Advice for International Actors: Part I

We’ve already written a good number of articles focusing on regional actors (check out, for example, Regional Actors: How to Successfully Utilize Social Media or Regional Actors! How to Get Noticed by Casting Directors)–U.S. actors that don’t actually live in New York or Los Angeles. However, the American entertainment industry is not just relegated to domestic actors, and just because you live in a completely different country doesn’t mean you can’t pursue the Hollywood dream. Below are some general tips and information that every international actor should be aware of, especially actors that are interested in eventually crossing over to the States.

You have to be proficient in English

If you want to have a long and prosperous career in Hollywood, you have to have some level of proficiency with the English language. This goes far beyond being able to simply read and speak. Qualities such as pronunciation, pacing, inflections, and accents all significantly affect your performance, and must be trained diligently. IDEALLY, you should be able to speak English with your natural accent, as well as perfect ‘American English’. By “perfect”, I mean that you should be able to convince and even fool people in to thinking that you are American, just by hearing you speak. Look at actors Hugh Laurie (House M.D.) and Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead) – both play gruff leading man roles in their respective television series, and many people would be quite surprised to discover that they are both British!

Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t able to turn your accent on and off seamlessly – this is no easy feat by any means, and often takes years and years for actors to perfect. Even then, some actors (especially ones from non-English speaking countries) are n

ever able to truly get rid of their accents no matter how hard they try. Regardless, your first focus should be on being able to speak English clearly and articulately with your natural accent. Once you’re confident and comfortable speaking in English, you can start working on the more advanced dialect techniques.

Work papers

This refers to the ability to legally work in the United States – more specifically, having either a work visa or a permanent resident card (aka a Green Card). Obtaining these documents is a long and expensive process, and should not be undertaken without careful deliberation. However, like most aspects about Hollywood, there is a multitude of ways for actors to obtain the right to work in the U.S.

The easiest and quickest method to obtain work papers is to book a big acting job in the States, and then

have the production sponsor a work visa for you. This is fairly common for big studio features as well as television pilots since they typically have the money in their budgets to travel people internationally, as well as pay for all the visa application fees.

Obviously, waiting around for that “big job” to come along isn’t exactly efficient so if you really want to be proactive, you can apply for a work visa as an individual. The application process for a U.S. work visa is no easy undertaking – especially if you are doing it yourself (studios and big feature films have entire business affairs departments dedicated to this stuff). I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details about the application process, but just know that it is long, expensive, and it isn’t always guaranteed that your application will be approved. Alternatively, and if you have the money, you can also hire an immigration attorney to help with the process, but once again, that still isn’t a guarantee.

If you are able to eventually get a work visa, make sure you know exactly what kind you are getting as there are multiple types, each with their own work stipulations, i.e. how long you can work for, who you can work with, etc. Most studios and networks will only sponsor a company-specific visa for an international actor, meaning that that person can only legally work on jobs for that studio and its affiliates. For example, if 20th Century Fox sponsors a work visa for you for a TV pilot, once are you finished shooting the pilot, you should then be able to work on any other 20th Century Fox project for as long as your visa is valid (01 visas are typically good for 3 years).  Theoretically, you should also be able use that visa for any other Fox affiliated project (e.g. Fox Searchlight, Fox 2000, etc), but you should definitely triple-check with the parties involved since the various studios and production companies often fluctuate in their policies on what types of visas they will actually accept.

Finally, the Holy Grail of all work papers is the Permanent Resident Card, also known as a Green Card. As the title suggests, having this card means that you can legally work anywhere in the United States and isn’t company specific. Green Cards also last quite longer, and typically you only have to renew them every 10 years or so. I’m not going to bother getting into the details about acquiring a Green Card since the process is even more complicated than applying for a visa, but just know that getting a green card should be an international actor’s final big step in becoming an established Hollywood actor.

Work experience

If you are an international actor contemplating on making the transition to the States, you need to be an established actor with work experience. Many people in the United States often decide on a whim that they want to be an “actor”. They pack their bags, and move to Los Angeles in the hopes of being discovered and making a name for themselves. Regardless of these actors’ actual work experience, the one luxury that they do have is being able to move to Hollywood and start working with little to no legal hassles.

As an international actor, you do not have that luxury of hopping in your car and driving to California whenever you want. In order to work in the States, you need work papers, and in order to obtain these papers, you need to prove to the United States government that you have what it takes to be an actor. The U.S. isn’t going to grant working papers for anyone that wants to be an actor, only those that are actors. Alternatively, if you haven’t been able to establish an acting career in your home country, what makes you think you’ll fareany better in Hollywood?

Although Hollywood is rife with rags-to-riches stories about unknown and inexperienced actors landing that “big break”, this is rarely the case for international actors. International actors that skyrocket to A-list status in Hollywood may seem like overnight success stories, but in fact, most of those actors have spent years of their lives dedicated to acting (usually in their home country). Look at actor Javier Bardem. Bardem’s career soared to new heights after he did No Country for Old Men, and your average American moviegoer probably thinks his career started with that movie. However, what most people don’t realize is that long before No Country for Old Men, Bardem already had a prosperous career as a Spanish actor, a career that helped launch him into Hollywood.

Like many other international actor success stories, Bardem didn’t simply move to the U.S. and become an overnight star with No Country for Old Men. He worked hard as an actor for years before transitioning to American cinema. If you are an international actor that is truly interested in making your craft your career, take heed the above-mentioned information, and be on the look out for Part II of this article in the coming weeks!

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