Auditions – 8 Pro Tips to Nail it

So you’re a great actor. Terrific. No one is going to care one bit unless you can prove it in the audition. As an acting coach I make sure that my clients are ready to shine when they get in front of decision makers. You only have a few minutes and you’ve got to make them count. Here’s a crash course on what every actor needs to know to nail that audition and get a call back. Put these tips into practice and you’ll be ahead of 95% of the other actors up for the part:

Question #1 – What do I wear to the audition?

Whenever possible, wear something appropriate for the character. I say whenever possible because sometimes you won’t be able to wear what the character would wear. You might be auditioning for the part of an alien. It might be for Henry VIII. You should never look like you’ve been to a costume fitting before the audition. This tends to make the actor look desperate. Just try to be correct enough. I say ‘correct enough” because even if your character was in a tuxedo and you own one I wouldn’t recommend wearing it.

A good rule of thumb is; what would you feel comfortable wearing to your neighborhood grocery store? You might dress up in a suit and tie, but a tuxedo or an evening gown might be too much. You might wear jeans and a plaid shirt but maybe not with chaps, spurs and a ten gallon hat. You never want to seem like you’re trying too hard. You want to show up in an outfit that respects the idea of your character but never makes you seem like a keener. Extra credit, apple polishing, goody goodies rarely become movie stars. Avoid showing up to the audition in “costume.” Always remember to hang on to a little of your dignity. It can come in handy.

Question #2 – Should I hold my script?

There is nothing as impressive as the actor who walks in without paper, nails the audition, word perfectly, and leaves with a warm smile on his face. He comes off like a pro who can pull it off under pressure, no net, an actor Olympian. Combine that with his calm but enthusiastic demeanor, add a splash of genuine, old-school manners, and that room is going to feel like they just met a hero. But here’s the thing, if not having that script in your hand impinges on your performance at all, you’ll go from hero to zero in an instant. You’ll go from being a magical Cirque du Soleil contortionist, to an out of shape fool who just tried a backflip or no good reason. You’ll become a, “bit off more than he could chew,” bozo.

Watch my video “Should I hold the Script?

Working without a paper is something you only try when you’ve mastered the art of auditioning. In the meantime you should err on the side of caution. It’s always wise to become a masterful trapeze artist before you work without a net. No sense risking an accident.

The obvious advantage to holding your script is having your lines right there in your hand. But you can’t let them rule you. A script needs to be treated as if it were a page of notes only there to remind you of what you were going to say anyway. We never want to feel like the scene is coming from the page you’re holding. Master the art of handling a script properly and it won’t matter whether you hold it or not because no one will really notice it. Casting directors just want you to deliver the goods, however you need to do it. Always make the choice that makes you most comfortable and gives you the most confidence.

Question #3 – Should I follow stage directions?

I remember watching a woman doing an audition, when suddenly, for no apparent reason, she scampered to a chair and sat down. It was as though she was playing musical chairs and the music had stopped. In the next audition, I saw the same thing. It wasn’t until the third audition that I finally picked up the script and realized it said,”she suddenly sits.” All of the actresses allowed this bit of stage direction to force them into a move that meant nothing to them.

Don’t feel compelled to follow stage directions just because they’re there. If a writer happens to put in, laughs gently, I can’t tell you how tedious it becomes to watch every single actor, laugh gently. You start hoping one actor will mix it up. Maybe he’ll try, smiles warmly, anything but the little laugh. Don’t concern yourself with superfluous stage directions. They can make you look a little like a lemming.

There may be a bit of direction that is important to the scene but in the audition it won’t be practical to do it. For instance, if it says, “grabs the other guys collar and shakes him violently,” it’s not wise to grab the person auditioning you, lift him off the ground, and shake him. Besides, much of the time the person reading with you is 8 feet away. Don’t worry about following the stage directions, that’s not why they give you the part. It’s based on what you to bring to the table. So, bring us something, your own thing.
Keep it simple and try not to be a lemming.

Question #4 – What if I’m supposed to cry?

How does an actor approach an emotional scene?

You simply tell your story sincerely and let it communicate your grief. Don’t focus on the emotion. Focus on what is going on in the scene and let nature take it’s course. Honest emotion is more likely to occur. It asks for a lot of trust on the part of the actor, but that’s what it’s all about. You can’t force tears. You shouldn’t force emotion. It’s like a fake yawn. It doesn’t work as well. Be sincere about what’s going on in the scene and trust that by being in the right frame of mind, the right emotions will occur.

Trust the real life model. In life, you don’t try to cry. In real life, you tell your tales and try to accurately impart the grief you feel through the words you use, not by the tears you shed. Don’t be an actor who cheaply emotionalizes everything, always shoving their sad tin cup into the audience, constantly on the prowl for emotional donations. Tell your story with respectful sincerity. Use the words to tell us how you honestly feel. Own the loss. Be sincere. These things alone will make the audience feel everything they’re supposed to. And in addition, if you feel yourself a little weepy, you will have earned it honestly.

Just remember that in real life people generally fight the urge to cry. And isn’t that what is most gut wrenching to watch. There is something so sweetly tragic about a person who, in the face of tragedy, will not indulge on his audience by making them have to be party to their breakdown.

