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How Much Does a New Actor Make?

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Welcome to show business. Are you dazzled by the glamor, the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowds? That's wonderful. Just don't start living the Johnny Depp life on an extra's salary. There's a slippery slope to climb before you can count on solid earnings as a new actor.


An actor makes about $18.00 per hour. Most acting jobs are temporary, so it's impossible to project annual salaries from an hourly rate.

Job Description

Actors bring to live a writer's imaginary character or an actual historical figure. They memorize lines and blocking (movement around the stage), follow directors' instructions to the letter, summon up facial expressions in an instant and cry on demand. They may be required to change their voices, walk or body language. They may need to research the character or historical figure they're portraying, writing out elaborate psychological profiles or digging in archives to find the inner truth they then bring to light in their portrayal.

There are many environments for actors, including stage plays and musicals, television, film and web series. Actors can also be hired to work at parties and special events, as everything from living tableaux and singing waiters to flash mob participants. Some are hired as voice actors, in which case, only their verbal expressiveness counts.

Education Requirements

There are no specific educational requirements for an actor, and many of the most successful had no formal training before breaking into the field. However, training with a competent acting coach or earning a degree in drama from a reputable school can help hone your skills and give you a competitive advantage in this extremely competitive field.


The entertainment industry is already one of the largest on the planet, employing more than 16,000 actors the U.S. in 2017. It generated $1.89 trillion in the U.S. in 2017 alone, and although some studies show the growth rate as flat for the field as a whole, niches such as virtual reality and esports are expected to grow by orders of magnitude in the next several years. If you aren't afraid of trying something new, you could become the next biggest star in the home entertainment universe.

Years of Experience and Salary

When you first start out, you audition at "cattle calls" where you compete for roles against many others. You may also work as an extra – someone paid to appear in the background in a film without any speaking lines. Nonunion extras, working independent films, can earn $100 per day for unsteady contract work. Extras who are members of the union SAG-AFTRA make over $300 per day on set. You can make slightly more if you have specialized skills such as juggling, horseback riding or ice skating. There is no such thing as seniority in the acting profession. Unlike many other industries, your wages do not increase the longer you've been in the industry.

Speaking roles demand a higher salary. SAG-AFTRA estimates that the average union member working in Los Angeles full-time earns $52,000 per year. That depends, of course, on their ability to land multiple jobs per year.

It's hard to estimate an actor's salary per hour or actor's salary per year because film, television and stage production schedules don't work that way. Your character might only be needed for a few days here and there over the course of months, and you are paid only for the time you're on set.

Job Growth Trend

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, actor employment is projected to grow 12 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth in the motion picture industry will stem from continued strong demand for new movies and television shows. Netflix alone is investing $5 billion per year in video and film production.

Which Actor Earns the Most Money?

It's Mark Wahlberg, formerly known as Marky Mark, who earned the most money, at $68,000,000 per year for the June 2016 to June 2017 period. As well as acting, Wahlberg is a producer and often takes a percentage of the box office gross as partial payment. When you're in as many hit movies as he is, this can pay off spectacularly; only top stars are offered such a payment scheme, called points. Here's hoping you get to that level.


Lorraine Murphy has been writing on business, self-employment, and marketing since the turn of the 21st century. Her credits include Vanity Fair, the Guardian, Slate, Salon, Occupational Pursuit Magazine, the Daily Download, and Business in Vancouver. She has been a judge and mentor at Vancouver Startup Weekend multiple times, and is an in-demand keynote speaker.

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