"Be yourself, grow your network and don’t be shy to make friends."
A career as a professional actor has always required an acting agent and three years training at a National Council for Drama Training (NCDT) approved Drama UK School.
More recently, however, the industry has started to change and opportunities are opening up for anybody interested in a career in acting, regardless of their experience.
Of course, like any profession, hard work and drive is essential to make sure you stand out ahead of others. But if you’re keen to become an actor, here’s a few pearls of wisdom to help you.
These day’s British Asian actors can get opportunities to work in Hollywood and Bollywood films which are produced in the UK by UK film production companies because of cheaper production costs. Opportunities are also on the rise for British Asian actors to work in Iranian and Turkish films.
To secure jobs, many actors look to independent casting websites such as Casting Call Pro, Cast Now and The Casting Website.
Casting agents, film productions companies and film directors on all levels of the entertainment industry place adverts on these websites when seeking talent.
However, most of the jobs offered on these websites are unpaid due to low budget film productions.
However, if you do want to go for more prestigious jobs in the industry, such as auditioning for a BBC drama or soap, you will require NCDT accreditation. After gaining this, an actor is advised to register onto the industry directory Spotlight and get an acting agent.
Non-NCDT accredited actors can gain work by fulfilling a specific criterion without going to drama school. This criterion consists of a minimum of three speaking roles to the actor’s credit in a professional production. This does not include extras work, modelling or music videos.
This will allow you to register with the Equity Actors Union and the Spotlight directory, which means you will be able to audition for speaking roles and gain proper acting roles alongside NCDT trained actors who are sent to auditions by prestigious agents.
Anthony Gopaul is an actor who managed to achieve this: “Last year I set myself some goals, get enough speaking credits to get onto Spotlight and Casting Call Pro.”
“I have funnily enough got roles without an agent; the reason for this is because I have a good portfolio which is growing. Next step is to get an agent,” Gopaul insists.
Acting work can be unpredictable, seasonal, low pay or no pay at all, depending on the production budget. To make ends meet actors also take on work in other areas of the entertainment industry.
This can include, an assistant director, theatre usher, stage crew, writing and most commonly extras work which pays a typical £100 a day through extras agencies such as 2020 Casting, Casting Collective and Ray Knight.
Gopaul started as an extra: “I fell into acting by chance. Several people told me I had a certain look and I would have no struggle becoming an actor. Three years ago I got hit by the credit crunch and fell into debt.”
“I lost my job and was out of work for 8 months. The only work I could find was as a film extra. My life has turned around and I turned my negative situation into a positive one,” he adds.
Now a professional actor, Gopaul’s next movie is the upcoming Asian comedy gangster film called I.O.U. His first film was called Ghosted in which he played a security guard.
He says: “This was a well-run professional film and I learnt what was expected of me, to be on set, to be on time and listen and do what the director says.”
These days a lot more actors are starting to produce and direct their own low budget independent movies. These are mostly made for film festivals and supermarket distribution.
One such actor is Armaan Kirmani, an actor who starred alongside Rishi Kapoor and Akshay Kumar in the 2011 Bollywood flick Patiala House. He branched out into producing and directing films in 2012 giving opportunities for actors such as Ali Karim, a Pakistani actor who came over to the UK in 2010.
Karim did not study acting but in 2012 his enthusiasm landed him a role in Kirmani’s short film titled Color Pictures.
Karim says: “I got the opportunity to work with a great director, producer, crew and co-stars. I did it for the experience and money but you need a lot of time and energy to keep going.”
Actors also find work through networking and being in the right place at the right time. Sion-Loong, for instance, is an actor who looks for niche acting jobs whenever East Asians actors are required. Loong got involved in the entertainment industry after starting work for the production company behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Eight years later Loong got the chance to act in the Hollywood version of the Japanese legend, 47 Ronin. Loong’s advice to other actors is:
“Focusing on what you love doing is usually not the way to make money. You will need to be patient, be prepared to do other jobs and apply for as many opportunities as possible.”
Leena Devi is a professional British Asian actress. She has been performing since the age of seven. She adores playing Shakespeare characters.
Her next challenge is to do more on-screen work. Devi maintains her acting career alongside her day job.
Her advice to other actors is: “Be yourself, grow your network and don’t be shy to make friends. If I can imagine wanting to get out bed for a 4am shoot and trekking to the other side of London or country, then it’s worth taking.”
Tips and Guidance
- Network – with actors, friends, colleagues and members of casting websites etc.
- Browse resource databases for jobs and advice.
- Gain Drama UK NCDT accreditation through drama school training or alternatively through gaining 3 speaking roles to your credit.
- Register with Equity Union and Spotlight directory when you start earning money from acting.
- Have good time management skills. Lateness creates bad reputation and no future work for actors.
- Have a showreel to promote yourself to a casting director. Even doing some unpaid work in return of a DVD of your speaking part roles is worth it, i.e. student short films.
The film, TV and theatre industry is changing. More opportunities are opening up for anybody interested in developing a career in acting. However an actor’s potential and professionalism is still judged by their hard work and performance. Remember, believe in yourself, the world is your oyster!