There is something innate that lives in the heart of an actor. It’s been described as an internal compulsion to create. Possibly it is the need to entertain others? For some, acting is the only thing that confers a sense of satisfaction. Whatever the reason, actor’s act…or at least have the urge to. Do you have the urge to become a professional actor but feel your prime has passed you by? Fear not, the business of professional acting is saturated by those who have not followed a traditional thespian path. Of those who believed it was never too late to start. Of those who simply acted upon their passion to act.
The profession of acting has largely been relegated to the realm of the teen heartthrob, the 20 something sex symbol or the established star. This is a real stigma but has no basis in reality. If you are an actor starting later in life, do not despair. There is a place for you. Remember this; acting opportunities occur for every age group. This is a truism that extends to toddlers to senior citizens. As NYC acting coach Denise Simon relates, “There are characters of all ages, so of course there are roles for actors of all ages”. The business of acting must have actors to fill every demographic because different age groups require diverse interpretations to be represented.
Acting is an art and open to interpretation. Not only is acting open to interpretation, it is dependent upon it. What matters most is the passion to share one’s interpretation. So, does the dream of becoming a professional actor know an age limit? If acting is truly a passion, the answer is absolutely no. Cathryn Hartt, a Dallas based acting teacher, further crystallizes the matter: “It is never too late–especially if you do this because your soul needs to do it! And if you don’t do it, your heart will die a little more every day.” Unfortunately, sometimes life simply gets in the way. As is often the case when life gets in the way, the pursuits of dreams are often put on hold. Delays notwithstanding, there are many examples that serve as a testament to those who never gave up on their dream to act professionally.
Danny Aiello was working as a night club bouncer when he decided to pursue acting at age 40. He went on to be nominated for an Academy Award and has continued an extremely successful film and stage career. At the age of 37, John Mahoney quit his job as the associate editor of a medical journal to take his shot as a professional actor. He went on to win a Tony Award on Broadway and star as Frasier’s dad Martin on the hit television show “Frasier” for over ten years. Rodney Dangerfield quit comedy to sell aluminum siding in the 1950s before returning to entertainment and making his film debut at the age of 50. He is now regarded as one of a handful of true comedy icons and a pop culture legend. These success stories are unique but not rare. When the spark of the passion still exists, the dream is still alive. Following one’s dreams is never a feudal pursuit, no matter how improbable others think it might be.
The late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s advice for pursuing acting was simple; “Study. Find all the good teachers and study with them”. Drama schools and performing arts academies provide any number of solid foundations for the craft. But not everybody studied script analysis, improvisation, corporal expression, site reading, stage combat and scene extrapolation. For most people that take up acting later in life, the Julliard Drama School or the Actors Studio was not in the cards. Some of the finest actors of recent memory did not go to school for acting and led full lives before deciding to pursue acting at a later age. The good news is that people who decide to pursue acting later in life are blessed with unique advantages. Experience does make all the difference but it does not have to necessarily be acting experience.
The greatest asset of the late starting actor is life experience. These are the hard learned lessons that mold true character and there is no substitute for them. Acting instructor Andrew Hearle whittles it down like this: “It’s drawn from our failures, our breakups, our adventures. Having a rich and varied life gives you more to draw from in any audition or scene”. The education that true life offers cannot be duplicated in a classroom.
Life experience constitutes the depth and range necessary to manufacture character and it is impossible to absorb from a textbook. It also builds your natural character so that you are better armed to defend against the sometimes harsh world of professional acting. These qualities manifest in the maturity that arrives with age and is another advantage of an actor starting later in life. As Professional audition coach Philip HernÃ¡ndez says, “You’re likely more motivated to learn, less impressionable, and a little bit more patient”. HernÃ¡ndez further describes the benefits of a late starting actor as he states, “Most importantly, your years of experience have given you something to say! The choices you’ve made have made you who you are and have given you a unique, personal point of view”.
The need to act is something that is precisely indefinable but can be generally described as a yearning to express. Perhaps it’s an inborn passion to tell a story or an instinctive desire to relate. The love of acting cannot be faked. It can be mimicked, but there is no substitute for the love of the craft. This is why many hold the opinion that the only requirement needed to pursue a career as a professional actor is a passionate determination. However a career in acting, especially later in life, is a dream for many but a reality for a select few. It is assured that your dreams will never come true if you don’t at least try. So, does this make it impossible? Los Angeles based acting coach Sara Mornell offers this advice: “Let’s start with nothing is impossible. I would never want anyone to look back and regret not trying”.
Many professional actors will say that acting is not a job, it’s a calling. It’s the need to please an audience. And though acting techniques can be learned, a passion for acting cannot be taught. A career in acting has no expiration date but it does require the courage to try. As Talent agency owner Jackie Reid exclaimed, “I love people who change course mid-life for a completely different second act! It’s so brave and I applaud anyone who does it!” Don’t forget, life has prepared you for the role of a lifetime — if you want it. If you posses the passion to act, act upon your passion to act.