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What are the qualities that make an actor more likely to succeed in the field? With their unique vantage points, experts in the industry have seen over the course of years the personal qualities that impact an actor’s ability to book jobs and sustain a career on stage or screen. Here are their various insights into what attitudes and practices lead to success as an actor. 

Successful actors hold onto what makes them unique

Thom Hammond and Michael Cox from Hammond Cox Casting have established themselves as two of the most prolific casting directors in the UK, working internationally in commercials, music videos, and film. 

During an interview with Actors Anonymous UK, Hammond asserted, “People often look to be something other than what they are. And the thing that makes you interesting, is you as an individual. It’s a bit of personality or originality. Without wishing to hit it too hard, sometimes the drama school process can be one of flattening people out, and it can take the edges off. Ultimately, the edges kind of give you something to hold onto a bit. It’s the things that make you interesting as an individual that are probably more likely to get you work to start with because it’s something that makes you different … You can’t fake that stuff.”

They use their type to get their foot in the door

Michael Cox says, “I think sometimes actors don’t necessarily want to engage with [the idea of figuring out their specific type] because they want the idea that you can play all sorts of roles, which of course ultimately will be true. But like Thom said, at the beginning of your career, for commercial work, for music videos, short films, for smaller roles within drama, the marketplace wants actors who are the thing that they’re going to portray. … When you’re beginning, that’s really where it’s at. So it’s about thinking about those things and embracing them and celebrating them ultimately, as doing so is going to lead to work and more work and a fruitful career.”

Successful actors understand what they do, and dont have control over

Cox explains, “Preparing and working hard and doing the best job they can—[these are among the] things that actors can do, they can control.” 

In contrast, he says, “When actors kind of go on runs and suddenly book lots of jobs—actors will be familiar with that—I think there’s something quite sort of intangible about that. It’s a combination of them coming to the right age, you talk about someone maturing to suddenly playing a great dad or a young dad; their age, their look, their style, suddenly they feel confident, and they’ll go on a run. And that’s frustrating because it can’t be engineered ultimately. But, there are moments when all those things come together and people do have that success. I think that largely those things are outside of an actor’s control.”

They are very sensitive, yet super tough

British casting director Lucy Jenkins is half of the casting team at Jenkins McShane Casting, which has cast over a hundred plays, as well as television shows like “Skins” and “Wild at Heart.” The London-based casting director explains, “Well, to be an actor, I think you have to have this weird combination of being really sensitive, really observant, empathetic, you have to be a fantastic listener, you have to study the human condition, you have to be open and absorb things and be very switched on. …Then conversely, because of the industry and the way it is, you have to have a hide of a rhinoceros because you get so much rejection. You know, even really successful actors have rejection. So that is part and parcel of the job. So your ego is in a very strange place there. I think you have to have a very, very strong support network; I think you have to be very resilient; I think you have to kind of divorce yourself in a way from you, the performer, to you, the person. And I think that’s a really hard thing to do. … Don’t let the ego bit get too much and don’t let the insecurities get too much. I know they’re part and parcel the same thing. Be kind to yourself. When you go to an audition, go for it and then forget it. I think that’s a really hard thing, but don’t try to pin all your hopes on one thing, spread out your ambition; be kind of driven, but also realize that there are other things to do.” 

They keep all their acting muscles flexed

Jenkins continues, “Be open to opportunities. If somebody says, ‘Come do a workshop,’ yeah, brilliant. Keep moving, keep all your acting muscles flexed. Easy to say, I know, and I didn’t really do that when I was an actor, but I know now, being on the other side [of casting] that’s really important. And those are the kind of actors I find really exciting, the ones who are connected and, ‘I’m not working and I’ve got a day job, but I’m also writing a show, I also do play readings once a month with my mates.”

They understand their role on the team

Acting agent and stage columnist John Byrne has over three decades’ experience as a writer, broadcaster, and performer, including a “Dear John” column sharing advice with performers of all levels for twenty years. He’s also the co-founder of New Wonder Management talent agency. Bryne explains, “I think flexibility is important. I think one of the things that is most important is an actor understands that they’re part of a team. It might just be team for that production, but they’re part of a team, because over the years when I have had the privilege of working with very famous, very distinguished actors, one thing I’ve noticed is quite a lot of them are just as aware of what the camera person is doing or has to do or the sound person. So they kind of know how to give other people in the production what they need to make it collectively a good production. I think an actor that has an awareness of that will go quite far in the industry. Reliability, punctuality—I think that’s important.”

Successful actors properly network

Byrne continues, “And being supportive of other people because that will get you work, besides the fact it’s a nice thing, it will get you work. … Proper networking is meeting lots of people and connecting with them and finding out how you can help them, and then reciprocally, that will come back to you. It might not come back from the person that you’re helping; it might come back from some other source. I know a lot of actors who’ve done a show reel scene to help out their friend because it was their show reel, and then that particular scene then ends up getting the actor who was helping a role.”