Being an actor is a funny life. We all think of actors as rich glamorous people that we see on TMZ or the cover of People. The truth is all actors start out a little differently. Some actors go to fabulous schools and get fantastic theater training and end up on a TV Drama. Others move to LA to fail as background actors.
“Actors have dreams – dreams of money” – Unknown.
I won’t name names but working as a “background actor” aka “extra” has put me in the same room with some great A-list actors. Access even TMZ can’t get. Once I didn’t do my homework and told a Vegan A-list actress to get a cobb salad for lunch. She still recommended that I come back. When you work hard actors respect each other regardless of their race, religion or diet. A lesson many people could use.
For them being an actor is very different than being an actor is for me. Some hard truth? There are over 70,000 Union actors just in Los Angeles. Less than 4% make the required minimum each year to get union benefits. I am one of the 96% that barely makes any notable income as an actor. So why do they (we) do it?
The real truth is that being an actor is an addiction. Once you try it, you get the bug or you don’t. When I took my wife to Central Casting to sign up as a background actor, we both got lucky and landed a non-union job together. The pay was a whopping $80 for 8 hours. Basically minimum wage. For two people who make a lot more money you would think we would see the check and say “hell no”.
We didn’t. Instead she was hooked. The memories of being a kid on Romper Room, ABC Junior All Stars and some extra work hit me like a recovering addict stopping at the crack bar. This time I was old enough to understand that I can keep coming back I could choose to stay addicted and my parents couldn’t stop me.
You just can’t walk away from being an actor if the bug bites you. In my business, I am an actor. I just didn’t realize it until my first day back at Paramount Studios after nearly 40 years away. Every day I have to put on a show for my clients. You are probably more of an actor than you think. Some of my favorite clients are lawyers. They are among the best actors I know.
Some of my actor friends are nearly homeless. The addiction has a complete hold on them. I am lucky that I have a good income that keeps a roof over my head while I continue to seek acting work. Some of my actor friends tell me that being a background actor will prevent me from ever moving ahead. I find this interesting since some of the biggest names started out at Central Casting as background actors. More importantly I don’t care. I just like the work and the challenge. Acting is never the same thing twice.
I have no delusions of grandeur that I am the next John Wayne or Ronald Reagan, but I do enjoy acting work in all forms. As a background actor, I am still on set. I get to meet writers, directors and those actors who are living very well and enjoying the spotlight. Being an actor is different for everyone, and for me it is about the constant challenge. One day I have to drive a car around the block without blocking the camera, another day I have to get to the bar right when Mr. A-list orders a beer. On the best days I am the cop, news reporter or doctor that delivers the good (or bad) news.
Some of the best “background work” has been standing in for the A-list actors. One one movie, I was a stand in for an a-lister and was coached by his manager for 6 weeks straight. You can’t buy that education. I know because I tried to hire the manager afterwards and he wasn’t taking on new clients.
Being an actor has allowed me to go into places in Los Angeles that I would never have seen any other way. It also let me do things I would have never done any other way. I get to be the crying dad when my son is killed. I get to be the total jackass to someone I find very nice. I get to pop off to my “boss”. Being an actor lets me be everything my parents told me not to be. It lets me be the person the military washed out of my brain.
Clients wonder why I do it, when they are paying me good money to help them grow their business. The reality is that I learn more working with Emmy award winning directors and actors than I ever learned in business school. The videos I make for my clients shoot right to the top of the search engines. People start calling my clients because of what I learn on set, not business school.
Isn’t that what being an actor is about? Connecting to people is what actors must do to sell the story. Connecting a story to people is what every business wants.
The typical actor job is waiter or waitress. Why? Simply put the skills are very similar. A great waitperson can take the order of an entire table without taking notes. Sounds like memorizing lines quickly doesn’t it?
Being an actor isn’t for everyone. It takes time, work and sacrifice. While my clients go home after hours, I go to acting class. When they are home with their families, I am studying monologues. When I go to work as a background actor, I take home less than I make in an hour at my business, and yet I still hope to get the call.
As a “principle” actor my “day rate” is still less than a third of what I make at my “day job” and yet, I go to audition after audition for free on my time hoping to land a job that pays less than I make at work.
Watching new background actors is an incredible lesson on success. Put earbuds in, get paid for the day and ignore the director, no job tomorrow. Get to work 20 minutes early, pay attention and volunteer for everything and get called back.
Being an actor sounds like life doesn’t it?