7 Ways Actors Blow Auditions
I’ve seen thousands of actors over the past few years. Every actor should be doing the simple things to give themselves the best shot in the room. These tips should help, and most of them are easy and have nothing to do with your acting.
An actor, who will go unnamed (because we’ve long since forgotten his name), arrived and was short-tempered with my “desk girl” when she couldn’t quickly produce the sides he needed. Ya know, that un-important person, usually some intern/volunteer that is powerless and giving their time to help? Firstly, it’s poor form to treat anyone less-than-graciously just because they’re lower on the totem pole. Secondly: in this case that woman was not only my wife and the writer of the screenplay, but she’s also the executive producer and ultimately in charge of all hiring decisions, including me. Needless to say, it didn’t matter what the actor did in the room. We are not inviting him onto our set.
It’s not just about being not-horrible. Be actively nice, particularly when others aren’t. One actor who I’ll simply call “Elliott” for the sake of anonymity, was on our set once when the rest of the folks around had gotten into a “complain about a 3rd party” whining-fest. He stood up against the negative group thing and actively defended the target of vitriol. He made an effort to make the set a more positive, nicer, close-knit, respectful environment. It is no coincidence that I’m lucky enough to have worked with him on nearly a dozen projects. He’s not going to be right for every role, but he’ll sure have the first shot at anything he might be good for.
Sets are tough places. I’m always trying very hard to get a team of people there that want to work together, respectfully, and with great energy.
2) Respond immediately, even if it’s to say “No I can’t.”
We’re trying to schedule fifty-leven different people and locations. Paperwork, scripts, measurements, fittings. Every time we send out something like a scheduling query (“Are you available for a callback on either of these days?”), there are always a couple people that we have to hunt down responses. These people make us feel like it’s a burden for them to bother with our production. They fall out of favor very quickly, and are at the bottom of our list to consider the subsequent time. Alternatively there are a couple people that respond immediately, within seconds. Two things happen. Obviously, we end up liking that person and feeling confident about using them because they’re making our lives easy. But secondly, the whole schedule ends up revolving around them, because they were the ones that gave us a starting point.
So while it’s obviously good for us, and makes us happy, when you’re communicative. Keep in mind that it’s good for you. It’s the selfish thing to do, in the best kind of way.
3) Don’t lose focus in the room.
The actor is waiting seemingly forever, and then finally getting into the room and wanting to make a good impression– to come across as that friendly team-player mentioned above, to stand out and be memorable. Nerves are setting in: you’ll only have a few minutes, and maybe just one read of a brief side to make an impression.
Meanwhile, we in the room are worried about how long our wait is, how many people we have backed-up to see, and we’re growing increasingly paranoid that that person that can bring that character to life just doesn’t exist. We’ve gone through immense effort to get the project to this point and put together a vastly complicated audition schedule with possibly hundreds of people coming in for dozens of roles. And we want you to be right for that role probably even more than you do. We’re desperate for you to be right for that role. Everyone is wrong. Oh @#$% we’re screwed this movie is going to be horrible. Why is everyone’s interpretation so far from what we are looking for? Is the text horrible? Am I the worst director ever? Are my notes way off base? I would cut off my foot if only the character I’m looking for would walk through that door!
You think you’re nervous? We’re having a meltdown.
Here’s how you can help: focus on the role. Don’t talk about parking, or how we plan on distributing the movie, or when you might hear from us about the role, or how amazing you have inferred the script to be based on the one-page side you’ve read, or name dropping other people you’ve worked with. Use that precious time to talk about the moment the character is having in the scene and think about how to bring that to life.
4) Speed the @#$% up.
This is general acting advice. I don’t know why it’s such a hard thing to get right, but I know that as I director I ask actors to speed up about 10x more often than to slow down. For some reason, people confuse being emotional with being ponderous and taking dramatic pauses.
Is your character having a particularly emotional moment? No? Then get through it and throw it away like you would in real life. Yes? Then use that emotional imperative to drive the scene along. Make it happen right now like your character needs it to happen and can’t wait another moment! Unless the script reads “[character] takes a long beat to think dramatically,” don’t do it. Oh, and no audition side will ever say that, ever.
The added benefit of picking up the pace is that now something that was just a “regular” breath before now suddenly has weight. Feel the need to slip in a dramatic pause? Bring the imperative (speed) on everything else up, instead of slowing the pause down.
5) Stop with the cologne/perfume.
Gross. Just gross. One person was so doused in scent, that hours later my body and the interior of my car reeked just from shaking their hand. If that’s the only thing I remember about you, you’ve failed. Gross. Just gross.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” you say. Oh really? We have much better things to be doing than checking your arrival times against the schedule, so I didn’t know you were late, but I do now.
“I’m sorry I’m still on book,” you say. Well I don’t expect you to be off book, but now you’ve suggested that you think you should be, which must mean that you aren’t taking this audition that seriously.
Unless you’ve spilled a drink on me, don’t apologize. You’re fine. Let’s audition.
7) Don’t suck.
There is no other profession in the world where someone completely unqualified and inexperienced will walk into an interview and expect to be taken seriously. Would you go to an interview to be a chef at a top restaurant solely based on how much you love watching the Food Network?
Anyone with the willpower can act well, but only if you’re putting in the work like you would to learn anything else. Take classes; read books; practice monologues; make short films; film scenes yourself; be an extra to see how others work; do student films; do anything you can. Great acting is not an effortless God-given talent. It is a craft that takes knowledge, practice, experience. You learn it just like you’d learn anything else.
Comment and let me know your suggestions, and of course whatever you thought I got wrong. For a glimpse into my upcoming projects (so you can decide whether you should be listening to me for casting advice) stay tuned here on Crisis Lab for updates on Gwendolyn Dangerous and Dinner With the Alchemist.