How Do Actors Get Paid When Not Working: Secrets of Steady Income in Showbiz

As an actor, you might wonder how your colleagues make a living during their downtime. After all, acting gigs can be sporadic, and maintaining a stable income is crucial. In this article, you’ll learn about the various ways actors get paid when they’re not actively working on a project.

Residuals, or royalties, play a significant role in an actor’s income. Whenever a project you’ve worked on continues to generate revenue, such as through reruns, DVD sales, or digital downloads, you are entitled to a share of the profit.

This passive income provides some financial stability for actors between jobs.

Additionally, many actors diversify their income sources to ensure they stay afloat during the unpredictability of their careers—this might include coaching, teaching, voice-over work, or even exploring other creative outlets like writing or directing. Finding ways to supplement your acting income can make a notable difference in managing those periods of inactivity.

Breaking Down Actors’ Annual Earnings

How Much Do Actors Make a Year on Average?

As an actor, your annual earnings can vary greatly depending on several factors. On average, actors in the United States made a median salary of around $46,960 in 2021. However, this number doesn’t tell the whole story.

A-list actors who star in blockbuster films can rake in millions of dollars per project, while aspiring actors may only make a few thousand dollars annually. Television actors’ earnings can also vary significantly, with some earning a steady income from recurring roles while others rely on guest appearances and residual payments.

Factors That Influence Actors’ Income

Your income as an actor depends largely on the industry you work in, your experience, and the roles you land. Here are some factors that can influence your earnings:

  • Experience: More experienced actors generally command higher fees.
  • Location: Actors working in major entertainment cities like Los Angeles or New York tend to have access to higher-paying roles.
  • Type of production: Film, television, theater, and commercial productions offer different pay scales.
  • Union membership: Union actors usually earn more than non-union actors, as they can access minimum wage requirements and other negotiated benefits.
  • Royalties and residuals: Your earnings may also come from royalties or residuals from past projects, depending on the terms of your contract.

Remember that your income as an actor may vary greatly from year to year, especially if you’re not consistently booking roles. Planning for this uncertainty and diversifying your income sources when possible is essential.

Diversifying Income: Opportunities for Actors in Between Gigs

Acting as a profession can be precarious, with periods of little to no work. However, as an actor, you can diversify your income by exploring multiple opportunities while waiting for your next big gig.

Exploring Alternative Income Streams for Actors at Different Career Stages

For budding actors, consider teaching acting workshops, hosting personal coaching sessions, or working in local productions. Established actors could leverage their experience and brand by writing industry books or starting a paid instructional podcast.

Both beginners and veterans can explore income streams like voice-over work, commercials, or digital platforms like YouTube or Twitch. Regardless of your career stage, think creatively and capitalize on your unique skills and experiences.

Understanding the Acting Landscape: Roles, Countries, and Unions

The acting landscape varies depending on the roles you play, the location you work in, and the support of unions. Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada offer strong union support, providing security for actors between gigs.

Membership in unions such as SAG-AFTRA or Equity usually grants you access to unemployment benefits, residual payments, and royalties. Ensure you understand your eligibility for these benefits and take advantage of union resources to find work more consistently.

Be aware that acting opportunities and compensation may differ significantly between countries. Carefully research and consider international opportunities that align with your career goals and offer an additional source of income while waiting for your next gig.

Famous Actors: How They Spend Their Time Off and Maintain Their Wealth

What Do Famous Actors Do When Not Working?

Famous actors generally focus on personal growth and maintaining their skills when not working. Many enroll in acting classes, hire vocal coaches, or attend workshops to stay relevant. They also pursue hobbies and interests to stay grounded and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Balancing Fame and Financial Stability

As a famous actor, managing your finances well on and off-set is essential. Many invest in real estate, stocks, or businesses to secure passive income. Collaboration with a trusted financial planner can help you achieve a balanced approach to maintaining your wealth during downtime.

Case Studies: Famous Actors Who Went Broke and Lessons Learned

Unfortunately, some famous actors struggle with financial management and lose their wealth. Here are a few cases:

  • Case 1: Overspending on extravagant purchases or partying, leading to massive debt.
  • Case 2: Dreadful investments resulting in significant losses.
  • Case 3: Failure to pay taxes or comply with financial regulations, causing penalties and fines.

Learning from these cases, build a healthy financial management system by budgeting wisely, seeking professional advice, and staying mindful of your financial obligations.

Payment Structures in the Acting World

How Much Do Actors Make Per Movie or Project?

As an actor, your salary depends on your experience, the budget of the production, and your negotiation skills. High-profile celebrities can make millions per project, while lesser-known actors may earn a few thousand dollars.

For most actors, payment comes in the form of a day rate or a “per-film” fee. These rates vary by production and your role within it. Lead actors generally earn more than supporting actors, and extras earn the least.

