Aaron Marcus is an actor with over 30 years of experience and 1,200 jobs under his belt. He is also an acting and modelling coach and regular contributor to Mandy News. But how did he get started in the acting and modelling businesses? Here he talks us through how he turned acting into a full-time career.
Tell us a little about yourself, where you’re based, where you grew up and when you decided to go into acting and modelling.
I grew up in a small market in the US, near Washington, D.C. about four hours from New York.
I got started in the acting and modeling industry because I was a full-time college student and needed a job to support myself in school.
I met an actor, he told me what he did and I thought, “that sounds like a lot of fun!” I didn’t get started in acting until I was about 29. For me, it just started off as a part-time job and what I found was, I was actually getting some acting work and commercial modeling bookings.
Commercial modelling has nothing to do with fashion. These are ads that you see in magazines and newspapers or billboards and posters portraying real looking people. Sometimes they’re beautiful but I’m not. For example, if you’re doing an ad for Porsche cars or Rolex watches - typically those are going to be really handsome and beautiful people. But they also need people who just look like regular folks. People who look like a doctor, a student, a teacher, a computer programmer, etc.
After doing this work on a part-time basis for two years, I found that I loved doing it so much that I stopped university and pursued it full-time. It’s been my full-time job for over 30 years now.
How did your part-time work come about?
Back then, I realised that I needed an agent. I knew nothing about the business and asked a few people how I should find representation.
One of the things that I talk about in my workshops is how you go about finding agents and there are many ways. What I did was go to see some local theatre and, at the end of the performances, I walked over to
the actors and told them that I’m interested in getting started in the industry and wanted to know who are some agents in the area I should contact. They gave me some names and I went to see an agent.
It was a really interesting experience. I knew nothing about the industry. I walked into the agent’s office and was told that they only work with people who are experienced; people who have done theatre, film or television. I was about ready to leave and the agent said “while you’re here, why don’t you read some copy for me?”
I had no idea that copy meant the words for a TV commercial. Fortunately, I had enough sense to ask if I could have a minute to look over the copy. I went out in the hallway, took a look at the copy, walked back in and read for her. I guess I had some innate acting abilities because she said “actually, I really liked what you did.”
She told me that I needed a headshot and I had no idea how to create one, so she gave me the names of some local photographers. I hired a photographer, had my first session, and it was horrible. I was clueless as to how to properly prepare before my session. I didn’t know what was expected of me and had no idea what the ingredients of putting together an effective headshot were. Fortunately, I was able to salvage one photo out of hundreds taken and the agent started submitting me for work.
I was really surprised when I started getting work. What I found was, my innate abilities and my instincts could only take me so far. If I really wanted to pursue the industry and get more, and better jobs, I really needed to learn acting techniques and not just rely on instinct. So, I began studying with people privately. I also took lots of classes and worked with different teachers.
How did you transition from part-time to full-time? Was it easy?
It was definitely difficult and a little scary. It wasn’t as frightening for me as it might be for other people, because I made my living as a musician for seven years before going back to college and I was used to a freelance life and being self-employed.
It wasn’t like I was a brain surgeon and decided to quit my practice and all of a sudden go freelance. But, still, it was a hard transition and it took a tremendous amount of work. I also had a lot of on-the-job training.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t have anyone who could help walk me through the process of properly running my acting and modeling business. By having to do everything by trial and error, I made mistakes and sometimes found myself heading in directions that did not forward my career.
It took me years to figure out how to run my acting and modelling business. That’s partially how my book, How to Become a Successful Actor and Model, came about and how my workshops arose. Knowing how difficult it was for me to learn how to properly run my business, I decided to share my experiences with others and not have to go through what I did.
Is there an audition that has been most challenging or interesting?
I’ve done 1200 jobs so there’s a lot to choose from. I’ve heard a number of actors say that they’ve auditioned for a casting director four or five times - sometimes it’s different projects, sometimes it’s the same project and they get incredibly frustrated and angry. They start thinking “why does the casting director even bother calling me back? Apparently they don’t like what I’m doing. I’ve auditioned a bunch of times and they’ve never hired me.”
What’s really essential for people to understand is it’s actually just the opposite. A casting director will not bring you in to read for a role a second time, unless they loved your first audition. They must have seen something in that audition that made them think it was really good but not right for the role.
I auditioned for the Netflix show House of Cards 15 times over a two year period. On the 15th audition, I booked a recurring role. It would have been very easy for me after the sixth, seventh, tenth or twelfth audition to just get incredibly frustrated. But I was thinking “it’s fantastic, they’re still thinking of me!”
What’s really important for actors to understand is that when you don’t get the job, it’s nothing personal. It’s not that they don’t like you, it might not even have anything to do with how well you read. It’s not like the Olympics where you are judged by the perfection of your performance. It’s not the best read that gets an actor the booking. It’s not the best person who auditioned that gets the job all the time. It’s who fits the role best. For whatever reason, those 14 other times, I wasn’t the perfect person.
I auditioned for a TV show being cast in New York for the role of the dad. The guest star was my son. He was an 18/19 year old kid and I saw a picture of him when I walked in to the casting director’s office. In a split second, I knew I wasn’t getting the job because I looked nothing like this kid and I was supposed to be his father.
In those situations, either you can feel really angry and think “I just wasted a lot of money travelling a very long way to get this audition and feel that it was a complete waste of time and money”. Or you can view it as an opportunity of having a casting director get a chance to meet you in person and have them see your work.
Whenever you go to an audition, it’s like making a deposit at the bank. It’s a small deposit and it takes time for those things to build up but that’s what auditioning is all about.
