At the end of 2021, social media platform TikTok surpassed Facebook and Google as the most visited site on the internet. It boasts 689 active million monthly users, and racks up one billion (with a “b”) video views every single day. These videos offer a diverse array of content—comedy, to dance, jokes, pranks, lifestyle and cooking—and average around 15 seconds in length.
Having watched TikTok explode in popularity over the past few years, I’ll admit I’ve always been fascinated by it—despite never having used the platform myself as a creator or consumer. For this reason, I decided to investigate what it’s like being an actor on TikTok. Who are the established performers? What do searches of terms like “actor” or “acting” return? Perhaps the most burning question I had was this: can being an actor on TikTok help launch or further your career?
Like any social media platform, TikTok grants actors an excellent opportunity to reach a wider audience and develop their brand. The fact that the site is currently blowing up means it’s a perfect time get involved. While it might be a stretch to call any of the content “acting” in a traditional sense, TikTok still provides a means for actors and artists to create exciting content and roll it out to willing and enthusiastic audiences around the world.
Let’s start out simple and deep-dive from there. I’m not exaggerating when I say there’s quite a bit of content to cover…
#acting on TikTok
Searching #acting on TikTok brings up some interesting trends. The most prominent returns are lip-sync videos, in which users upload short clips of themselves miming along to an audio snippet of a film or tv show. Some of these are played for a comic effect, some aim to recreate impact of the original moment. A few of the more bizarre lip-syncs go completely over the top: actors’ eyes are drowned in tears, epic music blasts out behind the original audio … one recreation of a scene from “Gilmore Girls” looked more like a video game cut- scene than a bubbly 2000’s sitcom.
Other trends include two videos playing side-by-side of the same actor in the same scene—each clip showing a different circumstantial change or action choice on the part of the performer. Picture a break-up scene playing out in tandem: on the left, Helen is blindsided by the news; on the right ,she’d expected it all along. You’ll encounter #actingchallenge videos, where users might perform a range of different emotions or try to cry during an emotional scene. There are also #duetsin which an actor will record one half of a scene and prompt the viewer to follow along via surtitles—think acting karaoke.
As I kept on scrolling and scrolling, I found myself asking the same question: is this acting?
For me, the answer was a firm “no” … until I realised I was speaking with my own inherent bias towards the platform. Yes: a lot of TikTok is pretty shallow and, no, I wasn’t encountering any Shakespeare. But who the hell am I to say that the work of TikTok creators has any less legitimacy or artistic worth than other media? And not just social media: traditional media such as television, cinema, even theater! Sure, the content designed built to last—but that says nothing of some of the incredible creativity on display. There’s talent to be found. And more and more people are starting to take notice.
Creating Content on TikTok
The actors who really set themselves apart on TikTok are those who are creating short-form comedy content. A lot of the work is character- or sketch-based, and the ease with which a creator can churn out a high volume of content means they can grab an audience’s attention and keep them scrolling. Ten minutes of content doesn’t sound like all that much. But when it’s spread across 40 individual fifteen-second clips, it starts to look like a sizeable body of work.
One notable case study is the work of Australian actor and comedian Millie Ford (@milligram96), who boasts a respectable 1.2 million TikTok followers. Due the popularity of a series of videos she created parodying Australian schoolteachers, she was invited by Aussie streaming service Stan to play a character in the second season of their original dramedy series “Bump”.
It’s no secret that the presence of actors on social media can be a draw-card come casting time; I, myself, have sat in tv production meetings where the final choice between two stars came down to an Instagram popularity contest. But Ford’s casting in Bump is something else entirely: Stan wanted her work—a character based on her own videos and content. The role is reportedly her first acting gig in conventional media.
Becoming TikTok Famous
Given the enormous popularity of TikTok, it’s unsurprising that a lot of creators are becoming extremely well-known. However, it’s arguable that actors on the platform who are finding the most success are those that work tirelessly to cultivate their presence and their brand.
Hunter Rilly@hunterreilly) is an Australian-born actor based in Melbourne and LA—and a true master of the lip-sync video. Hunter sports a cool 1.5 million TikTok followers, which is roughly triple the number it was when we first spoke last year. He became known to us through his work with StageMilk, which he said “significantly helped with my ability and confidence with self-taping for audits”. He speaks with a peppy enthusiasm about TikTok; his videos are charming and extremely watchable. And yet, beneath this, is a savvy marketer and extremely hard worker. Hunter seems to understand exactly what brings continued success on a social media platform:
“I’ve been creating content since I was 14. In about November 2019, when I was 18, I could see that [TikTok] had a lot of potential and it looked like fun … I mucked around and posted a video that did extremely well, which was kind of a wake-up call. I told myself that over my summer break from university I would post every day and see how it went before I had to go back. In that 3 month period, I went from 0 to 100,000 followers and multiple viral videos.”
