7 Things You Never Knew About Being An Actor

actor realities

If you want to be an actor, consider this first

It’s a glamorous life that many people dream of achieving. Being a famous actor and all the perks that go along with it. Fame and fortune! Celebrity!

Their handprints emblazoned in cement! A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!

Not so fast.

Being an actor isn’t as easy as you think. For every Scarlett Johansson or Brad Pitt there are literally thousands of actors making a decent living playing small parts as well as those just getting by.

So while it’s a rewarding career, there’s a lot you don’t know about being an actor.

1. Money. They Don’t Make As Much As You Think.

Most actors have an agent as well as a manager. So they have to pay at least ten percent of their earnings to each. If you have both, that’s twenty to twenty five percent right there.

Plus, don’t forget about taxes. Also as you start to climb the ladder, you have to deal with more in-depth contracts that will require legal advice.

Also, actors don’t make as much money as you would think. While A-listers can do quite well, sometimes lesser known actors can only make a few hundred dollars a day.

In fact, many low budget cable films can pay as little as $150 a day and that’s before taxes and management takes their cut.

Also remember, the actor may only shoot a few days a month.

Actors do get residual checks for years after they do a union project, but those checks will get incrementally smaller as time goes by.

It’s not uncommon for an actor to get a residual check for less than ten cents. It literally costs more to mail the check than it’s worth.

2. Most Actors Have Side Gigs… Even Famous Ones.

When they are just starting out, most actors need to have a “survival gig.” Often this is shift work like working at a bar or restaurant so they can easily get time off for auditions and acting jobs.

Even famous actors will often have sidelines to bring in cash or to make sure they are creating earnings for later in life.

A common one is buying property or flipping homes like Jeremy Renner. Often they branch out into branded products like clothing or jewelry, making money off their name and public persona.

Actors know that even if they are on a successful show or shooting a movie destined to be a hit, they may not see another acting job for months or longer.

So they become very adept at looking for side work and putting away their paychecks.

Another common way to make money is to do appearances or sign autographs at conventions. This happens a lot with science fiction and fantasy actors and can actually be quite lucrative.

It’s also a great way to keep their face in the forefront of the minds of fans and producers which helps lead to future work.

3. Most Actors Are Not Overnight Sensations

The old Hollywood dream is that someone arrived in Los Angeles, got discovered and became a star overnight.

While this does happen, it’s not very common at all. It’s really a one in a million shot.

For the most part, productions cast actors with experience, even if you don’t recognize them. They need to know that the actor has the understanding of the filmmaking or television process and will behave professionally.

For example, “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa has become a huge celebrity but most people were not aware of him before “Game of Thrones.”

Other fans know he was on “Stargate Atlantis” and in the rebooted “Conan” film.

But Jason’s career goes back to his teens when he appeared on “Baywatch: Hawaii” and other shows.

He’s had dozens of guest starring roles as well as headlining some critical darlings like “The Red Road” and some programs he probably wants to forget about, like the sexy prime time Fox soap opera “North Shore.”

4. Movies Can Take So Long To Finish The Actors May Have Retired

It’s not uncommon for a film to take a few months to shoot and then years to finish.

If there are financial issues, it can take even longer or possibly end up never being released. Many actors have thought they found their breakout role, only to see it shelved forever.

Sometimes an actor is just starting out and gets a great role in a movie, but it takes so long to be released they might have had to take a regular 9 to 5 job just to survive.

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Or they might have gotten burned out on the industry. Sowhen the project is finally released they just smile and say, “Yup, I was in that,” as they go on with their non-showbiz life.

It even happens that movies take so long to complete that the actor might not even look the same and can’t use their performance to get other work.

This happens a lot with child actors, who can’t capitalize on their cuteness anymore because they are now awkward teenagers.

hollywood walk of fame

5. Very Few Actors Act Their Entire Careers

For every Robert De Niro, there is a Peter Bonerz.

Who you ask?

Bonerz was a successful actor, probably best known for his role as Jerry the Dentist on the classic “The Bob Newhart Show.”

However, as he moved through his career he became a successful television director and kept his acting to mostly guest appearances.

It’s very common for actors to become directors, especially in television. Their knowledge of the process and how to work with talent and crew becomes instrumental and they can make a very natural transition.

It’s still a tough gig to get, but once you have a few shows under your belt as a director, it’s often much easier to find work than it is to audition for roles.

Being an actor is tough and often people get burnt out. A few make it their sole career, but others simply get tired of the grind.

Some, like Orson Welles, Ed Burns or Peter Berg moved into full-time directing but would still do small roles and shows they are involved in for fun.

6. There Are A Lot Of Expenses

Being an actor costs money.

There are union dues, photo sessions and casting services as well as classes, clothing and travel expenses to auditions.

In the past, actors could deduct many parts of their career preparation and life on their taxes, but new IRS changes have made that increasingly difficult.

Another major expense is health insurance and medical costs. While the Screen Actors Guild (the union for actors) offers health insurance, actors must earn a certain amount every year in order to qualify.

However, a large number of actors don’t make enough to secure SAG insurance.

So most actors have to pay for their own health insurance, since most likely they don’t have a side gig that supplies it. Often they simply go without.

hollywood scams

7. Hollywood Is A Constant Minefield Of Scams

Hollywood is a dream factory and when you are dealing with something so personal, there are a lot of people who want to take advantage of you.

So there are always scams out there in the acting world and sometimes even the best people fall into them.

From unscrupulous agents and managers to bad career gurus and bad photographers, actors are constantly up against people trying to separate them from the small amount of money they have.

Actors are tempted to pay for any opportunity that might give them a leg up in the industry.

Recently, law enforcement got involved and indicted a large number of casting directors for “pay to play” when they were charging fees for meetings with actors and the slim hope they might cast them in a project.

One well-known casting director from the popular long running show “Criminal Minds” was fired and faces jail time.

The #MeToo movement brought to light many of the disturbing activities of producers, directors and executives in the industry.

It is not at all uncommon for people in positions of power to make promises to actors in return for sexual services, or to just use that power to get what they want.

While a lot has changed, it’s still a real problem for actresses and actors and will be for some time to come.

Main photo credit: Deposit photos

About Eric Paul Erickson 31 Articles
Eric Paul Erickson is a writer, journalist and award winning filmmaker. He’s based in Los Angeles and his interests include fitness, men’s health, pop culture, space, science and film.