How to make it as an actor in Hollywood (Oscar edition)

Ever wonder why some people make it as an actor in Hollywood and others don’t? I’m writing this on Oscar weekend and the city of Los Angeles is abuzz with all things Oscars. (Mostly, for residents, it’s how all the street closures are impacting them and if one of their friends worked on a nominated film so they can know to cheer for it.)

But the Oscars, as any good awards event, cannot help but be inspiring. Even before my kids were involved in the entertainment industry as actors, there was something magical about watching the pomp and gallantry of the Oscars. And lemme be honest–before we were involved in Hollywood, I likely had not seen nor heard of most of the nominees. Now that we live in LA and work in various ways in the entertainment industry, I definitely pay more attention.

How to make it as an actor in Hollywood. The Hollywood sign at sunset.

My favorite part of the Academy Awards has always been the stories that the (now) successful actors and other professional creatives tell about their journey. And I will bet you money that young creatives all over the Los Angeles area will be perched on the floors of their crappy apartments eating cheap ramen with their eyes and hearts glued to the screen to hear those same stories as this year’s event unfolds.

I have spent the last 20 years or so on set with the young and hungry creatives whose energy of possibility hum through the uneven sidewalks of Los Angeles, so allow me to share what hundreds of industry professional have shared with me about who makes it in this town and why.

4 things you need to be a successful actor (or writer or other creative) in Hollywood:

  1. Talented enough to be here.

    Along the way in your life, a mentor in your hometown or someone with some knowledge of the entertainment industry pointed you towards Hollywood. That means you are likely talented enough to be here. It’s the start, it’s not the end all be all, so don’t worry about it too much because of #2.

  2. Growing you your craft.

    Take classes. Continue taking classes. Take different kinds of classes. Take workshops. Work with a coach whose students are booking jobs. This town is up to its eyeballs in talent, so keep getting better. Dedicate yourself to being really good at what you do. Read So Good They Can’t Ignore You and utilize deliberate practice and feedback to speed this process up.

  3. Hardworking.

    You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but I run across a surprising number of creatives who seem to think that moving to LA was the hard step, and now they are just a few party invites away from being discovered. Don’t let carefully curated social media feeds fool you–the professionals in this town work incredibly hard. It’s a business of insane hours, short notice, and both inflexible and constantly changing schedules. Your talent may open a door for you, but your reputation and action as someone who is responsible, trustworthy and dependable is what will keep you moving forward in this town.

  4. You can outlast people.

    This is the secret to make it as an actor in Hollywood: persistence.
    Every year, thousands of actors, writers, directors, costume designers, hair and makeup artists, etc move to Los Angeles to ‘make it’. Within just a few years, the vast majority of them head home. It can take 5-7 years to be known by industry professionals in Hollywood. To have your talent recognized and build a reputation as a person who shows up, on time, ready to work, a team player, with no drama. So, if you can stick around long enough to be known like this, you will probably make it here.

The problem is how to do that.

Because Los Angeles is notorious for chewing people to shreds, spitting them out, and laughing as she demands, ‘Another!’

(Possibly dramatic, but I have never heard one single person say anything about LA that would insinuate it is an easy place to live. Not once. Ever. Occasionally, people will complement the weather. That’s about it.)

Here is what makes it possible to stay here long enough to make it: you must build a life you love in LA.

It’s a heck of a lot easier to be your best self—professional and optimistic, if you aren’t bitter and angry and don’t hate your life in LA.

People don’t leave LA because they are happy and thriving. They leave (and often give up on their creative dreams entirely) because they feel lost, lonely and sad.

Building a life you love is paramount to sticking it out here. And you also get to have a life you love, so there’s that.

Here are some tips for how to build a life you love in LA (and a career most people only dream about when they watch the Oscars)

  1. Be prepared financially.

    I know-boring, but it is incredibly expensive to live here and being on the edge financially all the time will impact literally every aspect of your chance to build a life you love. If you can afford to pay your parking tickets AND cover acting class this month, it’s gonna feel so much better. Do not move here until you have a solid idea of your expenses and have saved up 3-6 months’ worth. People get sucked into scrapping an existence out and don’t realize it until suddenly friends they met in the first class they took when they moved to LA are starting to book small roles while they are still at the same (supposedly temporary) print shop job that is barely covering expenses. Don’t get stuck surviving.

  2. Be prepared emotionally.

    Know what you need to have in your life to be emotionally and mentally healthy. Know thyself, creative! Be aware of what drains you and what fills you up and build your life accordingly. This includes the spiritual and relational aspects of your life. Los Angeles can be a very lonely place. Everyone is hustling and lives too far away (5 miles or more, no joke) and you can never connect. So find like-minded people and build community and connections. It will not happen without intentional effort, so effort intentionally. Know what you need to build a life where you have an abundance of emotional energy to create and work hard.

  3. Be prepared physically.

    This includes your physical health as well as your physical space. Where you live, what you eat, and how you sleep will all impact your ability to be happy in LA. Choose each of these with caution. A terrible roommate will drain and distract you. A miserable living space will stress you out and not provide respite from the hard things about living here. Not sleeping well will lead to overwhelm and can lead to depression. Your body is your tool. Treat it like it is. Create a good home environment and do the work to take care of your physical self.

What you are building is bandwidth. Trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood (or as any kind of professional creative) is a lot about having the space to be a healthy human. This means having friends, support, community, and emotional and financial margin. Create a life full of things you love and maybe just a little bit of affection for the City of Angels.

I’ve heard it said that LA is tough on people because we’re all takers–only interested in what the city can do for us. And it’s okay if you end up hating LA–lots of people do. But I don’t think those are the people who are thriving in their chosen creative profession here.

I’m going to watch the Oscars and cheer wildly for all the people who managed to stick it out in LA long enough to create this level of art that impacts the world.

(Want to know more aboutBook cover title: How to thrive in LA while hustling in Hollywood for how to make it as an actor in Hollywood: How to Thrive in LA while Hustling in Hollywood? I’ve written a powerful book to guide you through everything you need to know to make it in Hollywood while you build a life you love. More info here and a link to buy on Kindle or or paperback here!)


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