The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide

By Aislinn Ní Uallacháin
Head of Casting @ www.extrasireland.com

I’m a huge fan of the TV series ‘The Office’ – both the original British version and the subsequent American remake. One of the reasons the American version became so popular (unusually so for a remake) is the talent and charm of the Actors in the cast. Jenna Fischer who plays Pam Beesly is one half of the heart of the show in her will-they-won’t-they relationship with Jim Halpert, played by John Krasinski. A really talented performer and, as I have found in her book ‘The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide’, incredibly generous with advice for both upcoming and experienced Actors.

I read her book during Ireland’s first round of Covid restrictions back in March and thought it was excellent – I wish I’d had this when I was acting! Lots of positivity and encouragement of course but also very careful to reflect the hard and challenging life of being an artist.

I did a poll on our Instagram recently (follow us here) and only 6% of people have read it. I’d highly recommend reading the whole thing (I downloaded my copy to Kindle from Amazon) but in the meantime here are 25 insights and tips that I hope you find useful!

1 Why?
“Why did I want to be an actor? At the time, I never gave it a second thought. But this is an important question, one that I think every actor should ask themselves.”

2 Lucky
“Without a little luck on your side, you can be the most talented actor in the world and not achieve success. That’s the hard truth about this profession.”

3 Self-Starter
“Being able to generate work for yourself is an essential part of the process of becoming a working actor.”

4 Practice
“Before you embark on the business end of becoming an actor – that world of headshots and agents – you need to get good.”

5 Networking
“Most actors and artists are natural hermits. We hate talking to people. We are weirdly antisocial. But you’ve got to fight the urge to spend all day alone. Get off your computer and get into a class. Volunteer as a theatre usher. Be a production assistant on someone’s short film.”

6 Support
“Create a family of weird, creative, supportive people. Sustaining work as an actor starts with the relationships you make with other artists. Everyone starts somewhere. Every big-name actor was an unknown at one point in his or her career.”

7 Employment
“You should pick a day job you can quit with no consequences. I don’t recommend working for a family member or friend unless you are willing to piss them off when you skip your shift, or miss a deadline at the last minute because you booked an acting gig.”

8 Inspiration
“If you have an annoying co-worker who’s incessantly talking about himself, turn him into a character for your improv class. If you have a painfully long daily commute, use it to practice accents or to listen to podcasts by artists you admire.”

9 Sales
“If acting is the business, you are the product, and your headshot is the packaging.”

10 Headshots
“Ask friends, relatives, your agent or even people who don’t know you very well what adjectives they would use to describe their first impression of you. Try to get a headshot that matches those adjectives.”

11 Irony
“Recently, an acting student told me that she goes on commercial auditions all the time that asks for a ‘Jenna Fischer type’. Ironic, right? When Jenna Fischer was auditioning for commercials, no one was interested.”

12 Commercials
“The actor’s job in a commercial is to be a supporting player for the real star of the spot… the product. Just act naturally and don’t put on a big show. Be there for the product. And be real. Real, real, real. That’s the mantra of commercials.”

13 Unique
“Don’t get discouraged. Everyone has a different story, a different path.”

14 Experience
“Get out there and start getting any work you can. That’s exactly what I did. The more I worked, the better I became.”

15 Success
“For me, what made the struggle even harder was the fact that my friends and family back home couldn’t understand what was taking so long. They couldn’t see the value of these small milestones. They just wanted to know when I would be on TV. Because that’s what translated as success to them.”

16 Visibility
“The very best way to advance your career is to be seen. Nobody will see you in your kitchen, except your creepy neighbour! Student films, short films, showcases, improv shows, web series, standup, YouTube videos, play readings, street performing – you never know where they’re going to lead. The more work you do, the more people see you, the more likely the right people are to find you.”

17 Proactive
“I wasn’t waiting for things to happen to me; I was out there making them happen.”

18 Monologues
“Pick material that is appropriate to how you would most likely be cast. You will have plenty of chances to show your range down the line.”

19 Improvising
“Know you can perform on your feet, as it’s common to be handed new material at a casting session or even after you’ve gotten the job on set. You can be the greatest actor in the world but if you can’t do an effective cold read, you’ll be stuck acting in your living room.”

20 Kindness
“Little did I know that bad auditions are a part of the process. If you totally bomb at an audition, try to be kind to yourself. It’s normal. Just another part of the life of an actor.”

21 Face
“Keep in mind that the casting director needs to see your face while you’re acting, You don’t want to be looking down at the sides; you want your face up and out, especially when you first begin. I recommend memorizing the first three lines of your script and identifying your character’s important emotional moments in the scene.”

22 Questions
“When I first started out, I was afraid to ask questions. I was worried it would make me look like I didn’t know what I was doing. But the truth is that questions that help inform your performance are not only acceptable, they are necessary. My success at auditions improved when I got over my fear of asking questions.”

23 Auditions
“Every audition is a chance to learn, practice and grow as an actor. The success is not always in getting the part but in the seed that is planted. So, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get all the parts. Just make sure you are learning, growing and doing your very best. That’s all you can really control.”

24 Patience
“You might wait one hour; you might wait five hours; you might wait ten. When I was working on the film Blades of Glory, there was a day I waited in my trailer for twelve hours, only to be sent home because they never got to my scene. I just sat there, all dolled up in my full hair, makeup, and wardrobe, waiting.”

25 Professional
“Imagine you’ve got a clogged toilet and you call a plumber to fix the problem. There is nothing more annoying than a plumber who arrives late, chats your ear off, slows you down and tries to sell you a new bathtub. Don’t be the actor version of that annoying plumber. Show up on time and prepared. Just fix the toilet. Everyone will love you if you just show up and fix the toilet.”

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If you’re in need of Extras, Actors or Models for your next Creative or Commercial Project, get in touch. We’d love to help. Simply email info@extrasireland.com or call us on (01) 634 3112 and let’s see how we can collaborate.