What’s It Like Being a Working Actor? Let’s Find Out!
And while the film isn’t horror we thought it would be a great opportunity to speak with a working actor about all the ins and outs of life as an actor doing what he can to make it big.
So if you or someone you know is an actor – or wants to try their hand at the craft – then this piece is for you.
Big thanks to Richie Stephens for really getting in there and not being afraid to answer any and all of our in-depth questions! Let’s see what we learn!
Richie Stephens: I’m an Irish actor, based in Los Angeles. I do mostly TV and film. They tend to cast me as villains or dominating roles. I’m an expert in accents and dialects, so you may have seen me play Americans, Russians, Germans, Brits etc.
DC: What advice could you give our readers who want to become actors?
RS: Step one is doing some training. Everyone is born with a certain amount of talent but even the best need to improve that talent by training and learning. Just like athletes. Acting is one of the most competitive professions in the world. In my category, there are around 5000 submissions for every single role. You need to be in the top 40 or so just to get into the audition room! So if you haven’t practiced your craft your chances are practically zero.
Step two is learning the business. Some of the best actors I’ve ever met in my life have never been on Films or TV. They refuse to learn how to navigate the business. What kind of headshots to take, how to get an agent, how to market yourself etc. There are many books on the business of acting and I could easily write one myself. There is so much to learn. I’m still learning how the business works and it is always evolving.
Overall I would say it’s so important to have a positive attitude, be easy to work with and don’t let rejection get you down.
RS: For auditioning, again the most important thing is training. It’s a specific skill in itself that’s different from acting on a stage or a film set. Take an on-camera acting class and learn the nuances. Where to look, how to analyze the text, how to prepare etc. Like any class, find out which is the best one in your town that you can afford and try it out. If you don’t like it just find another one that you enjoy. Certain people like some groups over others. Find one that works for you and a teacher who believes in you. The more auditions you do the better you will get and the more comfortable you will be with the experience. It will become something you look forward to instead of something to dread!
DC: On top of countless projects as an actor, IMDb lists you as producer and writer on serval other projects. How important do you feel it is for an actor to be multifaceted in this day and age?
RS: These days being able to perform these other skills can help your career. Especially in the beginning, when you aren’t proven on screen and nobody knows who you are. It’s fairly easy to write something and shoot it on your own. To post on YouTube or “Funny or Die” etc. If it happens to become popular it could get you recognized and lead to work. But even to shoot something for the purpose of creating a showreel for yourself is possible now. 30 years ago if you wanted to do that it could cost a fortune. Today it can be done relatively cheaply. So if you are willing to have a go at this and you’re starting out, it could be worth your while.
RS: You show up in time for your call time that has been assigned. Check in with the AD, who makes a note of your arrival time (for the purposes of payment or to inform the Studio if you’re late!) Go to your dressing room or trailer and put on your costume. Go to hair and makeup to get dolled up. Then wait to be called to set. This could be short or this could be ages. Usually ages! When you’re on set, go over blocking for the scene with the director or the AD if they’re busy. Then you shoot, listening to the director for changes in between. The scene gets shot from several angles. When you’re done you get your makeup off, take off the costume, sign out with the AD and get out of there!
DC: How do you feel about typecasting?
RS: Typecasting is a reality of the business. Personally, I feel at peace with it, because I know that it’s something that exists and I have come to terms with what my type is. Story tends to exist with archetypes. The leading man, the clown, the villain, the nerd etc. When someone looks at you they feel like you fit into one or more of these categories. Looking like something particular helps to tell a story. Finding out what your type is and coming to terms with it by accepting it will make your road as an actor easier. In my very first acting class, they told me I looked most like a villain. Turns out they were right, because I work as a villain a lot. There are exceptions to the rule, but typecasting is standard in Hollywood. As an actor, if you don’t have an obvious type, you may find it more difficult to find work at the start because if you look middle of the road, casting doesn’t know where to put you. Well-known people can eventually break their typecasting. Steve Buscemi broke from character actor to leading man in Boardwalk Empire. John Krasinski recently broke from comedic romantic into leading man / tough guy (Jack Ryan series for Amazon).
