The path to stardom
Even to outsiders, acting can seem extremely appealing. It’s one of very few jobs that allows for total creative immersion. An actor has to become their character so that the audience will believe their performance.
Talented actors can find themselves in a lucrative career that pays millions of dollars per project, but getting to that stage of skill and prominence is a bit of a mystery, especially for those just starting out in the world of acting.
Here at Current Artisan, we’ve received a number of comments that all orbit the same theme: I want to become an actor, where do I start?
As with many careers in entertainment, there’s no one right answer to this question, but what we can do for any aspiring actors out there is pass along helpful stories and advice from an actor who has already found success in her field.
Leah Khambata showed a special knack for performance from a very early age. She quickly became involved with school musicals and concerts, combining her singing and acting skills.
Originally from Mumbai, Khambata has since explored stage acting, film acting, and even musical performance in several different cities around the world, including London, New York, and Los Angeles.
In addition to acting, Khambata also penned and produced her own short, entitled (t)here, which explored how multicultural millenials have to face unique problems when it comes to interacting with relatives and moving to other countries.
Khambata was more than happy to discuss her own journey as a professional actor and offer hard-won tips for anyone else looking to explore the art of performance.
The value of starting early
Like many performers, Khambata found herself with a serious interest in performance when she was still very young.
She knew that she wanted to perform, and yet, this desire was at odds with her inherent shyness and stage fright.
Unexpectedly, it was her involvement with music that helped bridge the gap between desire and action.
“I’ve always been interested in performing, but I was also extremely shy growing up, so it was this constant clash within me of wanting to be on stage but also being really self-conscious. I would constantly perform skits with my friends in-between class periods during school. But I think I really came into my own and got more of that self-confidence to perform solo when I started writing and performing my own songs.”
These feelings of stage fright and intimidation are natural for any performer, especially a child. For Khambata, the benefit in starting early with different types of performance was having the opportunity to work through these fears and anxieties long before beginning her professional career.
Find your heroes
When trying to find your own acting style, it’s never a bad idea to identify specific actors who you admire. No, you can’t simply imitate their styles exactly, but it can be incredibly helpful to watch the pros at work.
When we asked Khambata about some of her favorite actors, she was quick to mention Leonardo DiCaprio and Saoirse Ronan, both of whom have been able to consistently choose substantial and interesting roles.
But above all else, she wanted to single out one of her favorite television show casts of all time:
“I absolutely love the show Friends and its ensemble of actors. They have extremely good chemistry with each other and great comedic timing. The fact that I can watch an episode for the 10th time and still find it funny really attests to the actors’ immense talent. I would love to be a part of a show like that someday which people can play on repeat and still enjoy every time.”
Joining up with a successful sitcom is not only a lucrative career option for an actor but also an opportunity to express a surprising amount of range in a single role. Characters are allowed to evolve, speaking to their most human traits.
Allow for creative cross-pollination
Many up-and-coming actors believe that they need to specialize as quickly as possible, focusing only on acting and even a specific genre.
While this kind of focus can aid in creating a personal brand as an actor, it also runs the risk of excluding other types of creative outlets.
Khambata is confident that her own relationship with music has, in many ways, informed her acting.
She explained how the differences and similarities between these creative pursuits help her keep a broad creative sensibility:
“With both acting and singing, you have to be able to fully immerse yourself in the moment and not let your environment phase you in any way. The key difference though is that with music, you are performing to an audience. With acting, you rarely ever break the fourth wall, acknowledging there is an audience. It’s all about operating in your own world.”
Even some of the most talented actors of our time often use alternate creative hobbies as a way to step back from acting and gain a different perspective.
In fact, the great Daniel Day-Lewis is said to have made shoes in the time between major projects. While both acting and crafting involve creative elements, they stimulate different skills, different modes of thought.
Preparation vs. networking
Now we’ve come to the finer points of starting out in the world of acting. Let’s say you’re a talented actor who has just graduated from high school or a 4-year college. Now you have to find a paying job so that you can support yourself financially, but you also need to find time to seek out auditions and practice your craft.
It can be intimidating to face the world on your own, especially when you don’t know where to start looking for acting jobs that pay and challenge you as an artist.
Finding success as an actor requires both artistic and practical skills. On the artistic side, preparation is your friend. Practicing alone and with other actors keeps these skills sharp.
On the practical side, networking is the main focus. Finding open roles, and eventually an agent, are absolutely necessary to establish yourself as a skilled actor.
Khambata believes that here in the internet age, self-promotion and networking are the most important elements:
“I wish I could say that it has more to do with skill/preparation, but unfortunately, self-promotion and networking are vital these days. You have to set yourself apart just to be seen.”
Khambata went through a time when she attended as many networking events as possible, but she quickly found herself repeating the same elevator pitch of her personal background and skills over and over again.
On one level, it helped her find jobs, but the repetition itself was draining.
“My advice would be to attend events that you’ll actually enjoy, and if you happen to do some networking as well, it’s a bonus.”
Focusing on acting workshops and conferences that offer many benefits to attendees allow for more natural and fulfilling networking.
Utilize your downtime
When you’ve secured yourself a role, don’t take it for granted. Even if it’s just a bit part on a small student film that pays relatively little, try to get the most out of it.
Khambata recommended spending as much time as you can with the cast and crew of the project. This is an especially positive practice when there’s lots of downtime on set.
Instead of shutting yourself off from the cast and crew, playing on your phone or snacking away, talk to anyone and everyone who’s not busy at the moment.
“I usually go over my lines first. And then if I feel I’m in a good place with them and don’t want to overdo it, then I’ll hang out with my fellow actors and crew members. It’s a chance to get to know everyone better, and that can make it more enjoyable to create something together.”
When you feel comfortable with your team, it will be that much easier to completely inhabit your character and create a believable performance.
Even more importantly, you can stand to learn something from just about everyone on set. Ask them about their role, their crew position, or even about where they’re from and how they started working in entertainment.
Keep moving forward
It’s no secret that the road to becoming a successful actor is a difficult one. As an aspiring actor, you’ll have to deal with a massive amount of rejection. Often, it speaks more to the industry as a whole rather than your specific skills.
The final tip we can leave you with is to prepare yourself for tough times ahead. Success doesn’t come easy, and dwelling on past mistakes, past failures, or missed opportunities won’t help.
Be honest with yourself about your greatest strengths and weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to seek out the kinds of roles that speak to you on a personal and emotional level.