At the age of 46, I decided to move to the USA. Most people I spoke to said something along the lines of “You’re so brave!” but for me it was more a case of not wanting to spend the rest of my life wondering ‘what if?’… Truth be told, I do wish I’d moved a LOT sooner, but I’m also really glad I didn’t wait any longer.
I’m extremely lucky as I have a wide range of skills; and I’m always happy to learn new ones. I’m an actor, voice over artist, writer, director, film-maker, comedian, dancer, choreographer, singer/songwriter & composer, male burlesque performer and I’ve had experience as an art-director (set décor), gaffer (lighting) and sound technician. I’ve taught myself how to edit films, edit and mix sound.
I also have a whole host of other skills that are unrelated to his theatre & film careers that often come in handy on set – like the time I was cast in a commercial for a big brand US company to discover that they’d been spectacularly disorganized and hadn’t hired a yoga instructor to teach the yoga class they were filming – fortunately for them I’ve taught yoga for 21 years, so I was able to step in!
Moving to LA was the best thing I ever did. Since I moved here, I’ve had so many brilliant experiences and worked with people I would never have dreamed of working with in the UK. Sometimes I have more auditions in one month than I have in an entire year in the UK. There’s a plethora of projects on offer here and so many projects ranging from stage plays, to TV series to feature films to web series to short-films to live comedy gigs. The fees vary greatly and sometimes you take a low paying job because you have faith in the project or the director or just because it’s going to be great fun. I was recently up for a commercial paying $100,000.00 – I didn’t get it but it was great to at least be in the running for it.” I regularly travel up to San Francisco to perform male burlesque and comedy , headlining at the Hubba Hubba Revue and other massively popular ‘Frisco events. I’ve written & produced 8 short films since I’ve been here, one of which went to Cannes in 2016 and another was nominated for both best picture and best actor in 2015. I’m loving it!
If you’re planning on moving to the USA (which is getting harder under the current administration) you need to have a lot of money saved – it’s an expensive business and even when you’re fortunate enough to have a support system here (I have a sister who is a US citizen and lives in Dallas, Texas), and contacts – I was lucky to have a feature film to work on shortly after I got here (and 3 years later it’s still in post-production!), and as an actor, there’s a lot to eat up your savings. Aside from the cost of moving (lawyers, visas, removals) there are the on-going expenses from setting yourself up on all the databases that actors have to be on in order to be submitted to get auditions. Getting work as an actor costs a lot of money. Going to an audition when you don’t book the job, costs the same amount of money as the audition when you do book the job. You have to print resumes and photos (that’s less the case now as most casting directors use digital references); you have to pay for fuel and parking if you drove, or pay for the Uber/Lyft; sometimes you end up buying something for your wardrobe so that you can look the part; make sure your hair is cut/groomed, and maybe your nails too. And if you have more than one audition in a day you may end up needing to buy lunch or coffee or both, to get you through the day and eating out in LA isn’t cheap! Plus, something that British folk aren’t particularly used to, you’re expected to tip for most services, so that’s an extra couple of bucks every time you buy something!
Money isn’t the only thing that can make moving a challenge. Los Angeles has a reputation for people being superficial, or ‘flakes’ (aka unreliable) or self-involved. It’s true, there are a lot of people who will come and go rapidly in your life here, but if you yourself are a genuine and reliable person, you’ll find plenty of genuine and dependable friends. That being said, those of us who moved here from somewhere else did so because we’re focused on our careers and as a result, that’s what comes first, always. Success without friends is an empty experience so it’s vital to make sure you’re the kind of friend you want others to be and don’t waste time chasing after people who don’t respect you – no matter how well connected they are.
One of the things I love best about LA, aside from the weather, is the sense that anything is possible. In late November I’m about to have a table-read of my first feature film script, “Treatment”, with a cast of seasoned Hollywood actors. I did a stage version of the play in London back in 2013 – it’s loosely based on events between my father and me, but I was having some issues with the fictional elements of the script so I decided to put it on as a play to sort those issues out. It was extremely useful and now, having rewritten the screenplay, I’m getting closer to having it filmed with a cast of brilliant actors. I’ve also had to rewrite the stage version because an LA producer is interested in the stage version.
My top tips for any actors wanting to make the move to the USA:
1) Have enough money to survive for at least a year without earning a dime.
2) Don’t rush into choosing a place to live or buying a car – find out where you feel most at home and work out if you really need a car. I could have saved myself a lot of money by using Uber/Lyft instead of buying the car I bought… (as an actor, nowhere is ‘central’ – you can have an audition in Santa Monica one day, Studio City the next, Hollywood the next and then Burbank the next; and depending on where you live you can guarantee only one of those areas is going to be close to you!)
3) Make sure you can do an impeccable American accent (or two or three of the regional variations). Remember, you’re always competing against real Americans and whilst you might get by on your British/Irish/Scottish accent, chances are, there’ll be a lot less work for you.
4) Be prepared to spend money on going to classes – they’re a great way to network and just like musicians and dancers you need to practice your craft!).
5) Invest in a quality camera and a quality microphone for self-taped auditions – again, you’re always competing against the actors who are submitting professional quality self-taped auditions. Or have the money to pay someone else to do it for you.
6) Be aware that for most people, it takes time for you to get to know LA, then for LA to get to know you.
7) Educate yourself about how the business works here. There are lots of differences in terms of what is expected with headshots & demoreels (my top tip no matter where you are in the world: NFM – No F***ing Montages at the start of your reel). Find out about managers and agents; you can have one or both but there are things agents can do that managers can’t – like negotiate contracts – and things that managers will do for you that agents won’t.
8) Be ultra-professional. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about people behaving in a way that ensures they’ll never get hired. Your reputation is everything; so create a reputation for being reliable, well-prepared, on-time, fun and easy to work with.
9) Don’t be afraid to turn work down when you read the script and find out it’s awful. If it’s a film, once it’s out there, and you’re in it, that’s “forever”.
10)Don’t let your fear of failing hold you back. The worst thing that can happen is that it doesn’t work out for you, but you’ll never fly if you never even try.
Raymond-Kym Suttle teaches at the Actors Centre London when he’s in town, so watch out for his next class which is likely to be in the summer of 2018.
See my Demo Reel on
Written and researched by Raymond-Kym Suttle.