Is Being an Actor a Hard Career? Job Description, Salary

being an actor can be challenging

Actors express ideas and portray characters in theater, film, television, and other performing arts media. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Sounds fun, right?

But being an actor can be a challenging career. Most actors struggle to find steady work. Very few of them become big-name stars. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue a career as an actor. You may have to adjust your expectations and find another way to pay the bills.

Some actors work as “extras”—actors who help scenes look more realistic by being in the background.

Some actors do voiceover or narration work for animated features, audiobooks, or other electronic media.

Other Job Titles:

  • Actor
  • Actress
  • Comedian
  • Comic
  • Community Theater Actor
  • Ensemble Member
  • Narrator, Performer
  • Tour Actor
  • Voice-Over Artist

Is Being an Actor a Good Career?

According to the  O*NET career and personality test, this profession appeals to people who are artistic and enterprising. Acting also appeals to the ESFP or the Entertainer personality according to

Artistic occupations work with forms, designs and patterns. These types of jobs often require self-expression and have no clear set of rules.

Enterprising occupations involve starting and carrying out projects. These jobs mean leading people and making decisions.

ESFPs personality types love working with other people and being in the spotlight. They also want to have fun. While many choose to be actors, they also thrive at being event planners, sales representatives, trip planners, and tour guides. You can read about the test in this post.

Work Styles Required to be an Actor

  • Cooperation —Acting requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
  • Persistence —Being successful as an actor requires persistence in the face of obstacles.
  • Adaptability/Flexibility — You have to be open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.
  • Dependability —You must be reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
  • Initiative — You have to be willing to take on responsibilities and challenges.

Acting Fulfills These Work Values

Work values are the most important things a job must have for you to feel like it aligns with what you value. If you need co-workers and social service, then jobs that allow you to serve others in a non-competitive space will appeal to you.

  • Relationships Acting allows employees to provide service to others and work with co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment.
  • Achievement Being an actor is results-oriented and allow employees to use their strongest abilities, giving them a feeling of accomplishment.
  • Independence Being an actor allows you to work on your own and make decisions.

What Do Actors Do?

  • Read scripts and meet with agents and other professionals before accepting a role
  • Audition in front of directors, producers, and casting directors
  • Research their character’s personal traits and circumstances to portray the characters more authentically to an audience
  • Memorize their lines
  • Rehearse their lines and performance, including on stage or in front of the camera, with other actors
  • Discuss their role with the director, producer, and other actors to improve the overall performance of the show
  • Perform the role, following the director’s directions

In some stage or film productions, actors sing, dance, or play a musical instrument. For some roles, an actor must learn a new skill, such as horseback riding or stage fighting.

Most actors have long periods of unemployment between roles and often hold other jobs in order to make a living. Some actors teach acting classes as a second job.

Where Do Actors Work?

Actors held about 64,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of actors were:

Self-employed workers25%
Theater companies and dinner theaters12
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private5
Professional, scientific, and technical services5

Work assignments are usually short, ranging from 1 day to a few months, and actors often hold another job in order to make a living.

They are frequently under the stress of having to find their next job. Some actors in touring companies may be employed for several years.

Actors may perform in unpleasant conditions, such as outdoors in bad weather, under hot stage lights, or while wearing an uncomfortable costume or makeup.

Work Schedules

Work hours for actors are extensive and irregular. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common. Some actors work part-time. Few actors work full time, and many have variable schedules.

Those who work in theater may travel with a touring show across the country. Film and television actors may also travel to work on location.

Most Recent Actor Job Listings

Being an actor in Hollywood is rare.

How Do You Get into Acting?


The following areas of study may be helpful in becoming an actor.

  • Fine Arts — Knowledge of the theory and techniques required to compose, produce, and perform works of music, dance, visual arts, drama, and sculpture.
  • English Language — Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.
  • Communications and Media — Knowledge of media production, communication, and dissemination techniques and methods. This includes alternative ways to inform and entertain via written, oral, and visual media.
  • Sociology and Anthropology — Knowledge of group behavior and dynamics, societal trends and influences, human migrations, ethnicity, cultures and their history and origins.
  • Psychology — Knowledge of human behavior and performance; individual differences in ability, personality, and interests; learning and motivation; psychological research methods; and the assessment and treatment of behavioral and affective disorders.


  • Reading Comprehension — Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
  • Speaking — Talking to others to convey information effectively.
  • Active Listening — Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
  • Social Perceptiveness — Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
  • Critical Thinking — Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
An actor can be on stage and on screen.


  • Oral Expression — The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.
  • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
  • Memorization — The ability to remember information such as words, numbers, pictures, and procedures.
  • Speech Clarity — The ability to speak clearly so others can understand you.
  • Written Comprehension — The ability to read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.


Many actors enhance their skills through formal dramatic education. Many who specialize in theater have bachelor’s degrees, but a degree is not required.

Although some people succeed in acting without getting a formal education, most actors acquire some formal preparation through a theater company’s acting conservatory or a university drama or theater arts program.

Students can take college classes in drama or filmmaking to prepare for a career as an actor. Classes in dance or music may help as well.

Actors who do not have a college degree may take acting or film classes to learn their craft.

Community colleges, acting conservatories, and private film schools typically offer these classes. Many theater companies also have education programs.


It takes many years of practice to develop the skills needed to be a successful actor, and actors never truly finish training.

They work to improve their acting skills throughout their career. Many actors continue to train through workshops, rehearsals, or mentoring by a drama coach.

Every role is different, and an actor may need to learn something new for each one.

For example, a role may require learning how to sing or dance, or an actor may have to learn to speak with an accent or to play a musical instrument or sport.

Many aspiring actors begin by participating in school plays or local theater productions.

In television and film, actors usually start out in smaller roles or independent movies and work their way up to bigger productions.

As an actor’s reputation grows, he or she may work on bigger projects or in more prestigious venues. Some actors become producers and directors.

How Much Do Actors Make?

The median hourly wage for actors was $17.54 in May 2018.

The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.05, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61.74.

In May 2018, the median hourly wages for actors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private $20.03
Theater companies and dinner theaters 16.45
Professional, scientific, and technical services 15.00

Work hours for actors are extensive and irregular. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common. 

Some actors work part-time. Few actors work full time, and many have variable schedules.

Those who work in theater may travel with a touring show across the country. Actors in movies may also travel to work on location.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, actors have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union.

Many film and television actors join the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), whereas many stage actors join the Actors’ Equity Association.

Union membership can help set work rules, and assist actors in receiving benefits and bigger parts for more pay. Union members must pay yearly dues, which can be expensive for actors who are beginning their careers.

Job Outlook: OK

Employment of actors is projected to show little or no change from 2018 to 2028.

The number of Internet-only platforms, such as streaming services, is likely to increase, along with the number of shows produced for these platforms. This growth may lead to more work for actors.

Many small and medium-sized theaters have difficulty getting funding. As a result, the number of performances is expected to decline.

Large theaters, with their more stable sources of funding and more well-known plays and musicals, should provide more opportunities for actors.

Actors face intense competition for jobs. Most roles, no matter how minor, have many actors auditioning for them.

For stage roles, actors with a bachelor’s degree in theater may have a better chance of landing a part than those without one.

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More Resources

For more information about actors, visit

Actors’ Equity Association

National Endowment for the Arts


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

O*NET in-it

Tracey Lamphere

Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

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