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Professional advice and guidance for aspiring actors.

Do Tattoos Affect an Actor’s Career?

It used to be rare to find actors sporting a lot of visible tattoos. Agents would turn away aspiring actors with visible ink since it used to limit an actor's options. Lots of shows and roles would require a “cleaner” image and tattoos absolutely play a role in how you are perceived.

However, over the last 30 years, the world has changed drastically in its view of tattoos — and so has Hollywood. Once considered taboo, tattoos are increasingly popular, and if needed, makeup artists now have magical tools that can cover up anything and everything. So how might tattoos affect an actor’s career?

What you didn’t know about tattoos in the film industry

If you’re planning on starting a career and you already have ink all over, you should first talk to the artist that did your tattoos. A production company’s legal department requires that you have your tattoo artist sign a release form, stating that they’re releasing the rights to their artwork over to the production so their artwork can appear on screen.

While an actor may be okay with getting their ink showcased, the tattoo artist may not be as keen on sharing their work without credit. Mike Tyson, who has an infamous tattoo on his face, was a crucial character in The Hangover series. His tattoo artist sued Warner Brothers for the use of his artwork on screen without permission… and was paid an undisclosed amount. Because of that incident, studios are now doing their due diligence to ensure an actor’s tattoos can be shown on screen without issue.

You may not need to get permission from your tattoo artist, if you and the production decide to go with a more conservative look for your character. A good example of this is Alexandra Breckenridge on the Netflix show Virgin River. Breckenridge has quite a few tattoos — on her shoulder, back and calf, but you often see none of them on screen, because these days makeup artists do an incredible job covering tattoos (although, prepare yourself to be sitting in that makeup chair longer than your cast-mates if you need your tattoos covered all the time!).

Can I get into Hollywood with tattoos?

100% yes. There are some A-listers such as Angelina Jolie and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson that are heavily inked and are among the highest-paid actors. And when you’re still establishing your career as an actor, it makes sense to consider which visible tattoos you currently have and whether or not you want to get more in the near future.

Established actors and celebrities have more tattoo freedom than up and coming actors because their experience, talent and track record proves they are a huge benefit to any production. No one minds spending a bit more money to cover tattoos on great established actors. It’s spending money to cover tattoos for the smaller roles, when production can just as easily hire an actor without visible tattoos, when your tattoos can work against you.

Narrowing your options: the pros and cons of having tattoos as an actor

Having lots of tattoos as an actor

There’s no denying that tattoos will inform which box casting puts you in as an actor, but that idea should excite you! When Hollywood needs someone exactly like you, and love the idea of a lot of authentic tattoos; they’re often limited to how many actors can fit that niche. So if having a ton of great tattoos is a part of your unique identity, then go for it!

At the Laura Mac Method online acting school, we help all of our actors create their own “Acting Avatar” - their unique, marketable essence that solves the problems of casting in their local film, television and commercial markets. If you’re looking to carve out a place for yourself in your local film industry; check out the Foundations and Academy online acting programs.

Having no tattoos as an actor

These days it’s also very common for makeup artists to draw or paste on fake tattoos when they need someone to look tatted up (think Ryan Gosling in The Place Beyond the Pines). So, weigh out your long term goals before you get more visible tattoos.

The bottom line: having many tattoos as an actor will close as many doors as it opens. You can and will absolutely get hired for acting gigs when you’re inked.

Staying True to Yourself as an Actor

It’s so important to stay true to who you are outside of the acting industry. That person is what fuels not just your career development, but your craft development too.

Just remember, the worst thing you can do is lie to a production about your tattoos!  (Or about anything for that matter) If your tattoos are visible in shorts and a t-shirt, let production know right off the bat. Honesty is always the best policy. And letting them know well in advance will give them the time they need to prepare properly. Surprises are the last thing anyone on a professional film, television or commercial production wants!