5 Reasons Why Background Acting is a $h*tty Job
Let us count the ways…
(By Jim Webb)
Recently, I listed five benefits to beginning your acting career as a background actor. To be clear, the emphasis is on the word “beginning”. Beginning your acting career as an “extra” is fine as long as it is temporary. But performing as a background actor for a long period of time is not a smart idea if you endeavor to be taken seriously as an actor.
Here are five reasons why background acting, in the long-term, sucks:
#1: Background actors get no respect
Actors who have lines in a production have larger roles. And they have gone through a more rigorous casting process. As such, they are harder to replace. Background actors, by contrast, have gone through a less strenuous evaluation process. And their roles are much less impactful. They are much more expendable. As a result, they tend to get treated like barnyard animals.
Background actors are sometimes herded about like cattle. As a matter of fact, the business actually has the nerve to call the casting of an abnormally large number of background performers a “cattle call”!
#2: Background actors are not treated like real actors
Background acting is real acting, albeit a more rudimentary form of acting. It is still necessary for background actors to buy into the roles they play and perform them with seriousness and conviction, just like a “real” actor would.
Yet, background actors tend to have their performances devalued. Often, they are treated more like props than like actors. Some industry professionals are so disrespectful toward background actors that they label extras, “props that eat”.
Again, no respect!
#3: Background actors get no credit
Talent agents and casting directors don’t consider background acting to be worthy of discussion or evaluation. They usually don’t even want to see background roles listed on an actor’s resume. That’s true, even if the role is considered “featured background”, meaning the background actor had a more prominent role than the other “extras”. Their names never appear in the closing credits, leaving the background actor to claim an “uncredited” role, or none at all.
#4: Background acting is usually a dead-end
Let’s make something crystal-clear: You will (almost) never be “discovered” performing as a background actor!
Occasionally, an extra will get the opportunity to move up from background into a speaking role. This is usually referred to as an “upgrade”. But this is extraordinarily rare. Background actors rarely get upgraded into a speaking role. Usually, when you’re hired as background, that’s all you are and all you will be for that particular job.
If you want to be a serious, respected actor, your background acting career must come with an expiration date.
Don’t go into a background role hoping to get upgraded. Don’t ask for a speaking role. Getting cozy with the director won’t help. Getting to know the producer won’t help. Getting friendly with the main actors won’t help.
It’s just a dead-end!
#5: Background actors get branded as background
Beginning your career as a background actor makes sense, as long as you understand that it must be temporary. If you want to be a serious, respected actor, your background acting career must come with an expiration date.
If you remain in background, and become known in the industry for background work, your brand will be associated with background. You won’t be taken seriously as an actor. It could even hurt you down the road when you go in to audition for a show and the auditors remember you for all the time you spent in background, or as a stand-in.
Yes, background sucks. The treatment you’ll receive sucks and the disrespect is real. But, as a starter job in the industry – and only as a starter job – it’s worth putting up with the nonsense for a while.
Related: What is “Background Acting”?