How to Become a Middle-Aged Character Actor
Whether you are an actor who gave up her career for marriage and family, a theater major who never pursued a career, or a total novice, character acting in middle age can prove artistically and financially rewarding. The choicest roles in first-run feature films may be less prevalent, but work is to be had in community and regional theater, commercials, industrials, and independent cinema. Preparation and commitment are crucial to the quest for roles in middle age.
Take some classes. Even if you hold an MFA from a well-respected university, giving yourself a chance to dust off your skills and work out in a class setting is invaluable. Though you might be the oldest person in the class, remain undaunted. Even for roles in community theater, competition may be stiff. The better prepared you are, the better your chances of success.
Start auditioning. Your first few auditions may be for unpaid theater or student films, but the project is not the important point. Having dusted off (or newly honed) your skills, you need to get used to presenting them to others. An audition setting typically involves an audience of very few, ideal for your purposes. Moreover, depending on how low-key the project and how much time is at hand, you may even be able to elicit brief feedback on your performance. Keep in mind, an audition is only high-pressure if getting the part is crucial. At this stage, you are just getting your feet wet, so don't sweat it.
Work for free. Even if your goal is to appear on the big screen, you have to start this part of your career somewhere. Acting in community theater and/or independent films can give you exposure, as well as valuable performing experience. You'll get used to taking direction and working with other actors. You'll get a feel for how your performance strikes an audience or director. You'll have a chance to gauge whether you want to move toward paid work. Even unpaid jobs can bring about unexpected pressures. When you are paid to act, time is money, and the effect is typically magnified.
Get an agent. If you decide to shoot for paid jobs, a legitimate agent will best be able to connect you with those opportunities. Even if you live in a small town, when professional-level opportunities arise -- such as when a feature film shoots in the area -- an agent will have the inside track on getting you an audition. If you inhabit a larger city, a commercial agent may connect you with chances to work in television commercials and industrials, or non-broadcast film or video projects. You might be surprised at how much comes your way until you consider that the largest number of people striving for paid work are in their 20s and 30s. Many have dropped out altogether by the time they hit middle age.
Hang in there. Slogging from audition to audition to seemingly no avail may seem frustrating, especially if you do opt to shoot for national television or feature film roles. But don't give up. Many is the tale of the middle-aged actor whose break finally came along just as he was about to throw in the towel. Keep your skills up, keep your chin up and when the right opportunity appears, you'll be primed to take full advantage of it.
Tips & Warnings
Take care to sign with a legitimate agent, preferably one that is franchised by performing unions, such as the Screen Actors Guild or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Agents who are not franchised may not be reputable. Get as much reputation information as you can before you allow an agent to represent you.