I was told early on in my career as agent that there was no real path for success. I found that to be very true. In Hollywood, people “fail up” as they say. Basically what that means is that people get lucky – they are in the right place at the right time with the right person and so on and so on. Even when a person is fired from a job (an artist or executive), that firing can open the door for a life-changing opportunity that would not have happened if that person had been still employed. If you’re a fan of HBO’s Entourage, that is a pretty good representation of how things really happen in Hollywood.
So yes, there is no path, but there are certain avenues actors can take to make their chances of movie-stardom greater. In my experience, to cut out the bull, there are 3 ways actors “make it”.
1) Get on to a Hit TV Show – this is where an unknown actor can step off the plane at LAX and walk right into success, but it is like catching lightning in a bottle. Hundreds of pilots are shot every year and very small percentage of those make it television; of that percentage and even smaller percentage make it past their intial order (or first season, usually 6 to 13 episodes), and from there and even smaller percentage go on 3, 4 and 5 years and eventually into syndication. Ashton Kutcher is a perfect example of an unknown actor, getting cast in a pilot, the pilot goes to air on Televsion, the show (That 70’s Show) becomes a minor hit, but a hit nonetheless, and he is all of a sudden the “It Guy”…handsome, funny and famous. The studios want him in their movies and he then begins to command million dollar plus paydays in studio movies.
2) Get a Supporting but Flashy Role in a Big Studio Movie – this is also where an unknown can walk in an get the role. Usually by this time, the movie star actors are cast, the studio is happy with its pre-sale foreign numbers and they don’t care who fills in the smaller parts as long as the movie gets made on time and on budget. The flashy part usually comes into affect in the editing room. But it can also happen on the set. You, the young actor who got the role, did a great job. The director loves what you did and asks you to come back and do a few more scenes. He then takes it into the editing room and cuts it in a way that makes a big splash on screen. The audience loves you. The buzz is “who is that guy/girl”? Before you know it, you have agents calling you and parts being written for you. You may get a TV deal. You may still have to do some work in the audition rooms, but you are beginning to be a know quantity because of that little part.
3) Get a Co-Starring Role in a Big Studio Movie – this doesn’t happen often because the studios are almost 100% star dependent. They need a star to sell their movie. They need a star to put on the poster and market their movie worldwide. But sometimes, a movie will come along and the star will be cast. There will then be a major co-star role, opposite the star that is open and looking for a new face. This is where you have a shot. If you can get this role and the you shine in the role and the movie performs well, you will be off and running. There are also cases where genre films cast relatively unknown actors and the film performs well; in this case, if you shine, you can be rocketed to stardom. A good example of this is Jessica Biel. She made practically nothing on Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but because of its success, and because she was the hot chick in it, she earned $1 Million on her next movie and many more millions thereafter.
Remember, the odds are not in your favor, but if you love what you do and are passionate about your art, then go for it and you may be the one to catch that lightning in a bottle.