If work means acting as if you know what you are doing, then hiring an actor should be a recipe for success. It worked for Ronald Reagan, and Bruce Hopkins thinks it will work for people using his new Action Actors temping agency.

He has signed up more than 100 actors who can cover a wide range of job skills, and now he's working on getting the jobs to come in.

"Ninety per cent of actors are doing other things 90 per cent of the time. For most of them, the bills don't get paid from acting," says Hopkins.

"The only fulltime job for an actor in New Zealand is to be core cast on Shortland Street. Those are the people making a decent living. For the rest of us, you may get a guest role on something like The Almighty Johnsons, that might be two or three episodes, eight days work, and then you can't come back for two or three series."


Hopkins' working life started as a commercial crayfisherman with his dad in the waters around their Stewart Island home - experience that 30 years later helped land him the job fronting the fishing show Match Fishing League alongside Peter Elliot.

In 1978 he gave up the crayfish pots and the rugby field for the dance floor, working with companies like Limbs.

Fatherhood made him seek a more secure income, and in 1986 he joined Mercury Theatre as an actor.

But fulltime professional theatre companies were on their way out, and over the years he has taken a range of jobs to keep the family afloat, including hosting talkback radio, landscape gardening and tour guiding.

That meant he could take acting work when it came up, such as the role of Gamling, the man of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings.

He says many of the younger actors on the Action Actors books have good IT skills. Many actors also have training as teachers, or are good at working with children and young people.

"We have a couple of nurses, a boat builder, it goes right across the range.

"We have also had people out and about doing promotions and experiential branding. Actors are good at that because they have confidence in public and they know how to take direction.

"Hospitality is good, actors know how to be pleasant. One young woman ... did an office temping job and was offered a permanent spot because she was so charming on the phone."

Hopkins says many firms sponsor arts festivals or arts groups. Hiring temps through the firm would be a low-cost way to extend that support.

"The money goes direct to practitioners. That's a cool way to support performing arts."

The intangibles that go into success as an actor can be applied elsewhere.

"To succeed as an actor you have to be a team player, but at the same time be self-motivated and disciplined."

Performers are also likely to have entrepreneurial and problem-solving skills, because they often have had to create their own shows to get work.

"If you want to get into theatre, the best way may be to get along to the Basement or Q and work in the bar or the box office, just be present.

"Many of those coming out of the drama schools find there are no jobs, so they turn around and create their own shows. That develops good production and management skills."

Hopkins has had the idea of Action Actors for a while, but it was looking too hard to achieve until he ran it past Anthony Hurst at the Peoplemax temp agency. "Anthony saw the market was missing people on its books who had what actors have."

They formed a partnership so Peoplemax can be the back office for Action Actors.

Hopkins says an actor-centric agency means being able to cover for people who have to be available to audition, or take off blocks of time to do shows.

"The work we will be going for is short term or temporary.

"Many actors have had the opportunity to make good money and careers doing other things, but they get bitten by the acting bug - drug - and want to give it a go," he says.

"They put the other stuff on hold so they can give themselves a good chance of making it.

"It's a tough life but it's something you are passionate about, so that passion helps you survive, and you take it into everything else you do."

It's also protection for actors in their non-acting work. The Ports of Auckland industrial row is symptomatic of a drive by employers to turn their workforces into independent contractors, and it's only through some level of unity and advocacy that contractors can guarantee a fair return.

Action Actors can point to negotiating up the hourly rate for a major brand promotional campaign from $20 to $30 an hour as an example of what can be done.

The Action Actors website allows employers to search for the skills they are looking for.

If you're looking for an electrician in Dunedin for a short-term job, you could end up with Miguel, who can also do any fire-eating, juggling or prosthetic make-up effect needed on the site.

That scary guy in the car safety ad - he can design your website or build your kitchen, when he's not pulling shifts at Spookers.

And how cool for kids is having a nanny they can see on the telly.

Hopkins says if people are offering work requiring what are clearly acting skills, such as presenting infomercials, they will be steered to the actors' agents.

"I've talked with the talent agents about how this will work, and we're not trying to cut them out."

Actor Beck Kuek says one of the hardest parts of being an actor is finding a balance between maintaining a job that pays the bills and landing those jobs that fuel careers.

Being able to get flexible, temporary, obligation-free work is what every actor needs.

"The best thing about Action Actors, though, is being given that long-awaited feeling of respect and understanding that we so often miss out on as actors."