FIRST ACT: I was a sophomore at Georgetown when the acting bug bit me. My first part was the Okinawan translator Sakini in the play "Teahouse of the August Moon." I remember I had to blacken my hair with carbon paper, which gave it a gleam under the lights. I loved it. But after graduation, I stopped -- I was married, I had a full-time job. Then in March 2002 I retired. By June, I had head shots and a resume. Since then, I've done two commercials (one for Pfizer and one for AOL), parts for TV and a movie, and I'm in rehearsal for a play. It's been busy.

HEADING FOR FAME: The first rule of acting is to get a good set of head shots. The second rule is to send them to the three biggest casting agencies in the area: Pat Moran and Betsy Royall, both in Baltimore, and Carlyn Davis in Falls Church. (I Googled them.) Also, nothing says "amateur" more than a resume that's not in the correct format. Start with your name and vital statistics at the top and follow that with any stage work, TV, movies, commercials, education and training, and then any special skills. I'm very familiar with a teleprompter. I can do accents and dialect. That sort of thing.

GETTING IN CHARACTER: When you get a call from the casting agency, you want to keep them on the line as long as possible to get every detail you can about what you're going to be reading and what you should wear. They're very busy, but it'll make a difference to you. For the Pfizer commercial, I showed up wearing a blue oxford shirt, a red necktie and a white lab coat (which I rented). I looked very much what Pfizer considered a pharmacist to look like.

CATTLE CALL: An audition is a miniature mob scene. There will be a lot of "you's" waiting to read. So be on time, be ready to go, bring pens (there will be paperwork to fill out, or you might want to make marginal notes on the script), and bring additional head shots. Before you read, relax. Identify yourself and then, give it your best shot. Play directly into the camera no matter who's in the room.

DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB: The producers are looking for a look or a voice -- you can't get frustrated. In the past 18 months, I must have read for 12 parts. When I played a "stair man" in 1972's "The Exorcist," William Friedkin interviewed me three times before he cast me. He said to me, finally: "I'm going to go with you. Do you want to know why? Because you look Georgetown." I'm not sure how to take that.

As told to Cathy Alter and Sandy M. Fernandez

Walter R. Smith went from cubicle world to stage-and-screen fantasy land.