AMU Editor's Pick Original Veterans

What Veterans Need to Know to Start a Career in Acting

Let’s cut to the chase. Do you like rejection? Do you like living below the poverty line for years, waiting for your “big break?” Do you like to work for free with no guarantee that your efforts will ever amount to anything? Do you enjoy careers that are not linear (as in, you can do everything you are “supposed” to do and still nothing might happen?)

If you are a masochist and a bit bonkers, acting might be the career for you!

Honestly, if anyone would have told me how hard this industry is prior to me diving into it headfirst, I would have run for the hills. The truth is, I had no idea.

I knew that acting was highly competitive and by coming into it a bit later in life after a career in the Navy,  I would face even more challenges, but I had no idea just how difficult it would be. Estimates are most actors working in the SAG-AFTRA union realm are successful in booking anywhere from 4% to 8% of their auditions. That’s a LOT of time memorizing, rehearsing, taping, and so forth mostly for no tangible result.

And that’s for actors who are actually getting auditions. Most are actively trying to find an agent in order to secure those coveted auditions. Truth is, only a small percentage of actors have agents and are auditioning regularly.

If all of this hasn’t dissuaded you, then you must be a storyteller at heart.

So, for those still reading…

First Find a Mentor in the Business

It could be a military veteran or someone who work you admire. Know that you probably won’t immediately get a response, but don’t give up. Reach out, reach out, reach out. Don’t be afraid to ask a mutual connection for an introduction.

When Watching TV and Movies, Look up People Who Play ’Your Type‘

Go to IMDb’s actor website. Where did they study? Who took their acting headshots? There is no reason to reinvent the wheel here. You can glean so much information by finding an actor who is “your type” and combing through his or her body of work.

Find a Reputable On-Camera Acting School or Theater Class

Both are for acting, but are vastly different forms. For those people who swear up and down that you don’t need to go to acting school or work with a coach, think again. That’s the equivalent of an actor saying that he played a service member or veteran once, so he “basically was in the military.” These are not remotely the same and are hilariously out of touch. Respect yourself and the craft by giving it the due diligence it deserves.

Relationships with casting personnel, directors and producers are never made overnight. You have to prove your worth and your talent at every level. This career is a marathon, not a sprint.

No Need to Move to Los Angeles or New York Right Away

In the words of a dear actor friend of mine, “Bloom where you are planted.” Do local theater, local commercials, non-union recreation shows, and the like. Once you are working regularly, you will know when the time is right to relocate.

Still with me? That may have seemed all uphill, but this career has been good for me and I’m thankful to help represent our community on screen. I can honestly say portraying veterans and service members on camera has been a dream come true for me. When I go on set and don that uniform, it means something special to me. Unlike for other actors, it’s not a costume to me, it’s a way of life.

Nothing makes me prouder than representing our military veteran community with love and respect in Hollywood.

Jennifer Marshall is a proud Navy veteran and vocal advocate for the military veteran community. You may know her as the host of Mysteries Decoded on the CW (yes, she really is a licensed Private Investigator), or as Max's mom on Netflix's hit, Stranger Things. Other shows she's appeared on include NCIS, Hawaii Five-0, and Nickelodeon's Game Shakers.

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