Chapter 28

Chapter 28
I hate auditions

First of all, quit saying that. Most actors feel the same way. Most actors don’t like the pressure of having one quick moment to win a role. Since it’s common for most actors to dislike auditions, why not put yourself ahead of the group by learning to enjoy the process? Teach yourself to thrive under pressure. Here again is the opportunity for you to gain an edge by assessing a common weakness in most actors and exploiting that knowledge by making it one of your strengths.

Change your perspective. Power can always be found in perspective. It’s like anything else; make an honest decision to do something and be done with it. Being an actor who can always deliver, and especially under pressure, immediately puts you in the ten percentile. I have watched over ten thousand auditions in my career. Nine out of ten actors who walk in the room are visibly nervous. Most of the time their nerves have a detrimental effect on their audition. Being an actor in the ten percentile gives you an immediate advantage.

Most actors spend time commiserating over how lousy auditions are. They moan about how long they were kept waiting or how rude the casting director was. They complain about the number of lines and the short amount of time they were given to prepare. While I know their complaints may be warranted, I also know that a lousy carpenter always blames his tools.

If you want to be a champion, you need to do what champions do. If there is a weakness in your game that can be strengthened, you need to strengthen it. To succumb simply because something is difficult is a loser’s mentality. Refusing to overcoming this difficulty, which would give you an obvious edge, is nothing more than a mixture of laziness and fear.

Successful actors must not only be able to endure these pressures, but must also perform at their best. Their careers count on it. It is a talent all professionals must acquire — the ability to deliver under pressure. Stop throwing your psyche under the bus with your negative disclaimers each time you have an audition. Don’t sabotage your work with the cliché complaints of hack actors. Look at each audition as an opportunity to improve your game. Don’t just focus on your reading. Let your Olympian attitude begin the moment you receive the audition.

You want to get yourself out in front of the pack more quickly? Feed on that pressure. Welcome it. See each opportunity to audition as an opportunity to test yourself. Don’t waste your time with self-defeating, negative thoughts. Learn to excel under pressure. Get better at it. Improve.

I would never say that.

So now you’ve read the audition through and you’ve seen what you have to say. Don’t get hung up on lines. There are always going to be lines that you feel you would never say, awkwardly worded sentences, phrases that seem old-style, or sayings that mean nothing to you. Finding lines that you would never say will be far too easy for you. So don’t start looking for them.

In life, we say all sorts of crazy things during the course of a day. I bet if you were to read a transcript of what you said during any given day, there would probably be lots of phrases that you’d feel weren’t funny or were awkwardly phrased or were inappropriate. It isn’t just the words that communicate what you feel. It’s also what’s going on with you while you’re saying them. If you ever find yourself having a problem with phrasing, focus more on what’s going on with you and what the overall point is of what you’re trying to say.

In life, there are a lot of things that I’d never say, but somehow I end up saying them anyway.

Can I change the lines?

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 will wonder if the actor is capable of learning the lines word perfect and this can be a concern on shows where they want them word perfect. An actor who is in the 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. Soon he’s 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.

Being a professional actor is wonderful; being a professional actor who can make any script work is a gift.

Using accents.

Sometimes accents are needed; sometimes actors throw them in for flavor. If you’re throwing an accent in for flavor, you should be able to do it well enough that you could actually fool people in real life with it. If you spoke with the accent at the grocery store or at the local bar, would people actually believe it was authentic? Or would they be inclined to stop you and say: “Why are you using that phony accent? Are you an actor?” If it’s the latter, you should avoid using it.

If it were mandatory that you have an accent for a part, you’d be well served not only to understand vowel and consonant placement, but also to spend as much time as possible with people who actually have the accent. It’s a lot easier to pick up an accent talking with people who have an authentic one.

It’s frustrating to be given an opportunity to audition for a great part and realize the accent that’s needed is something beyond your capability. Anticipate the types of accents you might be asked to do and start practicing. Always aspire to be the consummate professional, the actor who is forever looking to gain the edge. Every up at bat is an opportunity to get on base. When you take your swing, you always want to get as much wood on the ball as possible. Home-runs are nice too.

And never forget: there is nothing as phony as a phony accent.

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. We think, “That’s what that person does for a living.” He comes off like a pro who can pull it off under pressure, no net, full contact, 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 super 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 de soil contortionist to an out of shape fool who just tried a backbend for no good reason. You’ll become a “bit off more than he could chew” Bozo.

Working without paper is something you only try when you’ve mastered the mysterious 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 tell them to pull the net away. Everyone wants a long career.

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.

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. Then focus on the scene and nothing else.

What do I wear to the audition?

Whenever possible, wear something vaguely 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 an alien. You might be Henry the VIII. One should never look like they’d been at a costume fitting before the audition. This tends to make the actor look desperate. Just try to be vaguely correct.

I say vaguely because even if your character was in a tuxedo and you owned one I wouldn’t recommend wearing it. A good rule of thumb is this; 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 probably wouldn’t shop there in a nurse’s outfit with stethoscope – unless you were a nurse, in which case I would still advise you not to dress that way because you never want to seem like you’re trying too hard.

You always 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 goodie goodies rarely become movie stars.

Always hang on to a little of your dignity. It can come in handy.