Advice for the Beginning Actor Part 8 – Should You Accept Extra / Background Roles?

Special thanks to the actors who have taken time out of their busy schedules to graciously provide advice for new actors for Wannabe Pride, including Regen Wilson, Chris Pentzell, David DeBoy, Ken Arnold, Mercedes Rose, Gabriel Voss, Brittany Baratz, Laura Hunter, Lance Carter, Stephon Fuller, andRachel F. Hirsh.

“In the beginning I accepted most any kind of role. But after the first 15 years in the business I learned all I could as an extra. Now I’m focused on learning all I can in the speaking roles. 30-some years in the business and I’m still learning.” – David Deboy (email) (website)

 “I don’t.”   -Regen Wilson (website)

“I was more willing to do it before I was eligible to join SAG.  Since then, I won’t do it.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it but, as I see it, it probably won’t lead to anything substantial so it’s largely about the money.  But my day job (private tutoring) is more lucrative and less time-consuming so I’d rather do that.” – Chris Pentzell (email)

“When starting out as an actor these are great jobs to take. It’s like a film school and acting class all rolled into one. And they pay you for it!  But you have to pay attention when you get on set. Don’t just go to socialize and miss the opportunity to learn. I have had the opportunity to watch Steven Spielberg direct, Ben Kingsley go through his process, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, and many more. And I watched closely. How they handled themselves, what they were doing, how they stood, how they carried themselves etc. It’s an amazing learning opportunity but…there comes a time when you need to walk away from that and have the desire to be the one on camera speaking. The focus of a scene. But if you keep doing extra roles casting directors think of you as just that. And you miss a lot of auditions/opportunities because you are doing extra work.” – Ken Arnold ( STUDIO BOH)

“I got my start as “background”. I think it is just that- a great place to start. Being a n extra is a fantastic way to get to know how a set works, the industry terms, the players, etc. But if you want to eventually do speaking roles you have to eventually step out of the shadows and stop doing the background stuff. And anyone who thinks be an extra is a good way to “get discovered” need a dose of reality. No one looks at the background. Literally.”  –  Mercedes Rose (Imdb)  (website)

“They do not advance your acting career but it is a good way to get on big budget sets and see how things work. It’s also a way to make money and you can’t knock that.” – Gabriel Voss (website, imdb, facebook, twitter)

“I think it is a great way to gain experience on a set and an easy way to earn cash and a free meal. I will work background a few times a year if I’m available.” – Brittany Baratz (website, twitter, Knuffle Bunny National Tour)

“Oh, people will tell you all sorts of things about this. I think its a great way to get a feel for how a set is run, and to learn your way around a new city. I’ve done it in both NY and LA a couple of times. I wouldn’t make it a frequent thing, but its not going to kill your career. In fact, I can think of at least 3 people off the top of my head who got “their break” from doing background work. So, you never know. People will give you lots of advice about lots of things, 99% of them have no idea what they are talking about. Do what works for you. If you need extra money and want to take a background job, do it.”  Laura Hunter (email, website, twitter, facebook, youtube, contributor to NonSociety.com)

 “If you don’t live in NYC or LA, I think it’s fine. You can meet a lot of people in your area with the same interests and network. That’s what happened when I did it back in DC. In LA and NYC, I think it’s fine if you need some quick money but I wouldn’t do it on a regular basis.” – Lance Carter website, twitter, Facebook)

“I don’t currently do background roles, but I’ve done a lot in the past and it was a great learning experience while earning a check.”- Stephon Fuller (twitter, blog, website)