By Anna David
Dedicate yourself to the craft first, the career second. “You have to audition for school plays, take acting lessons and look for productions in the community,” says Susan Curtis, who manages Hilary Duff, Agnes Bruckner and Mila Kunis, among others. “Don’t think you can just move to L.A. and make it happen.” Kate Bosworth’s agent Billy Lazarus recommends sampling a variety of classes: “Get your feet wet in improv, scene study, dance, movement – everything,” he advises. Certain high schools can help you on her way toward stardom, the most famous one being New York’s LaGuardia’s High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (on which the 1980 film Fame was based; Jennifer Aniston is an alum). When choosing a college, think about heading for the coasts: plenty of actors come out of UCLA or NYU, but Juilliard and the Yale School of Drama are probably the most esteemed.
-Look around your town. “There are agents in Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Vancouver,” offers Ellen Gilbert of Abrams Artists Agency in New York. Lazarus recommends checking with the Better Business Bureau to make sure that the agency is legitimate. Of course, you can always pay a visit to the big city. “I’m meeting a kid from Florida today who sent me his picture,” Gilbert says. “He and his mom are coming up and if I like him, they could end up staying for the summer or, I may send him audition material and have the mom put him on tape.”
-Don’t be a sucker. There are always people trying to exploit the gullible so be cautious when checking out your options. One rule of thumb: don’t part with any cash. Gilbert puts it simply: “When I sign actors, they don’t give us money until we get them a job.” Would-be photographers should also be screened carefully. Curtis suggests asking an acting teacher for a recommendation – or even just leaving the job to Mom. “If I think they have something, I’ll tell them they need to get professional headshots,” she explains.
-Let your heart lead you. Since one of the key elements to success is enjoying what you do, find creative ways to perform – they may just lead you to your future. When he was twelve, Scrubs‘ Zach Braff attended Stagedoor Manor Camp in upstate New York; after his end-of-summer show a manager approached him about auditioning. (Robert Downey, Jr. and Natalie Portman also attended Stagedoor; it was the inspiration for the movieCamp); Evan Rachel Wood started out at her father’s theater in Raleigh, North Carolina; Erika Christensen performed at detention centers and fairs with a group called Kids on Stage for a Better World. “Look, it’s hard. You have to know that you’re going to face a lot of rejection,” Gilbert reasons, “but you shouldn’t do it if you’re not having fun.”