What type of membership would you like to apply for?
Account access problem
You do not have permission to access this page with your current sign in details. If you require any further help, please get in touch at questions@spotlight.com.
The Essentials
Papers and pages and parcels spread on a table

Image credit: Kata Vermes/Netflix / Still From The Alienist

Advice from the ‘Braveheart’ actor on how to start your acting career and learn a script

Donegal-born actor Sean McGinley has had a career that spans decades and roles in countless well-known productions, including Braveheart, Gangs of New York, Shetland, The Alienist, and, most recently, the independent film Wait for Me.

We had the chance to talk to Sean at the Subtitle Film Festival and asked him about his tips for actors starting out in the industry and the best way to learn a script. Here’s what he shared:

Starting Out as an Actor

Why Do You Want to Be an Actor?

It’s not easy to be an actor. You have to deal with rejection, are never sure when your next job will come and commonly have to take up a side job like waiting tables or working in a theatre to make ends meet.

This is why Sean stresses that, “If you really, really love [acting], then do it. But if you want to be a star, forget about it, do something else.”

It’s important to have realistic expectations when coming into the performing arts industry. Only a small number of actors ever get to the level of stardom that some might seek when they take up acting, so before you commit to the craft, ask yourself what it is you actually want from your acting career.

If the answer is fame or fortune, then you might be about to embark on a disappointing path. You need to love performing and regard each time you get to do it on stage or screen as a win. Any fame earned is just a bonus.

How do Beginners Start Acting?

To get started in your acting journey, Sean recommends that you, “Get involved in a local drama group, or go to classes. Get a bunch of friends together, do plays.” 

If you want more formal training, you can find listings for drama coaches and drama schools on Spotlight Contacts and work through them based on how close they are to your location.

Otherwise, find some friends who would be happy to act and read out a script with you, or make a short film.

It’s important, as Sean says, to just, “Do it. [There’s] no substitute for doing it.”

What is the Best Way to Learn a Script?

“Whether it be film, theatre, or anything, it begins and ends with the writing. If it’s not there on the page, then you don’t have a chance,” says Sean.

The best actors in the world can’t make a plot interesting or develop a character if it’s not in the script. A script isn’t just vital to making a production great – it’s also your key to getting a role. Interpreting and delivering your lines in the right way is sure to impress the casting director.

“Some people can absorb stuff very quickly,” says Sean. “It’s hard labour for me, it’s like breaking stones.” 

Sean’s advice for learning a script is to use, “Repetition and hard work.”

Movement is also a useful tool and by pairing up your lines with certain actions, you can trigger your memory when that action is performed.

From all of us at Spotlight, we say a massive thanks to Sean McGinley for sharing his excellent advice!

Take a look at our website for more interviews with actors and casting directors.