STAR ACTOR AND YES INTERNATIONAL! MAGAZINE CELEBRITY COLUMNIST, CHIDI MOKEME WRITES ON SUCCEEDING IN ACTING
“I like the character roles. Somewhere back there, I really came to the conclusion in my mind that the difference between acting and stardom was major. And that if you become a star, people are going to go to see you. If you remain an actor, they’re going to go and see the story you’re in.” – Morgan Freeman
Do you think you have what it takes to be an actor? Have you ever dreamed of one day becoming a Nollywood actor? If so, the first thing you need to realize is that this dream can become a reality if you’re willing to commit to it and put in the time, training, dedication, passion and patience required to make it in Nollywood. I’ve been in the business for a long time and in my time, I’ve see many budding actors fail at the first hurdle they face because, truth be told, there are no clearly defined rules and ‘How To’ guides that outline what to do, what not to do – and all the in-betweens of becoming an actor. Becoming an actor isn’t rocket science, nor is it easy. But becoming an actor can be accomplished if you have a strong grasp of what lies ahead of you and down your acting career path. If you’ve always wondered how to become a film or television actor, then here are a few steps that will help you go from where you are to where you want to be in your acting career. The sad fact is that only a few people ever make it as actors and even fewer make it beyond a few “sub-standard” film roles and television appearances. I’ve started at the beginning with how you should commence your acting and how to get yourself known in the trade. Remember, there aren’t any hard and fast rules to follow, but there are untold traditions that continue in the acting business today. Your journey to becoming an actor will be much easier once you learn about the film industry and what’s worked for other beginning actors like you. So, what can you do to help your chances of success? For all the things you can’t control (how you look, how you sound, etc), there are a few things you can do that might just make the difference between getting the part and continuing to work as a part time waiter. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Step 1: Learn The Art Of Acting
Seems like a given, doesn’t it? But I can’t tell you the number of people that come into Nollywood thinking that all they need to do is get close to an actor, or meet a producer, get “discovered” and then it’s nothing but champagne and caviar from there. Hmmmm, na today! Acting is first and foremost a craft. The best actors in Nollywood, Bollywood and Hollywood understand this; no matter how far they have come in their careers, they are constantly looking to improve their craft. So, it’s imperative that you take a wide variety of acting classes either formally or informally. A very effective informal way of training is to become a very keen observer of life’s experiences. The more you know, the more well rounded you’ll be and ultimately, the better prepared you’ll be for whatever roles come your way.
Step 2: Location
If you hope to work in film and/ or television as an actor, you need to go where the action is. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you must live in Lagos. After all, there are plenty of acting hot spots springing up in Enugu, Asaba, Abuja, etc. But Lagos is where most of the action is and a lot of the producers and directors live there too. Many of the productions that are shot in Asaba or other cities within the country, or even Ghana, are still cast in Lagos. So, even though you don’t necessarily need to move here, keep in mind that it is where most of the action is.
Step 3: Whatever It Takes
To become a successful actor, you must be willing to commit yourself and do what it takes for the sake of your craft (and I’m not talking about the “casting couch” here). You might ultimately have to sacrifice certain aspects of your life to ensure that you will have success as a working Nollywood actor. You must take the time to understand and master your craft. Some of your relationships and friendships will be tested and stretched and even sacrificed along the way. I know that sounds rather harsh, but acting is not a 9-5 job by any stretch. If you’re lucky enough to land a role in a film or television production, you will quickly realize that this is not the glamorous Nollywood job you might’ve thought it would be. Acting is a lot of work, often 14-20 hours per day, in all kinds of conditions and at least, initially, for not much money. Even actors who make millions of naira per film still must “work” to earn their keep. They are on location for days, weeks, sometimes months at a time and every day they commit themselves both emotionally and physically to their roles. It can be extremely exhausting. You must prepare yourself both mentally and physically for this type of challenge. You need to grab the attention of producers and casting directors because they have the power to hire you and offer you acting jobs. The more you perform for numerous producers and casting directors, the more opportunity you will have to be cast in their productions. In order to be seen by a casting director or producer, you need to attend an audition. Every time you attend an audition, you’ll be performing in front of a casting director and a panel of casting associates, producers, directors, etc. These people judge your performance, evaluate your acting abilities, and ultimately cast you in their productions. So, where do you find these all-important casting calls and auditions? Start by visiting the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) offices closest to you. Go to all of the auditions you find. Don’t pass on unpaid acting jobs because they can still prove to be extremely valuable. With each job (unpaid jobs too), you can add to your resume. Plus, the auditions and unpaid roles will give you first hand and on-the-job experience and training. Remember, never stop learning!