RS: In the acting world, LA or New York are the big leagues. At some point, you would need to move there to compete at the highest level. But for people starting out it may be easier to begin in smaller, less competitive markets like New Mexico or Atlanta to gain experience and credits. Because of tax breaks, there are actually more projects shot in Georgia than California now, but there are far more actors in Los Angeles (it’s more competitive) and the top roles are usually chosen from the LA pool. If I was to start all over again as an actor tomorrow, I would probably begin in Atlanta.
DC: Your next role is in the new movie Kings starring Halle Berry and Daniel Craig. Can you tell us about your experience on the film?
RS: Kings was a lot of fun to work on. Set in the LA Riots of 1992, it’s the story of a foster mom and her struggle to keep her family together in the melee of the time.
It was a real thrill to work with Halle Berry and the Oscar-nominated director Deniz Gamze Erguven. I’m a cop arresting Halle in the movie. She was a lovely person and we got along very well.
We shot on location in South Central LA where the real incidents happened and it was exactly 25 years since the Rodney King verdict. So, definitely emotional for the people in the neighborhood where we were filming.
It was my first time playing a cop in a major project so I went on a ride along with some real cops in Canoga Park before the shoot to prepare for the role. The cops who took me out (John and Marlin) were great guys who taught me a lot about what it’s like to be in that line of work.
RS: We shot Lore over in Atlanta last year. Lore is based on the popular podcast by Aaron Mahnke. Each episode is a frightening true horror story.
My episode was the true story about a woman who was burned to death by her husband Michael Cleary in Ireland in the 1800’s. He believed that she was a changeling (an evil imposter). The role I play is Jack Dunne, a strange crippled village wiseman, who advises Michael and performs a sort of exorcism on his wife. I got along very well with my co-stars, Irish tough guy Cathal Pendred and scream queen Holland Roden, from Teen Wolf. It was a physically exhausting role because of the intensity, but I think our hard work paid off because the series has been reordered for another season by Amazon.
DC: What can you tell us about your upcoming slasher film Rightful?
RS: Rightful was filmed in the spooky backwoods of Louisiana. The movie is inspired by a true story. Around 100 years ago in Connecticut, two African American brothers were framed by their neighbors for a crime they didn’t commit. They got the electric chair and the neighbors stole their land. That was the inspiration for the writer Stephen George. In the film, these brothers come back from the dead and hunt down the descendants of their tormentors. My role is that of the redneck sheriff’s deputy in the town. There will be lots of blood and guts along with a compelling story. I’m told the film should be ready around September and I’m expecting it to be the start of a great new franchise.
RS: I’ve been fortunate enough to be in many wonderful projects so it’s hard to pick just one. I’ve enjoyed all of them for different reasons and particulars. For example, it’s been a real kick for me to work with actors from my favorite shows I’ve grown up watching. Robert Clohessy from Oz, Steve Schirripa from Sopranos, Raymond Cruz from Breaking Bad. But if I had to pick one I would say my role of serial killer Jacob Dufour on Criminal Minds. It was the first major role in my career. Signaling a break from the smaller projects into the bigger projects. Nobody wants to give you your first guest star, your first co-star etc. but once there’s one under your belt you’re proven at that level and can realistically compete for more. In my own head, it was proof too that I may be from Ireland, but I can play American too and compete with the locals.
DC: What’s next?
RS: I shot a horror movie in Louisiana that should be coming out later in the year, Rightful. The film touches on the recent hot topic of racial tension in the US and should be the start of a memorable franchise. I’m playing a redneck sheriff in this one. I just booked another film that shoots in Pennsylvania shortly. A female-driven WW2 spy story. There are another few irons in the fire too that maybe I shouldn’t jinx by talking about. A lot of my friends are doing some fantastic work here and I’m happy to see their success.
You can find all the latest updates about new projects on IMDb and my social media @richieactor.
RS: That’s a tough one because there’s so many of them. I love zombie movies especially. When I was a kid, Pet Sematary scared the bejaysus out of me for years. Misery is a great movie too. But maybe my absolute favorite is Scream. For me, it broke the genre into something so new. There were so many twists and turns in the story that it blew me away. The dialogue was so clever too. If I had to pick just one then Scream is it.
Thanks again Richie for taking the time and talking to us and our readers about the craft of acting and the day-to-day nuts and bolts of making the dream a reality!
What did YOU think of this interview and would you like to see more in-depth pieces like this from Dread Central in the future? Make sure to hit us up and let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram!