This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Actors entertain people by acting out a role using body movement and speech.
Pay rates for actors vary depending on your ability, how often you work and what type of work you do.
Pay rates for actors vary depending on your ability, how often you work, and what type of work you do.
Actors may work in amateur theatre and perform for little or no money. They often need to combine their work with other forms of employment, as acting work tends to be irregular.
Source: JAM Talent, 2016.
- PAYE.net.nz website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment New Zealand website – information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Actors may do some or all of the following:
- audition for parts in performances on stage, in film or on television
- study scripts to understand the part they are playing
- research their character
- memorise and rehearse their character's lines, cues and physical movements
- discuss their character with the director and the other actors they work with
- act out the role for an audience or in front of a camera
- improvise parts of their character's personality or actions during rehearsal or in front of an audience
- perform stunts for an audience or in front of a camera.
Skills and knowledge
Actors need to have:
- knowledge of how people behave and speak, so that they can create believable characters
- the ability to project their voice to fill a room
- knowledge of a variety of books, plays, and poetry
- knowledge of different cultures
- skill in interpreting and analysing roles
- knowledge of different stunts, including which stunts to perform in certain situations and the best way of performing them
- the ability to use specialist stunt equipment such as flying harnesses and airbags
- skills relating to the type of stunts they are performing such as martial arts, gymnastics or driving.
- often work long and irregular hours, including evenings and weekends
- work indoors in places like theatres, television and film studios, and radio stations. They also work outdoors on location
- may travel to film on location, or if they are part of a touring production.
New Zealand actors often work in Australia, though it can be difficult to get an Australian acting agent without building up a body of work in New Zealand first.
What's the job really like?
Ben Mitchell - Actor
How did you get into acting?
"It wasn't until I moved to Auckland in my early 20s that I was introduced to the arts and entertainment industry. I helped out my film student flatmates when they were looking for actors. Acting became something I wanted to spend my time doing.
"I didn't get paid at first. But that's OK, it didn't matter to me."
What do you enjoy about being an actor?
"It provides an opportunity to explore relationships between people – I've always been fascinated by human behaviour, and being introspective it's about exploring myself too.
"I am proud to be on Shortland Street. I'm also proud to lend my support to initiatives such as Māori Language Week, and the Not Our Future quit smoking campaign."
What would you say to someone who wants to become an actor?
"If you're sure acting is what you want to do, pick up the local paper and audition for a play – get involved, get educated.
"People see the result of acting – stardom and fame, and other aspects that are exciting and compelling. But, if you sink deeper, you need to stop and think 'Do I really want to do what it takes?' "
There are no specific entry requirements to become an actor. However, a Diploma or Bachelor of Performing Arts, or a Bachelor of Arts majoring in drama or dance may be useful.
Requirements for stuntpeople
To become a stuntperson you need to have the skills, knowledge and ability to perform stunts.
To be a member of the Stunt Guild of New Zealand you must be at least 18 years of age and meet other specific criteria.
A good level of spoken English is important, and subjects such as drama, history, social studies and maths are useful. Participating in extracurricular activities, such as theatre sports and debating, is also useful.
For stunt work, physical education may be useful.
Actors need to be:
- able to memorise lines
- able to take direction, accept criticism, and work well under pressure
- disciplined and motivated
- creative and imaginative
- able to work well as part of a team
It helps to be able to turn your hand to everything and give it a crack, from riding a horse to working on accents.
Matt Hudson - Actor
Useful experience for actors includes:
- amateur acting
- modelling or dancing
- any sport or other pursuit that involves teamwork
- physical activities such as horse riding, gymnastics, scuba diving and boxing.
Because acting involves playing all sorts of characters, any life experience is also helpful.
Actors should be reasonably fit and healthy, as the work can be physically demanding. They should also have clear speech.Check out related courses
What are the chances of getting a job?
It is difficult to sustain a full-time career as an actor, and many actors do other types of work to support themselves.
Immigration laws allow overseas actors to work in New Zealand for 14 days or less. Since the majority of roles on screen productions are filmed in less than 14 days, this has further reduced the opportunities available for New Zealand actors.
There are no full-time state-funded theatre companies or state-funded ongoing drama series in New Zealand, making it difficult to get full-time acting work.
Having an agent can help your chances of finding work as an actor. The Actors Agents Association of New Zealand lists reputable agents in New Zealand that are maintaining professional standards in the entertainment industry.
Many actors have a second career
Actors often choose other work in the creative industries that is compatible with their acting careers as their main income. This can include working as film technicians or crew, as stunt performers, script writers or playwrights, or in management in theatre companies. Others combine work in different industries such as in law, accounting, retail, hospitality or administration where they can take time off when they get acting jobs.
Creating your own opportunities
Given the limited opportunities to find jobs, some performing artists have gone out on their own or work alongside other performing artists to create their own productions.
For example, there are opportunities for actors to apply to agencies like Creative New Zealand, NZ on Air (for TV), New Zealand Film Commission (for film), and Te Māngai Pāho Māori broadcasting agency for funding to make their own films, webseries and content for digital platforms.
In addition, there are opportunities in co-operative theatre and screen productions, where actors have come together to create their own work. However, these are normally self-funded or crowd-funded and do not provide a reliable, long-term income.
Types of employers varied
Actors may work for:
- local theatre companies
- television networks
- modelling agencies
- movie production companies.
Many actors work on contract and have agents that find work for them.
- Actors Agents Association of New Zealand website, accessed November 2016, (aaanz.co.nz).
- Rogers, R, talent manager, JAM Talent, Careers New Zealand interview, November 2016.
Progression and specialisations
Actors may progress to work in related roles such as author, producer or director.
They may also specialise in stage acting, television shows, film, adverts or voice-overs.
Some specialise in doing stunts such as high falls or fights. With industry experience, they may progress to work as stunt co-ordinators.
Last updated 19 August 2017