For Hunter, TikTok is something that ambitious users can offer a huge opportunity to further your career: “it’s an incubator for up-and-coming talent whether it’s [for] acting, music, dancing or comedy”.
Famous Actors on TikTok
Some of the most prominent actors on TikTok are well-established stars you’ll already know. Jack Black, Jason Derulo, Tom Felton, Vanessa Hudgens, Dwayne Johnson, Will Smith and Rebel Wilson all have a strong presence on the platform. They post regular, accessible content to tens of millions of fans. Actors taking to social media to promote themselves and their projects is nothing new. However, there does seem to be something different about celeb content on TikTok. All users—famous or not—are bound by the same rules and formats; Therefore, a celebrity’s video can feel like a direct connection to them, and not something filtered through the publicity mills of Hollywood.
This is perhaps the most interesting development to come out of platforms like TikTok: how the concept of celebrity is becoming blurred: it’s no longer a case of “us and “them”, it’s movie stars showing themselves off to be accessible, or people you’ve never heard of living lives of unthinkable exclusivity and luxury. Fame, in a post-influencer world, is a tangible thing. It’s something you can aspire to, rather than a by-product of your other exploits.
How to Be an Actor on Tiktok
So what can we learn from all of this? What can we take away as actors and creators hoping to get a leg-up on the world’s most popular website?
This would seem to be the best use of TikTok for actors: gain recognition and expand your audience. While you might not be able to show them the full extent of your acting chops in a few seconds of video, these viewers can follow you to other, more serious acting jobs. As laid out by Hunter: “If I can promote a film that I’m in to 10 million people, I think that makes me more than just an actor, but an asset.”
#2 Build Your Brand
Once you’ve got a healthy-sized following, you can start to think about the image you project to the industry. What kind of work do you want? And what kind of recognition are you looking for? Are you positioning yourself as the next tough guy? The hilarious best friend-type? Maybe you’ve got an incredible voice and want to show it off to a committed fan-base of #musicaltheatre followers? Your Content on TikTok should reflect the kind of career you aspire to have.
#3 Hone Your Acting Skills
Use TikTok to help hone your acting and performance skills. While they may be short, each video you make is an opportunity to perform, to present yourself, to practice filming/self-tape techniques and to packaging yourself to the industry. From a craft perspective: even if you’re lip-syncing the latest Marvel blockbuster, you’re still developing a character and playing an action to achieve your objective. And each video certainly counts as practice of these skills.
#4 Create Content and Characters
Leaving all self-marketing and promotion aside: get creative! Come up with characters and try writing sketches. As we’ve already covered, TikTok is proving to be an unbeatable platform for creating quick, fun enjoyable content. And if you stumble across an interesting idea or character, consider taking them off the site and rework them into something bigger. There’s nothing to stop a fifteen-second idea from becoming an entire show in its own right!
#5 Pay Attention to Trends
Of course, not all trends on TikTok will be applicable to your work as an actor. However, keeping up to date with fads and challenges on the site will help you keep your content feeling fresh, and better engage you with viewers searching for categories of videos than specific pieces of content.
#6 Don’t Neglect Other Platforms
Just because TikTok is the current champ of social media doesn’t mean you should let your presence elsewhere gather cobwebs. Keep reaching out to as many audiences as you can—think of potential viewers who aren’t yet on TikTok (like me!) Sites such as Facebook or Instagram may not be as in vogue, but they do grant better opportunities for you to actually communicate with your audience. Here’s some more wisdom from Mr. Reilly: “TikTok As it is a great app for being discovered, it isn’t currently a great place for specifically networking with other creators and or fans. Instagram and Twitter are much more fitting. I’ve found that over time posting on TikTok and Instagram has worked the best for me.”
I’ve had a lot of opportunities to learn over the course of this investigation. I’ve discovered some interesting facts, some startling statistics and shaken off a whole lot of preconceived notions. It’s hard for me to say if TikTok is here to stay. I mean, let’s not forget that it was born out of the ashes of Vine (#ripvine)… But while TikTok is having such an impact on current society and entertainment, I think you’d be crazy not to jump on the bandwagon and give it a go.
Just as you are the one in charge of the path your acting career takes, you are in charge of how you might use a platform like TikTok. Don’t want to follow trends and play the game? You certainly don’t have to. But do think about ways in which you can make it work for you: in a way that promotes your brand as an actor and your identity as an artist. Being an actor on TikTok might not be something you’d ever considered before … but doesn’t that sound like it could be the start of an adventure? Sign up, hit record, and in 15-60 seconds tell the world what you think.