Step 4: Commitment
Just as I mentioned above that you have to make certain sacrifices to make it as an actor in Nollywood, one of those is your ego. If you’re about looking cool, or trying to maintain a certain image, then acting might not be for you. The best actors are those who are willing to let themselves be 100% consumed by the role they are playing. They physically become the person they portray. If you’re in the middle of delivering your lines and suddenly you let yourself drift back into your own life, you are not fully committed to the role and your performance will show it. You have to literally “forget yourself” to help ensure the quality of your performance turns out well.
Step 5: Be Nice
Nollywood is all about helping those you know because they might one day be in a position to help you as well. So, you need to remember this steadfast rule – be nice to everyone. From production assistants, production managers, to fellow cast and crew members to whomever you meet in Nollywood. Remember, that assistant you treated poorly two years ago might one day become a director, film producer, executive producer. And trust me; they’ll remember those who stomped on their toes on their way up the ladder. Conversely, they’ll remember those who were nice the whole way up and they’ll be that much more inclined to help them achieve their own goals.
Step 6: Focus On The Craft
There are many actors I know who spent years worrying more about getting connected, befriending an actor, or dating this producer/director than becoming a well trained actor. Producers/directors are a necessary evil, but they do not make you or break you (as much as they like to think they do). As many actors will attest, simply because they know a top actor, or have a relationship with a powerful producer/director does not guarantee their success. The happiest actors are the working actors. And just because you might not be getting paid for your acting doesn’t mean that you can’t be a working actor. Every experience is experience. So, spend less time seeking out and stalking actors and producers, and more time seeking out acting opportunities yourself. From small plays, to TV series and soap operas, you’ll be happily surprised how many seemingly insignificant opportunities are the ones that make your entire career. Besides, when the time is right, the producers/directors will come and seek you out.
Step 7: Know Your Range,Then Break Through It
We’ve all seen those actors who seem to constantly be working in a particular range of roles – “tough guy” image, the “cry baby”, the “wicked mother”, “naïve village girl”, “the rich arrogant chief”, etc. These actors made their names playing certain roles because they found a range they made work for them and stuck with it. But then, as many of the better actors will often do, they challenge themselves and break through the mold that audiences, producers and directors had put them in. initially; it’s somewhat important to find a range that works for you. It helps people (meaning, casting directors) know who you are and often when you’re starting out, it’s those memories that get you paid work. But that doesn’t mean you stop developing as an actor. Use the character traits you’ve discovered to get yourself working. But continue to learn new facets of your person. From voice characterization to exploring a wider variety of acting techniques. You will find that everything you learn in the acting realm will be put to use someday.
Step 8: Be Persistent
You have to develop persistence. There is one general rule in the entertainment world – talent alone won’t get you there, but persistence just might. Those who are gritty and willing to give it their all, day in and day out, will have a much greater chance of success than the trained actor who waits around in his apartment for opportunity to come knocking. The trick is, you have to get out there. Meet and network with people and let them know what you are doing. It’s absolutely essential to your success.
Step 9: Have Patience
The true “overnight success” is rare. Sure, there are those actors that seem completely unknown one day, only to dominate the limelight the next. But the reality is that there were years of hard work and preparation that led them to that “sudden discovery”. Nollywood is a strange community. There are actors who had literally been working for decades when all of a sudden they’re in a role that gets a bit of attention and suddenly, they’re famous. Patience is not only a virtue in Nollywood, it’s an absolute must to keep to keep for going insane. So, develop your patience and you will enjoy the process of attaining stardom. Being an actor is not the easy life it may seem. There are often long periods of financial insecurity, huge amounts of competition, along with multiple forms of rejection that make the overall process more difficult. But many actors will never succeed simply because they ignore some of the most basic elements and can’t get out of their own way. Give yourself the best chance at success by following these simple rules and you’ll quickly find that you’re already ahead of the game.
Step 10: Act Now!
Decide that acting is what you really want to do and put these steps to work. For more tips on how to become a successful actor, visit my blog at www.chidimokeme.com/blog
“Acting is a nice childish profession – pretending you’re someone else and, at the same time, selling yourself.” – Katharine Hepburn.
To Your Success
NB: First published December 2014
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