’s consciousness in an audition needs to be about the performance itself, not the result. Of course, being offered a role is a welcome result but most of the time booking a job has nothing to do with your performance, and everything to do with a hundred things completely out of your control.
• What is in your control is the ability to stay ‘in the moment’.
Take tennis, for example. The focus of a tennis player during a match must be on executing shots to the best of one’s abilities, within the context of that specific match. The skills needed to perform well are refined during practice and training. Similarly, for an actor, the skills are developed and honed during rehearsals, classes, and set experience. The ‘work’ of practice is done prior to an audition but not during an audition. During an audition (or tennis match), the mind needs to be completely present so your body can react optimally to all the cues, information, and energy being presented to you.
Enabling yourself to feel exhilaration from performing itself, gratitude that you have the opportunity to perform, and pride from knowing you did the very best you could – these are a successful ‘result’.
• Learn to remain ‘in the moment’ and enjoy the process. Learn to let go and be happy.
3. Build a Support System
• It is imperative to surround yourself with family, friends, teachers and mentors who support and encourage you.
I was extremely fortunate to have parents who supported my decision to pursue a career in the entertainment industry but, I realize that not everyone is gifted with this. It is essential in that case, to create your own ‘family’ – a community who applauds your path and cheers on your accomplishments.
One of the charms of this industry is that it is a collaborative medium and most of its artisans share a deep love for it. It is important to rely on fellow colleagues and artists to help buoy your sprit when needed.
• A great way to build a support system is by taking classes.
Class settings provide a safe space for actors to learn, as well as to grow and build relationships. It’s okay to try out several classes before you find the right fit! You’ll know you’ve found the right environment for you, when you feel safe enough to fall on your butt. A good teacher is integral in helping actors build a solid foundation of skills and can provide inspiration that lasts a lifetime.
Like tennis, acting has a solitary component. During a singles tennis match, a player is alone when performing his or her skills on the court. A coach or team (or friend) preps the player beforehand, and having that foundation helps provide stability during the actual performance. A strong support system will ensure the same for an actor, who also performs his or her skills alone on the audition stage.
Let’s talk business. An actor should also have a strong team handling business matters, i.e. an agent and/or manager, or both. Finding an agent willing to represent you can be hard enough. Finding an agent who you trust is crucial. Ideally, it should feel like your representatives have your back.
• Not everyone in the business will have your best interest at heart, so make sure that all those within your innermost circle do.
4. Develop Emotional Maturity
• Maintaining balance and perspective allows you to take blows and still move on in a productive manner.
“Life is 1% what happens to us and 99% how we respond to it.”
Learning to problem solve and adjust to new and unexpected situations, especially during an audition, is pivotal. Resilience, adaptability, and maturity are not only crucial to building self-esteem and self-confidence, but also to achieving peak performance.
Actors and other artists tend to be very sensitive beings. An audition can be extremely vulnerable for an actor, who is often revealing his or her soul for review and judgement
(and that takes courage).
We all suffer disappointments, embarrassments, pain, setbacks, and failures. They can range from mild, to devastating, and can happen seldom, or often. The important aspect for our continued wellbeing, is to not let those difficulties define us.
• Rejection is utterly unavoidable in this business, and is out of one’s control. How one deals with rejection, however, is completely under one’s control.
The ability to overcome adversity and recover from misfortune are fundamental skills for an actor, and part of honing those skills is learning to manage your emotions in a healthy way. Though challenging, it is key to try and depersonalize rejection, which can be done by adjusting your perspective. Allow yourself to fully feel and experience unwelcome emotions, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that they are part of the process which makes you stronger.
• Resilience is empowering.
5. Stay Highly Motivated
• To succeed on a high level, one must find ways to stay motivated and keep an inner drive alive.
Frequently remind yourself of what you want and why you love what you do.
