6 Ways to Build an Acting CAREER with Penn & Teller and Adam Rifkin

To hell with 15min of fame!

For those hoping to build and maintain an acting career, here are 6 tips to help you achieve this kind of longevity – from the legendary Penn & Teller and acclaimed Director Adam Rifkin.

The trio discussed how to succeed in Hollywood during a panel at Slamdance Film Festival 2016, and one key fact came across as clear. DO NOT FEAR. On every level you need to reach out beyond your comfort zone in order to assure you keep on learning and growing.

20160126__7panelSLAM-p1 (1)Here are 6 ways to make it as an actor.

  1. Connect with the audience

According to Penn & Teller, they were never artists. They were “cheap carny trash.” But they met the audience afterwards.

“If you want people to help with investing in you, to see your movie, then cultivate a respect and a comfort with your audience. We grew from carny trash to who we are today because we don’t hate the mother f***ers who like us.”

  1. Seek out differences of opinion

Don’t work with someone who just agrees with you. Work with someone who is very different and is going to take you somewhere you wouldn’t. Or else, you should just work alone.

  1. Learn to do everything yourself

Teller admits that “the only way we got to be in a magic show was by being the producers and directors and talent. We aren’t attractive enough to get cast by someone else. The only way we got a chance, was to do it ourselves.”

The best chance to act, is to produce and write.

  1. Embrace your natural instincts

Adam Rifkin likes the unusual and has made a career by delving into the types of projects that best represent his unique interests. “The only magic to making a movie is having the money to do it. Besides that anyone can make a movie.”

The way that YOU can stand out in this business is by carving out a niche based on what makes you unique.

  1. Don’t shy away from small roles

rifkinIf you want to be in show business, dive in right away. Start getting jobs and learn as you go. Adam Rifkin got his first job in Hollywood by writing and directing his own film. Penn got started by juggling. “You’ve gotta dive in. Go for it!”

Whether you create your own work, take a small part in a friend’s film, or submit for background roles – those are all great place to start. Make connections and grow.

  1. View failure as an opportunity

Adam Rifkin shared that the best thing that happened to him was his greatest failure. An opportunity came up for him to do a project he wasn’t passionate about. He got hired and fired in a few weeks. Everyone who was calling him when he had the job, wouldn’t return his calls.

“I realized then, that the only power I have is my ability to write,” Adam shared. “I was bummed for a day and then thought, every production company is looking for material. I decided to write non-top. I wrote 4 films. One sold in auction. If I hadn’t been publically humiliated, I never would have done that.”

These tips for how to build an acting career, will help you in both the short and long haul. And as these wise guys said, you’ve gotta dive in! NYCastings is an ideal place for you to get your start. So you are already on the right track.


Penn & Teller are a dynamic duo who have defied labels for nearly 40 years by redefining the genre of magic and inventing their own very distinct niche in comedy. With sold out runs on Broadway, world tours, Emmy-winning TV specials and hundreds of outrageous appearances, this team show no signs of slowing down.

Adam Rifkin is a writer/director/producer/actor whose eclectic career ranges from broad family comedies to gritty urban dramas. Rifkin is best known for writing family-friendly comedies like MouseHunt and Underdog.


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