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Every year seems to usher in a new young Hollywood star, which can make the acting profession feel daunting once you hit 40. Most of the movie stars and Broadway greats in the news are in their early 20s, and some are even teen and child stars. An acting career is seemingly made or lost at an early age, but a surprising number of actors get their starts later in life. Screen legend Gene Hackman did not win his first movie role until age 34 and did not become a star until well into his 40s. Many other character and supporting actors begin even later. The aspiring middle aged actor should not consider age an impediment.
Take an acting class. Your town may have expensive, professional classes or cheaper ones at your local community college or non-profit theater. Classes will not transform you into a great actor, but they are a wonderful opportunity to learn the fundamentals of the craft and practice with other aspiring performers. Your age should not be a barrier -- there are many acting class students who begin later in life.
Get a head shot. You can spend $100 or more on a professional head shot, or simply have a competent friend take one. The keys to a good head shot are finding the best angle for your face, avoiding a distracting background, and finding an expression that fits you. More comic actors might smile more. If you think you are a potential villain, you might lose the smile altogether. Avoid wide lenses and take multiple shots if you can to give yourself some options. You can have headshots printed at a local copy shop for reasonable cost.
Read a selection of acting books. There are hundreds of great books about the craft, each emphasizing different elements and techniques. Some are exclusively about stage acting, while some only focus on film and television. A good place to start is Micheal Caine's "Acting in Film." Caine talks very practically about the craft of acting, from what to eat before a performance to how to avoid stage fright.
Find auditions in your area, for either film or local theatre. Craigslist (craigslist.org) is a great source for audition notices. There are typically many regional message boards and list servs for acting notices in your area. If you are a new actor you will likely need to accept non-paying acting jobs at the outset. Only after developing a portfolio of strong performances will you likely be able to command payment.
Submit for a role by sending your headshot and resume to a desired production. Do not be afraid to admit to casting directors that your resume is somewhat thin. There are many instances where your appearance might fit what they are looking for so strongly that the production is willing to take a chance. Older actors often have a leg up in this department, as most aspiring actors are younger.
Audition for the part. If the production asks you to come in, they should give you information about whether you are reading lines they have sent, doing a "cold read" of lines sight unseen, or delivering a monologue. Musicals will often require a song or dance performance. Find a monologue that suits your ability and your appearance. If you are reading lines, consider practicing with a friend beforehand.
Keep trying. Even the best actors strike out more than they succeed. The key to getting continued acting work is persistence. With hard work, dedication, and a modicum of talent, you'll find yourself a regular in your local theater or film scene.
Your safety should always be a top priority. If you are a woman and an audition is being held at a site you find uncomfortable, do not feel obligated to attend. Similarly, on film sets do not agree to do anything you feel is unsafe. With the explosion of inexpensive camera equipment there are many unprofessional productions that may take unnecessary risks with their talent.