A Letter to Nigerian Actors

Building a career in acting is a challenging task. This is true everywhere, including the Nigerian film industry. However, as someone who speaks with actors on a daily basis, I think with the right combination of strategies, there are ways for emerging or new actors to successfully navigate this competitive industry.

The first and most critical strategy is to get adequate training. Acting is a craft that requires training, whether formal or informal. Legendary actor and director, Robert Redford once said, “Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” It’s easy to think anyone can act and, maybe that’s true, but not everyone is an actor. The spectacle and occasion of cameras and lights can be overwhelming even for professionals, and yet too many people want to act without getting the necessary training and end up botching the opportunities they get.

Training is not just about honing acting techniques. It’s also about learning other critical skills, such as script reading, auditioning for roles and delivering a monologue. I’ve sat in too many auditions watching actors who had some talent but lost a part in a project because they made mistakes throughout their auditions. I personally despise auditions and prefer other systems of evaluating actors, but it’s still important to learn how to handle them.

Participating in stage productions is also an excellent way to hone acting skills, especially for those with no theatre training. Actors such as Meryl Streep, Hugh Jackman, and Viola Davis honed their skills on stage before becoming screen legends.

The second strategy is for actors to think of their careers like a startup. They need to find their unique “product,” which is their style, and then build their brand around it. This process involves building, testing, launching, and marketing their brand. Actor and producer Mindy Kaling once said, “I always get nervous about people who are like, ‘I want to be a professional actor.’ It’s like saying, ‘I want to be a professional entrepreneur.’ You can’t just say it. You have to be that thing.” For some, they’ll need years of testing to find their style, some will do immediately, but it’s important to build a distinct brand.

The third strategy is for actors to make their own work. In today’s age, waiting for opportunities to come can be a long and frustrating journey. Actors need to be proactive and collaborate with partners to create their projects like web series, short films, and sketches. This approach will enable them to showcase their skills and get seen by the right people. Actors such as Donald Glover, Issa Rae, and Lena Dunham have successfully built their careers from creating their projects.

As the Japanese proverb says, “Cooking takes time. Good cooking takes patience.” Building a career in acting takes time and patience. Emerging actors must take the time to build their skills, relationships, and careers. Here are five films that aspiring actors can watch to learn acting:

“A Prophet” (2009) directed by Jacques Audiard

“In the Realm of the Senses” (1976) directed by Nagisa Oshima

“The Turin Horse” (2011) directed by Béla Tarr

“I Killed My Mother” (2009) directed by Xavier Dolan

“Son of Saul” (2015) directed by László Nemes.

In conclusion, emerging actors need to combine several strategies to build a successful career in acting. These include getting adequate training, thinking of their careers like a startup, making their own work and being patient. With dedication and hard work, aspiring actors can achieve their dreams of becoming successful actors.

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