Actors who are in touch emotionally and who can cry easily tend to do it a little too much. An actor can’t tell a poignant story if he’s blubbering, because the scene will become about a blubbering actor. Think back to all those times in your life when you’ve had to convey some sad information, and think about what you actually did. Use that as your model. There is a saying that has been around forever:
If you cry the audience won’t.

Now it’s time to Read a sample chapter from The Real Life Actor: Chapter 19 – “Emoting Emotion”

Click Here to Read “Emoting Emotions” for Free (open chapter in new window)

Question #5 – Should I mime activities?

Whenever possible, don’t. Leave miming for the mimes.

In my time spent holding auditions, I’ve seen an amazing array of objects that have been mimed by actors. Objects and activities so unimportant to the scene are suddenly of paramount importance to the actor who has magically become a mime. They create kitchens and cabinets and refrigerators full of beer, can openers and bags of groceries, all of which ultimately make actors look silly. Actors look silly because they aren’t usually very good at miming. Their sloppily mimed activities end up being more of a confusing distraction then a help to the scene. Figure out a way to minimize those actions.

For instance, if there’s a scene that takes place while you’re in a car, is it really important that you’re driving the car at that moment? Could it be that you’re sitting in a parked car? Believe me, the casting director isn’t hoping to see a great mime. The producers of the project aren’t thinking: “Oh goodness, look how well he’s miming that steering wheel. We won’t have to provide the car! He’ll just mime it and the audience will see it.”

When you look at your scene, see what activities and actions are really needed in order to make the scene work. Keep the miming to a minimum.

Question #6 – What do I do if the reader isn’t giving me anything?

You do the same thing you’d do if the reader we’re giving you everything: A great job. I’ve heard too many actors blame their audition on what they didn’t get from the reader. In a perfect world, actors play off each other, each one responding to what the other is doing. But this is an audition, and you’re going to read with people who are sometimes poor readers. Don’t count on the person reading opposite you to bring your performance to life.

Sometimes, the reader is so ill prepared or inept, it would seem your audition is being sabotaged on purpose. It happens. But at that point, are you going to be more interested in blaming someone or getting the job? Don’t worry about what the reader is giving you. Just focus on what they’re saying. React to the words. Most of the time that’s all it takes. Simply hearing someone say what they’re saying can be enough. Hear the words. Don’t worry about how the reader is saying those words. Aspire to be the actor who can deliver a performance in any situation. Those actors tend to work more.

Check out this video “Focusing on the Matter at Hand”

Question #7 – Can I change the lines?

Being a professional actor — WHO CAN MAKE ANY SCRIPT WORK — is a gift.

Watching actors in auditions changing lines always feels a little sloppy. It can seem lazy. It can seem disrespectful to the writer who frequently is in the room. Sometimes we’ll wonder if the actor is capable of learning his lines correctly and this can be a concern on shows where they want them word perfect. An actor who has a bad habit of loosely learning lines will quickly feel the heat when asked to get them word perfect during filming. Those situations can quickly go south when the actor starts to fumble from take to take. A slight tension can sometimes be felt and soon the actor’s performance is spiraling into the ground.

If you happen to get a poorly written audition scene, remember this; everyone is stuck with the same scene. Once again, here is an opportunity for you to gain an edge. Be the actor who embraces any scene and makes it work wonderfully. I’ve seen magnificent actors make weak writing work. I’ve also seen lousy actors destroy magnificent writing. You want to be one of those actors who can make anything work. Allow the writers, producers and directors to hear the lines said exactly the way they were written. This is what they’ve been sitting in the audition waiting for. They’re waiting for the right actor to come in and breathe life into their lines.

Question #8 – What if they want me to do it differently?

Do exactly what they tell you to do. Being asked to do it again is always a good sign. There is a tendency for actors to feel as though they have done something wrong. This will tend to get their minds spinning and as a result they sometimes won’t be fully listening to the redirect. Relax and focus on the direction they’re giving you.

Actors will often come into an audition with one idea that they’ve latched onto with a death grip. This rendition will become their life preserver and they will not want to release it easily for fear of drowning in a sea of uncertainty.

Don’t worry about it, let it go, you’re not going to drown.

They may ask you for something completely different, in which case you’re going to want to do it completely differently. What you did when you walked in no longer matters. All that matters is that you do exactly what you’re told, and to the best of your ability. And don’t be shy. Go for it.

I shot archery as a kid growing up in Virginia. There was a tendency to undershoot the target in trying to gauge the needed distance. You avoided overshooting the target because it was far easier to lose an arrow. But the truth was, if you were willing to take the risk of losing an arrow, you could more quickly judge the distance and hit the target. As actors, never be afraid to let one fly. Be brave. Be bold. Don’t make the mistake of doing a “stuck in the mud” variation of what you brought in. Now is the time to show them how effortlessly, how quickly, you can take direction. You want to impress them with your ability to assimilate new information and make it work wonderfully, like the world class dancer who performs a routine just given to him like he’d been dancing it his whole life.

(The Real Life Actor on Amazon)

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