For me personally, being in a space with artists is profoundly inspirational. The world of theatre arts, television, and filmmaking is truly a world of magic and exhilarates my soul in a way nothing else can. Watching a remarkable performance, whether in an audition, onscreen, or in a theatre, continually reminds me why I do the job I do and why I love it so much.
• Focus fuels motivation.
Staying motivated is an intrinsic component of achieving results. Star athletes have laser-like focus when it comes to preparation, training, practice, and performance. Actors need to have the same. Keep your eye on the prize; avoid and tune out distractions. Believe that you can and will flourish and that you deserve to succeed.
• Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve in your acting career and set specific goals to get there.
Setting “mini goals” – goals that can be quickly achieved and give you satisfaction along the way, are proven to be the most effective for staying inspired.
It is also important that actors seek artistic expression in ways other than acting. I’m going to say that again:
• It is vital for actors to seek other means of expression than just acting
Whether it’s singing, writing, painting, sports, hiking, gardening, or another passion entirely, an artist’s mind, body and spirit yearn to be fulfilled and have purpose. Find exciting and creative ways to delight and inspire yourself!
6. Adhere to a Strong Work Ethic
• There is simply no substitute for hard work, no matter how talented or savvy you are.
• If you are willing to work harder than anyone else, then you give yourself the opportunity to achieve excellence.
I remember a 5th grade class assignment – the teacher gave us a list of 10 historical explorers – we were each to choose 1 about whom to write a single page report. When I started the report at home later, my mother suggested (strongly lol) that instead of doing just 1 report, I do 10 (one on every explorer). I still recall my wrist aching from writing so much! It didn’t occur to me to argue or resist – I simply did as I was told.
My mother’s motive, of course, was to motivate me to achieve more than expected, which would make me stand out. It did. The lesson I learned from that early age is that hard work pays off. I also learned that hard work can instill a sense of pride and self-confidence. I demanded more of myself after that and have ever since, striven to excel.
Sometimes our dreams appear unattainable and unreachable. Set specific, attainable goals and stay on the most direct path to achieving them. Commit to preparation and training.
• Take 1 step at a time, keep moving forward, and visualize your target.
Champion athletes and the most successful actors have many things in common – focus, motivation, determination, persistence, discipline, commitment, confidence, and vision.
They do not resist spending hours and months and years of honing their skills. They never ever give up.
Success requires hard work and sacrifice, and successful people accept both. They fail, but they keep getting up and moving forward.
• Be willing to put in all the time, effort, and hard work necessary to achieve your dreams.
7. Be Accountable & Self Reliant
• It is vital to take responsibility for your life: know your true motives, learn from your mistakes, and accept criticism.
Rabbi Jill Hausman of the Actors Temple in New York believes that “many actors are the walking wounded,” and by performing, they heal the part of themselves that has been wounded. “Tikkun Olam” – healing the world – the concept being that the first step is to heal oneself. “We in theatre are doing that,” she says.”
Being accountable means owning your results – not making excuses, blaming another person or circumstance for your shortcomings. It means knowing your job and taking sole responsibility (not sometimes, but always) for doing your job and doing it well.
As an actor, you need to assess your own performance and determine what you can do to improve next time. When evaluating yourself, do so without judgement, but with an earnest desire to fine tune and perfect.
• It is necessary for an actor to sustain strong health, motivation, focus, clarity, and positivity – becoming as self-sufficient as possible.
Self-reliance is the ability to depend on yourself to get things done and to meet your own needs. Learn to manage your finances and address your worries. You want to fill your life with possibilities and opportunities, not stress and anxieties.
These are not necessarily easy skills to develop. As an example, (I think you know by now how much I like tennis ) I learned at an early age to play singles and was initially daunted by the huge court. Though it was terrifying, I soon learned how to fend for myself out there. I learned how to tune out distractions and how to think and perform in the moment. This has benefited me greatly in other areas of my life, and I absolutely believe it can help actors in a similar way.
