The path to movie or TV stardom isn't easy, and even the most talented actors can use a little help from colleagues, mentors, and family members along the way. The advice can be practical and specific to the profession, like where to point your eyeballs during a close-up, or general and applicable to all walks of life, like the importance of committing yourself totally.
Here's a grab bag of advice given to actors by those whose opinions they valued.
- Photo: Escape from New York / AVCO Embassy Pictures
Kurt Russell began acting at a young age; at 12, he had the title role in the Western series The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, and continued with a series of successful Disney vehicles in the 1970s and 1980s. By the time he broke through to mainstream leading-man status in the 1980s, Russell was a seasoned pro.
According to Russell, the best advice he received starting out was from his father, actor Bing Russell:
I was 10 or 11 years old, and I had just started working. My father said, “Okay, you’re going to make a man’s salary, so do a man’s job.” I translated that as, pay attention, do the job as good as you can, earn your way, make the team.
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Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis formed a hugely successful comedy duo that lasted 10 years, producing 16 movies and numerous standing room-only club appearances. But as time went on, their relationship soured. In 1956 the duo broke up, and it wasn't an amicable separation. They didn't speak for 20 years, until Frank Sinatra arranged a surprise appearance by Martin at Lewis's muscular dystrophy telethon.
Two years before the breakup, rumors of tension were already swirling, and comedy legend Groucho Marx wrote a letter to Lewis, urging him to talk things through with his partner before making any career-changing decisions:
I've been reading in columns that there is ill feeling between you boys and that there's even a likelihood that you might go your separate ways. I hope this isn't true for you are awfully good together, and show business needs you. I don't mean to imply that either of you couldn't make a living on his own. I am sure you could. But you do complement each other and that's one of the reasons you click so successfully.
I am sure you have had disagreements and arguments, just as all teams, trios, and quartets have had since the beginning of the theater. In the heat of working together there's inevitably a nervous tension, and frequently it's during these moments that two high-strung temperaments will flare up and slash at each other.
There may be nothing to the rumors of your separation. However, if there is any ill feeling or bitterness between you, it will eventually affect your work. If that feeling does exist, sit down calmly together, alone - when I say alone, I mean no agents, no family, no one but you two - sit down alone, and talk it out.
Lewis swiftly replied, warmly thanking Groucho for his advice, and writing, "I want to assure you that I will do the right thing in this matter." All the same, the partnership lasted only another two years. In 1962, Groucho wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to Lewis referencing the previous one:
I said the separation would mean disaster for both of you. Since then you have made $18 million (net), and Dino, I imagine, has made about the same. Therefore I will abstain from giving you any more advice.
- Photo: King Kong / Universal Pictures
If you want to become an actor, you might not always be inclined to take your dad's advice on how to succeed. But if your dad happens to be Tom Hanks, it's probably a good idea to listen.
Colin Hanks has managed to quietly build up a career outside of his father's shadow, from the lead in the comedy Orange County and a small role in Band of Brothers to a critically lauded turn in the Fargo TV series.
The actor told Los Angeles Magazine the most important advice he received from his dad. Unsurprisingly, it's pretty down-to-earth stuff:
[T]he thing you always keep in mind is you’ve got to show up on time, hit your marks, and have your lines memorized. If you’re able to do all those things, you’ll be able to go surprisingly far, because you’ll be surprised how many people don’t do those three things.
- Photo: That '70s Show / Fox
NCIS and That '70s Show actor Wilmer Valderrama revealed, in a "25 Things You Don't Know About Me" piece for Us Weekly, that he cherishes guidance from a beloved comedian:
The greatest advice I’ve ever received was from Robin Williams: “Never forget. And always remember... It’s supposed to be fun.”
- Photo: The Cotton Club / Orion Pictures537 VOTES
As a young actor, Laurence Fishburne had little interest in the trappings of stardom. He considered himself an artist and didn't care how people saw him in the real world; he felt his private life was nobody's business. Fishburne described his attitude at the time, saying that "[i]t’s about the work for me; it’s not about the starry-eyed sh*t. I’m not chasing an endorsement."
But Fishburne said Sidney Poitier told him the way stars carry themselves off-screen is important, too:
So, I’m having lunch with Poitier... He goes, “So, you have to understand, when you’re a star, you have to take care of yourself. And you are a star.” At which point, I’m going, F*ck. If this guy’s telling me that I’m a star, I just can’t ignore it. I can’t act like it’s not real. Because he was the biggest movie star in the world in 1967. He’s not talking about some sh*t he heard. He lived it. He knows what he’s talking about.
- Photo: Scandal / ABC
As the daughter of Hollywood legend Richard Burton, Kate Burton had big shoes to fill. But she decided to pursue acting anyway and established a successful career in theater, film, and TV. From roles in films like Big Trouble in Little China and The First Wives Club to big parts in TV series like Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, Burton has done Dad proud.
When asked by Town & Country about her father's influence, Burton replied:
My father would often say you often do the best work when you're tired, because you only have so much energy and you have to focus it really strongly. He said, "Use your fatigue." My dad's been gone so long but he's still advising me in my head.