By Kayla O’Brien
The idea of an acting career while glamorous and exciting, also has a level of uncertainty. Children and parents may be wondering how to begin the journey. GIFF recently had the opportunity to engage with Matt Newton, founder of MN Acting Studio in New York, to learn his opinions on how children can become successful actors. Here he shares his insight into the best ways to get started, the benefits of talent agents and acting coaches, and how to gain experience.
Do anything and everything you can–classes, plays, scenes,
whatever fills you creatively. – Matt Newtown
GIFF: What age do you prefer to start working with young talent?
MATT: I usually start around 8 years old.
GIFF: What does a child/parent need to have in order to get started? (Headshots, work permit, etc).
MATT: A parent does not need to spend too much on headshots, as their child will be constantly changing and will look different every six months. A nice high quality picture taken with a good camera (not an iphone) should do the trick in the beginning. Also, a work permit is necessary once you start working with an agent. It is also important to have some kind of footage if the child is interested in TV and film. Usually this can be done by hiring someone to tape a scene from a show that the child might be right for.
GIFF: Should parents hire a talent agent for their child?
MATT: If a child is ready, and the parent is ready to be taking them out of school and bringing them to auditions (which could happen every day!). A talent agent will give your child access to the high profile jobs, like small roles on commercials, network and cable TV shows. If they don’t have an agent, they will be limited to student films, short films, and other smaller projects (which can be great for getting experience). With young actors, agents care less about experience, and more about a “look” and “type” that they don’t have on their roster. It can be very competitive, and by no means easy to get an agent.
GIFF: Are certain mediums easier for children to get started in the field?
MATT: I think commercials are a good “in” for young actors, as it’s strictly based on look. After that, theatre is a great way to gain experience and confidence, and to learn the business, as well as student films, where everyone is in it to learn, and there is less pressure on it.
GIFF: What role do you believe acting coaches and studios play in the success of a child actor?
MATT: I work with lots of young actors, and acting coaches are essential when a child has an audition that they received the night before, with 10 pages of sides, and needs that extra help running lines, analyzing the script, and making it real and conversational. I also coach young actors on set (“Blue Bloods” and “Orange is the New Black”) after they have booked the job. I’m there to help prepare them for when the camera is rolling, making sure they know their lines, the right point of view in the scene, the circumstances, and have a firm grasp on their character’s emotions.
GIFF: Is there a best “path” for a child actor? (TV commercials, Theater, Film, TV shows).
MATT: The best path is experience. Whether that’s through community theatre, classes, improv training, or auditioning. There is no right way to break into this business.
GIFF: What is the best advice you can offer a child that wants to act?
MATT: Make sure you are doing it for the fun of it. If you book jobs, great. If not, that’s okay too. If you don’t enjoy digging into scripts and creating fun characters, it will show in your audition. Do anything and everything you can- classes, plays, scenes, whatever fills you creatively.
GIFF: What is the best advice you can offer a parent of a child that wants to act?
MATT: Don’t put any pressure on them. I work with a lot of parents, and the advice I always give is to just let your child enjoy the process, and don’t worry about the result. Never tell them it’s a “big audition”. It also involves a lot of sacrifice, as your child may get very busy running around to auditions, rehearsals, and memorizing scripts the night before, self-tapes, which can be very stressful for both of you. At the same time, it can be very heartbreaking for them when they get close to a very good job, and then don’t get it. They need to know that you are there to support them, whether they get it or not.
ABOUT Matt Newton:
Matt Newton is the founder of MN Acting Studio in NYC (www.mnactingstudio.com), and is widely regarded to be the one of the best on-camera acting coaches in New York City, a leading industry expert, and a passionate advocate for his students. Matt’s students have booked roles on countless TV shows, films, and Broadway shows. Matt’s coaching clients include Tony winners, Emmy award winners, Golden Globe nominees, Broadway stars, well known comedians and musicians (including Aziz Ansari and Lisa Loeb), and well known actors from film and TV. Matt is also the author of the successful book “10 Steps to Breaking Into Acting” (available on Amazon, with a foreword by his sister Becki Newton, star of “Ugly Betty” and “How I Met Your Mother”), and writes a weekly advice column for Backstage Magazine. Matt teaches workshops all over the U.S., most recently at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut, and at One on One Studios in New York City. He is also on the screening and action committee of the Greenwich International Film Festival in Greenwich, CT. Matt earned a degree in Drama from Vassar College, where he studied acting under Erin Mee (daughter of Charles Mee) and Dennis Reid. He also studied at the highly regarded National Theatre Institute in Waterford, CT. After college, he trained with acclaimed teacher Arthur Mendoza at the Actor’s Circle Theatre in Los Angeles.
Bio Courtesy of Matt Newton. Images courtesy of Getty Images for GIFF and Matt Newton.