Author Peter Skagen with his book How to Succeed in Hollywood without really Acting.

Author Peter Skagen with his book How to Succeed in Hollywood without really Acting.

Lessons from Hollywood

Hollywood is a complicated place, but Calgary-based actor Peter Skagen is happy to decipher some of its unwritten rules for film students at Red Deer College. Skagen, who’s written How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Acting, is guest teaching this month at Red Deer College’s Motion Picture Arts program.

Hollywood is a complicated place, but Calgary-based actor Peter Skagen is happy to decipher some of its unwritten rules for film students at Red Deer College.

Skagen, who’s written How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Acting, is guest teaching this month at Red Deer College’s Motion Picture Arts program.

With his practical guidebook to Hollywood being used as a textbook at the University of Lethbridge and Sheridan College in Toronto, Skagen’s presence in the classroom is a thrill for his friend, RDC acting instructor Larry Reese.

The benefit to up-and-coming actors from Skagen’s advice and experience is “huge,” added Reese, who considers the how-to book a valuable teaching tool.

“I wish I’d written it,” said Reese, who’s done a lot of film work, himself, including small roles in Unforgiven and Brokeback Mountain.

Skagen is a large, craggy man, who knows he projects an ambiguous good/bad guy image.

He’s had a slew of roles that proves this — from being cast as “the worst department store Santa ever” to a prison guard, FBI agent, mountain man, burly Confederate, and trailer park manager in various TV and movie projects, from September Dawn to Into the West, Hell on Wheels and Santa Baby Two: Christmas Maybe.

Skagen considers his own resume a testament to the fact Hollywood casting directors look for certain “types” to walk in the door.

Film students need to understand “what their outside says about them,” he said, so they can sell this brand of themselves at auditions.

For instance, there’s a good reason Jennifer Aniston always plays “the girl-next-door who doesn’t know she’s hot,” Hugh Grant is “Mr. Rom-com,” and Julia Roberts portrays “the girl who’s some trouble but is worth it,” said Skagen.

He lists Angelina Jolie as the femme fatale, Christopher Walken as the creepy guy, Jack Nicholson as the wild card, and Johnny Depp as the quirky outsider.

He advises film students to identify the type they project on camera — then to capitalize on it at auditions. Knowing your brand doesn’t mean you have to play a narrow range of roles — Skagen points out how Tom Hanks turned his “likeable American” persona into a varied and Oscar-winning career.

On the other hand, he admitted that some actors, like Clint Eastwood, do in fact have a pretty narrow, albeit “powerful,” range.

RDC film students are told that no Hollywood casting directors want to see acting going on. When somebody’s face is projected two storeys high, it’s easy to understand why.

Another lesson his book imparts is that movie actors have to fill in a lot of subtext. Skagen said screenplays are so minimalistic, the lines on the page usually don’t tell the whole story. “You have to be smart enough, as an actor, to understand the story at a deeper level” — because directors don’t do much directing, at least not in the form of giving actors detailed guidance. He said they’re too busy dealing with budgets, schedules, personalities and how the film will be shot.

Skagen, who has a master’s degree in film and screenwriting from California State University, has received a lot of good feedback on his new book, which also details how to audition, how to work on a set, and other basics.

He likes being “the guy in the Wizard of Oz who pulls the curtain back” to expose the inner working of a place that can be hard to figure out. “The students are great. It’s wonderful to see their eyes opened,” said the instructor, who’s taught workshops at many faculties, including Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

He maintains, “Hollywood is not awful,” but there are some ugly truths.

Skagen admitted there are many more movie roles for men than women. Male actors also get to look more average and play more “types.”

Since female film characters tend to be sexualized, women actors have to be better looking. Although there are opportunities for them to start acting as teens or even children, they have a limited shelf life — up to about age 45, when they disappear, only to reappear, in some cases, in grandmother roles in their 60s. The exceptions, he said, are funny women, like Rosie O’Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

But that’s Hollywood.

Skagen said it’s an illusory industry based on appearances, so looks do matter.

“It can be incredibly heart-breaking and difficult … but can you be a singer and not know how to sing?”

Has he ever had to tell any students that they probably won’t cut it in Hollywood?

Skagen admits he’s never had to. “Nobody’s ever asked me.”

How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Acting is available from Amazon, Kindle Books and other sellers, or from

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Don and Gloria Moore, of Red Deer, are set to celebrate their 70th anniversary later this month. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer couple to celebrate 70th anniversary

Red Deer couple Don and Gloria Moore are set to celebrate their… Continue reading

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
UPDATE: Central Alberta cafe owner arrested after anti-restriction protest

The owner of a central Alberta cafe, which was the site of… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer now has 911 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, but rising, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better… Continue reading

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, is setting off a social media reaction with his calls to stop non essential shopping, such as "buying sandals at Costco", with this photo of his worn sandals, which he published to social media on Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Dr. Robert Strang, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Nova Scotia’s top doctor sparks meme with caution on non-essential shopping

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s top doctor has launched a social media meme… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Canada's chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Tam warns that full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Canada’s chief public health officer reminded Canadians on Saturday that even those… Continue reading

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour conducts drills during NHL hockey training camp in Morrisville, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
NHL relaxing virus protocols for vaccinated playoff teams

The NHL is relaxing virus protocols for teams that reach a threshold… Continue reading

Canada skip Kerri Einarson directs her teammates against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canada’s Einarson eliminated at curling worlds after 8-3 loss to Sweden’s Hasselborg

CALGARY — Canada’s Kerri Einarson was eliminated at the world women’s curling… Continue reading

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman didn’t expect to get hit with a double whammy at… Continue reading

A courtroom at the Edmonton Law Courts building, in Edmonton on Friday, June 28, 2019. The effect of the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the Canadian justice system warn a number of legal experts. The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench announced Sunday it would adjourn all scheduled trials across the province for at least 10-weeks limiting hearings to only emergency or urgent matters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of five-year-old girl

EDMONTON — An Edmonton woman was found guilty Friday of manslaughter in… Continue reading

A Statistics Canada 2016 Census mailer sits on the key board of a laptop after arriving in the mail at a residence in Ottawa, May 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Statistics Canada sees more demand to fill out census online during pandemic

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the response to the census is higher… Continue reading

Travellers, who are not affected by new quarantine rules, arrive at Terminal 3 at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Ottawa will create a new digital platform to help in processing immigration applications more quickly and efficiently after COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a faster shift to a digital immigration system, the immigration department said. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Ottawa says it will create a new digital platform to help process… Continue reading

Most Read