• Learn how to trust yourself and your instincts.
8. Seek out Self Improvement & Education
• Knowledge is key to success.
Learn everything you can about your craft and yourself along the way .
Be highly inquisitive and eager to acquire knowledge – seek information, wisdom, and advice. Explore ways to do better and be better. Getting cast doesn’t make you great, but constantly striving to improve does.
As an actor, enroll in classes of all kinds – acting, improv, voice, scene study, on camera audition techniques. Join a theatre group. Find ways to practice your skills over and over and over again. Watch performances. Read books. Study those at the top of your field and emulate the methods they used to get there.
French dramatist Antonin Artaud wrote, “Actors are athletes of the heart.” Even the world’s best tennis players, like Roger Federer and Serena Williams, don’t reach a point at which they are completely satisfied and content with their game. Instead, they keep working on each stroke, their timing, fitness, mental acuity, and on their execution. They know there’s no limit to their potential. Studying sports psychology, as well as philosophy and spirituality can be an invaluable asset to an actor
• Remain a student of your art and of life.
• The best way to go about networking, like anything else in life, is to make it work for you.
This is an area which can stymie actors. While concentrating on your craft is enjoyable and rewarding, having to self-promote can feel uncomfortable and unappealing. Unfortunately, it’s necessary.
Instead of looking at it as something you have to do, try to come at it from a new angle. One idea is to find networking opportunities that inspire you or suit your personal style. Little tweaks can help us shift our way of thinking so that instead of feeling like a burden, it’s something we want to do.
• Finding outlets that feel true to yourself also help to make and maintain meaningful professional relationships.
Staying active on your social media accounts can feel time consuming and overwhelming, but it’s also the easiest way to keep in constant contact with our industry peers and make new acquaintances.
Invite them to class showcases, send them a notice about an upcoming tv or film or theater performance, or just send a quick note telling them you watched on of their projects and enjoyed it. Learn how to market yourself accurately in a way that reflects the real and unique you and do so with exuberance.
Reminder: getting a response is not the goal of networking.
• The goal is to communicate to the universe that you are here, that you matter, and that you have something to contribute.
10. Live Life & Evolve
• We all have an inner light and when we are our best selves, that light beams brightly and illuminates all that surrounds it.
When I’m asked what I look for in an actor, my response is almost always, “someone who is truly alive.”
What does that mean, exactly?
The actors (and people in general) who tend to stand out among the crowds, are those who let their inner light shine brightly. You’ve all heard the expression, “be yourself, everyone else is already taken,” and it’s true! You are unique and learning to embrace that uniqueness is the first step towards letting your light shine.
Imagine going out on a blind date. What is your first impression when you meet the person? Are they vibrant? Excited about or at least interested in being there? Well-spoken and funny? Personable? Are they really engaged and invested in the date? Do they have an attractive personality and are they well groomed? Do they seem like someone you’d like to know and spend time with?
Now think about the audition room. A lot of times, this can be a first impression. Why not let those in the room know exactly who you are? The more ‘truly alive’ the auditioning actor is, the more dynamic and compelling they are to watch. I mean it.
We are captivated by the qualities the actor has, and not all are confined to acting skills.
This is why it’s so important to fully live your life. Every experience makes you a more fascinating person.
• Have the conviction to live boldly and bravely and to enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts.
To be ‘truly alive’ means to fully engage in your career, your community, and your life – to approach all with unmistakable enthusiasm, passion, integrity, purpose, respect, commitment and gratitude. Ensure your essence is kind, generous, humorous, empathetic, and curious.
• Embrace and be inspired by the process of life itself.
There’s a common misconception that happiness happens when we reach our destination. Every audition supposedly brings actors closer to reaching that destination, but the truth is, the journey is the destination.
• You have within you the power to make a difference in this world.
Remember we are all in this life together. We have more in common than not so make your presence felt and invite others to appreciate what you have to offer.