Acting in London: What You Should Know About Jumping The Pond

From time to time, we all get the travel bug. And sometimes it’s not only the travel bug, but a sense that it’s simply time to try something – or someplace – different. Whether the drive stems from events in our personal lives, career doldrums, boredom, or simply that famous actor’s sense of adventure, we’ve all contemplated a Big Move at one time or another. Who among us hasn’t yearned for a new town where you could try on a new skin, surrounded by unfamiliar, yet exciting people and places? (Sounds almost like preparing a new role when you put it like that, huh?)

As actors we especially are prone to feeling as though one place or another is played out, or simply isn’t working for us when it comes to…well, when it comes to working. All of these factors sometimes coalesce and drive us to think about changing cities – and sometimes even countries.

London especially has an appeal to a certain type of American actor. For those of us who cut our teeth on the stage rather than in front of the camera, the allure of the West End is right up there with the draw of Broadway, only with a sexier accent and Shakespeare cred practically flowing from the tap next to the Guinness in the area’s pubs.

But if you’re thinking of making the leap across the pond and having a go at cracking into the London acting world, there are some things you should know. Let’s start with a couple of general basics about London:

1. It’s Pricey, Mate. 

Even beyond what you’re going to think is reasonable, most likely. Even with the looming, Waiting for Godot-esque threat of Brexit continuing to sabotage the U.K. economy, even with the dollar gaining on the pound, it’s still expensive to do just about anything in the U.K. Especially in London, which is where you want to be. If you’re entertaining romantic notions of finding yourself a hipster flat amid the hustle and bustle of the inner city, sort of a British Friends but with a much cooler accent and more cutting sarcasm, you’ll need to throw some cold water on that idea. Unless you’re a retired investment banker or a trust-funded actor, to even approach affordable in the context of the way most working actors think of that term you’ll need to set your sights on places that will put you far away from the action in the West End and the more trendy neighborhoods. Shared flats, shared houses, long-term rentals – all of these are possible and all can be affordable if you are willing and financially able to take the time to do some due diligence and look around before committing to the first attractive place that comes along. And keep in mind that even if it looks like it’s alarmingly further afield on the map than you would like, you might very well still be okay. That’s because one great thing about London is…

2. Transportation is Awesome (Mostly)

You’ve heard of the Tube? Well, it’s your friend, my wee Yankee actor in King Arthur’s court! The London Underground train system is the lifeblood of the place, and it will save your ass when it comes to getting yourself to jobs and auditions – as well as getting back to your flat after a night out with your new London actor buddies. It’s got 250 miles of tracks and 11 lines that will take you virtually anywhere in the Greater London Area in a reasonable amount of time. And where the Tube won’t take you, buses will. Get yourself an Oyster card and you’re on your way. One caveat relating to point number one above, the individual rides are rather pricey, especially the further out you are. The city is divided into zones and the more distant ones can cost you up to £6 (about $7.50) for a trip. (Keep in mind that even traveling between the closer-in Zones 1 through 3 costs almost £5.) Still, as the only game in town and considering the alternative, the Tube really is your friend.

So let’s talk actual acting. What’s different, what’s the same, what do you need to know?

– You’re going to be the new guy or girl

Be prepared because all those lovely credits you have built up over the years, especially in stage shows, are going to mean a whole lot of nothing when you’re in a new place, especially a highly-competitive market like London. The tale is somewhat different if you have a solid reel showing more prestigious work with known entities, but for the most part, any relocation for lesser-known actors no matter where it is means more or less starting over. But before you get discouraged, that concern is only in terms of your CV and reputation walking in the door. If you know what you’re doing and are able to conduct yourself as a professional and do the work, you’ll quickly build a new rep in your new locale. But in the meantime, it’s a good idea to do the same kind of leg work once you get settled as you would do anywhere if you were just starting out: create your own work, whether it be video or live, develop a network of like-minded actor friends, and don’t be above working for free on indie and low-budget projects at first in order to accomplish those things, make connections and figure out how the game is played there.  

– Casting can be wildly different.

Especially for actors just starting out on the lower rungs of the ladder, you’re going to find that London casting is often open for interpretation of the various directors and CDs involved. Whereas there’s a pretty standardized procedure in New York and L.A., in London you’ll often encounter street casting and other creative castings being implemented, even for more prominent roles, as opposed to seeking actors through more traditional avenues like agents and so forth. And casting notices often must be sought out across a hodgepodge of social media sites and various internet sites. Right away you’ll want to suss out the top casting directors and follow them on social media in order to have early access to the juiciest auditions they’re casting – keeping in mind that anything goes in the casting room in terms of how the audition may be run. The best advice is to bone up on your improv skills before you land at Heathrow and be ready for anything!

– Start working on that stiff upper lip

Like any other highly competitive gig in the premier city for people seeking those jobs, acting in London can be emotionally draining. Add to that mixture the fact that, even with all the similarities and cultural touchstones we share with the Brits, we are still, beneath it all, two very different cultures. Now on top of that think about the last time some new hotshot actor rolled into one of your “home turf” shows, classes or auditions: how did you and your clan feel about him or her? Expect a good deal of “the new guy” syndrome, but don’t despair! We are at heart all the same: we’re actors in love with presenting characters and performing. You will make friends, and you will develop your own circle no matter where you go! 

Keep in mind too that even before you buy your plane ticket you can start researching the London market right here on by perusing the casting notices, as European and London-specific auditions often make their way onto these pages. Even beyond that, remember that CDs, producers and directors from around the world visit the NYCastings to ferret out the perfect performer for their next project. So get your reel, resume and headshot in prime shape, get them posted and keep them updated, and start doing your research on making the leap to the West End!  


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