Rising Stars: How to Become a Child Actor in the UK

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Photo Source: “Queen's Gambit” Courtesy Netflix

Has your little one got big dreams to be on stage or screen? Are they constantly putting on plays or playing dress-up? With the right support, you can help your budding star carve a path to success. Think of Keira Knightley, who admits she was “single-minded about acting” as a child, asking for an agent at the age of three. Her parents helped her sign with one at six, and she’s been on our screens ever since. 

Starting out as a child actor doesn’t mean a short-lived career, either. Thomas Brodie-Sangster landed his first big role in Love Actually when he was 11 and has held numerous roles since then, including the 2020 Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit and The Maze Runner film trilogy. 

Plenty of adult stars paved the way for their success when they were young, and ambitious child performers should be taken seriously. Here’s how to help them get there.

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1. Ask whether they really want to be an actor

Before you put time, money, and (potentially) heartache into supporting your aspiring actor, it’s worth making sure they understand what it’s really about. In a world where fame and celebrity are glamorised—especially in the age of social media—it’s not surprising that some young people are enticed by the glitz. But only a small percentage of professional actors find fame. A 2023 survey from UK film and TV union Bectu reported that 75% of film and TV actors were out of work. They may be years off from needing to earn a living, but it’s worth managing your child’s expectations. Have a chat with them about why they’re interested in an acting career and ensure the joy they get from their passion is enough to counter potential rejection.

2. Consider professional training

If your child is serious about acting, think about training. They’re not an essential requirement, but drama classes will: 

  • Help them hone their craft
  • Understand how to become a character 
  • Help their CV or portfolio stand out in a competitive market 

Consider enrolling your child in a full-time stage school, where they’ll be taught the national curriculum alongside performing arts training. Redroofs School has two sites in Maidenhead and Littlewick Green in Berkshire, and it offers its full-time students acting, dance, and musical theatre training as well as core subjects like mathematics and English. Kate Winslet was a student of the school for seven years; Joanne Froggatt also attended. Sylvia Young Theatre School is another well-established full-time performing arts school, offering “a high level of academic and vocational studies.” The school is based in central London, and its alumni include Billie Piper and Nicholas Hoult. 

Alternatively, sign your child up for after-school and holiday programmes offering training in core skills like improvisation, scene studies, and character development. Redroofs and Sylvia Young both provide holiday programmes, and Stagecoach and the Pauline Quirke Academy have branches all over the country offering performance training to young people. For something more local, have a look at schools like Spotlights, which has bases in southeast London. 

Private coaching can help with voice work and monologue preparation. Learning to be part of a company and performing in public is the best exposure for a child actor with no previous experience. 

London Academy of Music and the Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) is one of the most prestigious training bodies in the UK for aspiring actors. In addition to its accredited drama school, it offers a range of exams for child performers, from solo or group introduction to drama, miming, and Shakespeare. Enrolling your child in a LAMDA test is a great way to give them audition practice.

Summer acting programmes run up and down the country, from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to Cinta Stage in Cornwall, via RADA in London. They’re a chance for children hoping to break into the industry to get a taste for it, meet other young actors, and hear about auditions, including open calls.

3. Promote and prepare your protégé

Child actor

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Before submitting a child actor for auditions, they’ll need marketing materials like headshots, an acting CV, and eventually a demo reel featuring versatile performance clips.

If your child has no previous experience, community theatre productions, local amateur projects, and student films or stage shows can pad out their credits. 

Finally, child actors aged six and up should have at least two short monologues up their sleeves, memorised and ready to pull out if asked to in auditions. When looking for pieces, it’s a good idea to search by age category to help you choose appropriate material. Ideally, one should be classical (written before 1900) and one should be modern (written since the late 19th century), although this is normally only essential for play auditions or meetings with potential agents. Shakespeare and Disney have a fine selection of kids’ monologues.

4. Facilitate auditions and casting calls

Proactively looking for auditions and casting calls could more quickly launch your child’s acting career. Once their marketing materials are in place, create a profile for them on a casting platform that lists auditions. Filter by age, location, and production type to find the best fit for your child, their interests, and their experience level.

5. Learn how to self-tape

Many auditions now take place remotely, so self-taping—a video audition recorded at home—is an important skill to hone. Often a parent or guardian will need to read other characters in the scene from off-camera. It’s worth practising together to make sure the pace and tone of the scene are working nicely and you’re giving them plenty of energy and expressiveness to work with. Find a filming setup that works for you and start recording material. The practice will smooth the process and make your tapes look more professional when the time comes to submit them to a casting director.

6. Consider representation

Child actor

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Professional actors are usually represented by an agent or manager who acts as a conduit between directors, casting directors, and the actor, helping them score auditions and negotiate fees. They also make sure junior actors are being looked after and their working conditions are appropriate.

While beneficial for the connections and expertise it offers, representation isn’t essential in a young actor’s career. If you’re considering it, research which particular agencies specialise in child performers and the names on their books. For example, if an agency has several clients who are similar to your child, they might not be looking for more actors in that demographic. Researching will also help you sense how performers’ careers have progressed within an agency and the sort of projects they’re securing work in. 

Remember: If your child is represented by a talent agency, 10% of their earnings will be taken as commission.

7. Use social media

Social media can help you find auditions. Keep an eye on agency and casting pages like Daisy & Dukes and The Cast List, as well as the accounts of casting directors themselves. Tree Petts Casting has a highlights reel that’s dedicated to casting calls. Social media is also a good place to promote your young actor and their work. Bear in mind that children’s social media accounts should be managed by a guardian or manager if the child is under 13. For example, the Matilda the Musical star Alisha Weir’s Instagram includes a note to let followers know the account is monitored by an adult.

How much do child actors get paid?

Even if your child is in it for love, how much they’ll be paid is an important question. As with adult actors, the pay range for child actors is vast and depends on experience, the size of the role, the actor’s reputation, and the filming schedule (which is affected by the child’s age). Pay varies from around £60 an hour for non-speaking roles in commercials to several thousand pounds per episode for lead roles on major TV series. Children between 10 and 17 are eligible for Equity Child Membership and the secured wages that come with it.

In the UK, there is no law stating that income earned by a child actor needs to go into an account or trust fund in their name, but it is often written into contracts to protect their earnings. Expenses can come out of the account, but otherwise the funds are protected until the child is old enough to access the money themselves, usually when they’re 18. They’ll need to pay tax on earnings over £12,570, just like adults, but they’ll be exempt from paying National Insurance on their earnings until they’re over 16. 

Names like Daniel Radcliffe, Dev Patel, and Maisie Williams are proof that with plenty of commitment, a bit of realism, and a big dollop of talent, building a career as a child actor is possible.

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