Payment Methods in the Industry

The acting industry uses several payment methods to compensate you for your work. These can include:

  • Salary: Actors working on long-term projects, like TV shows or theater productions, may receive a regular salary with benefits.
  • Lump Sum: Many actors receive a lump sum payment for a specific role in a film or TV show; this is negotiated before the project begins.
  • Residuals: Actors may also earn residuals, which are ongoing payments received from the distribution and syndication of completed projects. Residuals can be a significant income source for long-lasting, popular projects.

Union and Non-Union Actors: Comparing Income and Benefits

As an actor, you may join an actors’ union, like the Screen Actors Guild or Actors’ Equity Association, to help protect your interests, secure better wages, and access benefits such as health insurance and pension plans.


Union actors typically have standardized contracts, ensuring minimum pay rates depending on the project’s budget, type of work, and other factors. Non-union actors may work on lower-budget projects, negotiate their own contracts, and usually receive lower pay rates without benefits.

Ultimately, the path you choose in the acting world will greatly impact your income and financial stability. As you gain experience and reputation, the demand for your talent will grow, offering you more opportunities to increase your earnings and take control of your financial future.

Creative Ways Actors Make Money When Not Working

Being an actor can be a challenging and unpredictable profession, but there are various creative ways you can make money when not working on a project. Consider diversifying your income sources to maintain financial stability and stay productive within the entertainment industry.

Launching a YouTube Channel: Earning Income While Showcasing Acting Skills

Starting a YouTube channel allows you to showcase your acting skills while generating income through ad revenue and sponsorships. Create original content, collaborate with other YouTubers who share your passions, and build a robust online presence to maximize your earnings.

E-Commerce Ventures: Selling Merchandise or Promoting Products

Tap into the world of e-commerce by selling personalized merchandise, such as apparel or accessories, that reflects your acting persona or interests. Alternatively, partner with brands you love as an influencer to promote their products, earning a commission for each sale made through your social media platforms.

Pursuing a Second Career or Skillset

Developing a second career or skillset can increase your income and offer new opportunities for professional growth. Explore your talents in areas such as writing, directing, producing, or teaching acting workshops, as these can all provide additional avenues for earning money outside of acting roles.

Participating in Conventions and Public Appearances

Attend fan conventions and public appearances relevant to your acting career to generate income by signing autographs, participating in panel discussions, or taking photos with fans. These events can supplement your income and enable you to directly network and engage with your fan base.


In your acting career, it is essential to be aware of the various income sources that can help you stay financially stable when you’re not actively working on a project. Diversifying your income through residuals, commercials, and voice-over work is smart.

You can also explore teaching acting classes, working in related fields, like casting, or creating your own content to tap into additional revenue streams. Remember to have a financial plan in place to manage your finances effectively during the highs and lows of your career.

By understanding and leveraging the range of options available to actors, you can take control of your financial future and continue to focus on your passion for the craft. Your success ultimately depends on your adaptability, creativity, and proactive planning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Actors Get Paid Weekly or Monthly?

Actors’ payment schedules can vary based on contracts and projects. Generally, if you’re a salaried actor, you might receive a monthly paycheck. However, many actors are paid on a project-by-project basis, in which case you could receive payment weekly or even daily.

How Many Actors Make a Living Solely from Acting?

It’s hard to estimate the exact number, but a small percentage of actors are fortunate enough to make a living solely from acting. Many actors juggle multiple jobs or work in related fields like teaching, directing, or producing to supplement their income.

How Do Actors Make So Much Money in Comparison to Other Professions?

While some A-list actors may earn enormous paychecks, many actors don’t make as much as you might think. The high-earning actors are usually in high demand. They can negotiate large salaries as the face of a movie or TV show, which in turn generates significant revenue for studios and production companies.

How Do Background Actors, Screen Actors, and Union Actors Differ in Terms of Earnings?

Background actors typically earn on an hourly or daily basis, with lower pay rates than principal actors. Screen actors hold speaking roles and earn more than background actors, with additional negotiations for factors like screen time and billing.

Union actors, who are members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), usually negotiate their contracts under specific union guidelines, which can include minimum pay rates, health benefits, and other protections.

Can You Make a Living Off Acting?

While it can be challenging, making a living off acting is possible, especially with a diverse skill set and the ability to network effectively. Many actors work in various roles, mediums, and industries to support themselves financially and maintain a career in the field.

Do Actors Get Paid Every Time Their Movie Airs?

In some cases, actors can receive residual payments when their movies, TV shows, or commercials air or are rebroadcast. Residuals are negotiated as part of your contract and are generally based on the success and distribution of the project.

Keep in mind; not all projects guarantee residuals.