What does a typical year look like for you in terms of juggling auditions, applying and working?
I wish I could say I have a typical day but there is no such thing for me. I do a lot of different things. I’m either out at an audition, at a booking and, if I’m at home, I’m spending a good amount of time answering questions for people. I don’t do it because I think that those people will turn around and help me in any way, I do it just because I think it’s a nice thing to do.
I write articles and create vlogs. If people would like to see my videos, they can subscribe to my Youtube channel.
I also spend time marketing myself. Even though I do have a number of agents in various markets, I think people should market themselves and try to find work on their own. For people who are concerned about upsetting their agent, they can always send a job through them.
I do a lot of online mentoring which is really a lot of fun for me. I literally get a chance to work with people around the world online. What I find is that pretty much all of what we discuss is universal, no matter where you live. Great acting is great acting whether you live in the UK, Australia, South Africa or the States. Look at all the amazing actors from the UK who work in the States regularly: Damian Lewis, Idris Elba and Dominic West - the list goes on.
Other things I do when I am not on a set or auditioning is simply trying to get better and keep my auditioning skills sharp. Sometimes I will work on sides that I auditioned for a while ago. Maybe I will memorise lines to stay sharp. I also do lots of home auditions.
It’s normally a long day. I have to stop myself because I could easily work 24/7 but my wife appreciates it when I stop working and leave my home office. That’s pretty much how my day goes.
Tell us about your workshops and book.
My book is How to Become a Successful Actor and Model and you can find it on my website or order it through Amazon. If you do order it through my website, you also get a couple of free directories that will be really helpful to you.
I’ve done over 600 workshops spanning three continents. It’s called the Book the Job workshop. It’s not just an acting class: it’s really teaching you what you need to do have success in the industry. We’ll spend time with a great exercise where we figure out your type. People attending will learn how people view them. This will help you decide what kind of roles are you going to be submitted for.
For somebody like me, I know I’m going to be submitted for the doctor, lawyer, therapist, politician, teacher, the insurance salesman, etc... Basically, someone you feel comfortable with and will share personal information with. I’m not going to be cast as the head of a motorcycle gang - I get it.
Having that kind of information is essential. Without it, it makes it really tough to have success because you need to have your head shot show casting directors how you should be cast. Your headshot is going to portray how people view you. You might be a very different person in real life but it is how people think you should be cast that is important.
We have exercises, we talk about marketing yourself, auditioning for the camera and techniques you should be using, how to write a great cover letter when submitting yourself to agents or other industry professionals, how to shoot auditions from home and what kind of equipment you need.
We cover how to deal with nervousness, contracts and model release forms and how to create a great resume – even with little to no experience. It’s just an incredible opportunity for people to save themselves tons of money and years and years of guess work and doing things by trial and error.
Giving workshops are so much fun for me. I love sharing the information and meeting new people. It really doesn’t matter where you’re living, the information is going to be pretty much the same. Even with creating a great resume, there are some very specific things that you need to do to make
sure that it’s in the correct format. Industry professionals expects resumes to be in a specific format. Without that information, it makes it hard to be taken seriously.
I’ve got a really helpful Youtube channel youtube.com/howtomodel and I’m on Instagram (instagram.com/aaronmarcus). There are lots of
different ways you can get in touch with me. I also have great private online mentoring sessions. People can read about them at: http://howtoactandmodel.com/mentoringprogram
Do you have advice for actors starting out?
Number one, you’ve got to get the right information. If you were going to start a restaurant, you wouldn’t just wake up one day and say “yeah, I think I want to own a restaurant”. You need to learn how to start the restaurant. You need experience. You need to be a dishwasher, you need to know how to purchase tablecloths and utensils and cook and hire people.
If you’re interested in having acting and or modeling success, get rid of this concept of “everybody tells me I’m good looking, everybody tells me I’m funny, everybody tells me I should be a star so I’m sure I’m going to be discovered.”
I think sometimes the reality shows distort reality. The fact is the actors who have had tremendous success have made investments in their career. They’ve paid for services that give them opportunities, they pay for acting classes, they pay for the right materials; headshots, resumes or a composite sheet if they are interested in commercial modelling. Make sure you get the right information, do your homework, practice a lot and get experience.
Probably one of the greatest things that I’ve learned is “no doesn’t mean never.” I think that is such a powerful statement because when you do these auditions and you don’t book the job, it doesn’t mean it’s never. When you are submitting yourself to agents and are not getting the kind of responses you want, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.
I’m not saying you don’t need to re-evaluate – maybe you need to alter things, maybe you need to put together new materials or do something differently – but if acting and/or modelling is something that interests you then you’ve got to pursue it. I’ve run in to so many people who say to me that they’ve always been interested in seeing themselves in a magazine ad or on a billboard, or even just working as an extra on a film set, and they just never did it and now they’re in a time period in their life where they can’t do it. Those are the people who are haunted. They have nightmares. They’re always wondering “what if”. They watch a television show and start wondering if that’s something they could have done.
Stop the wondering, because it will last a lifetime and it’s a horrible way to live. I knew, before going to New York, I could live with being rejected. I knew that I could go up there and have agents slam the door in my face and I could live with that. What I couldn’t live with was not trying it and not knowing.
If the interest is there, then pursue it but pursue it in a smart way. I’m not saying don’t feel bad if you don’t get the initial results that you want. We’re human. When you don’t book the job, it’s OK to feel bad. If you don’t get representation with an agent, it’s OK to feel bad but don’t let it bring your down. Go out and get some ice cream or do whatever you want to do to make yourself feel better.
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