Actor • Job Description, Salary & Benefits

Are you a budding thespian? Do you crave the sound of applause? Do you know the difference between upstage and downstage? Are you waiting in the wings for your perfect career opportunity?

If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, then you should probably keep reading. Who knows? With our help you might be the next Carey Mulligan, Michael Cera, Mila Kunis or James Buckley.

Essentially, actors are performers who work across various different media, including theatre, television, radio and film. Some actors also do voiceovers for animated projects, act on television commercials and record audiobooks.

An actor’s primary duty is to effectively communicate the character that they are playing to an audience, using their voice, body, actions and reactions. Through their art, actors tell stories, engender emotional reactions in their audience and make people think.

Acting is a powerful profession; by pretending to be somebody else, actors are able to trick people into believing that the character they are playing is actually real. Actors influence emotions, trends and critical discussion. Without them, the world would be a boring place.

Many performers work across various different areas of the acting profession. For instance, many actors eventually make the crossover from television to film acting. However, some actors choose to focus on one area of acting. For example, many performers concentrate solely on a career in theatre.

To be a successful actor, you will need a certain amount of talent. However, you can’t rely on your gift alone. To thrive in this cut-throat industry, you will need to rehearse, learn your lines, rehearse and then rehearse some more!

Actors don’t just rock up, deliver a flawless Shakespearean soliloquy on their first try, and then go hang out in their dressing room eating Mini Cheddars for the rest of the day. Acting is a tough, taxing profession, which requires lots and lots of hard work.

Indeed, an actor’s typical work activities extend beyond simply working on-set and performing on-stage. When the cameras aren’t rolling and the lights aren’t on, the action is all offstage.

Actors rehearse their roles, take speech and acting classes, conduct independent research and try their best to refine the character that they’re playing. Famous actors may also be required to promote the productions they’re working on by giving interviews to the press and making television appearances.

Obviously, actors need to find acting jobs before they can perform. Consequently, actors will need to spend a lot of time during the early stages of their career, searching for the right agent, attending auditions and building up a network of industry contacts.

Once you’re finally working on a production, you will need to be on time, know your lines off by heart, and depict your character effectively. No pressure then!

Salary & benefits

Understandably, there is no standard salary range for actors in the UK. You will usually be paid on a production-by-production basis and the amount you receive will be entirely dependent on the type of acting you’re doing.

Typically, film and television actors earn more than theatre actors. However, it all depends on the reputation, experience and celebrity status of the individual actor. It’s all about bums on seats.  If you’re an actor who will bring in massive audience figures, then you’ll most likely be paid more money.

All theatre performers are encouraged to join Equity, the trade union for professional actors, which sets a minimum weekly salary. Consequently, if you join Equity, you will legally be entitled to earn at least £420 a week.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that actors are never guaranteed work. This is not a nine-to-five job, with a salary, holiday allowance and benefits package. Far from it! Sure you might earn £420 a week for two months, but after that you might not earn anything at all for ages. Actors often go for long periods without finding work. Consequently, an actor’s monthly income is typically inconsistent.

Don’t let all this put you off acting, though. After all, if you hone your skills, develop a reputation and get really famous, you can make a great living. Some movie stars earn millions of pounds every year. Johnny Depp even bought his own private Caribbean island!

Working hours

As you can expect, acting is not a typical nine-to-five job. Actors have to perform when the filming schedule demands it, or when performances are scheduled. Actors work anytime, including early mornings, evenings, late nights, weekends and national holidays.

Actors also work in all kinds of locations. If you’re working in theatre, you’ll most likely be working on stage and in rehearsal studios. However, if you’re working in television and film, you’ll find yourself in television studios, film studios or acting on-set in random locations.

If the production you’re working on is set abroad, you may even get the opportunity to travel and work ‘on location’ in all kinds of weird and wonderful places.


Although there aren’t any formal entry requirements for becoming an actor, many aspiring thespians take acting classes or complete degrees in acting and performing arts.

Attending a conservatoire, performing arts college or drama school is a great way to hone your acting skills and build up a list of influential industry contacts. If you go to a top drama school, you may even get better audition opportunities once you’ve graduated.

Training & progression

In the acting profession, training is a continuous process which lasts throughout your entire career. Once you have established yourself in the industry, it’s unlikely that you’ll attend acting classes. However, each day as an actor will be a constant learning process. You will feed off the talent and creativity of each actor, director and producer you work with, refining your skills and perfecting your art.

To truly thrive in this profession, an actor should always push themselves to take on new challenges, try new things and step outside their comfort zone. After all, the more versatile you are, the more work you will find, and the more money you will earn. The best actors avoid getting typecast and perform in a broad range of roles throughout their career.

There is no set career path for actors. Some people simply focus on acting, earning more money, building their reputation and getting closer and closer to fame and fortune, while others choose to branch out into directing, scriptwriting and teaching.

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