Life is easy. Auditioning is hard.
If you truly love to audition, you can stop reading. (I’m sure I’ve lost no one.) Nobody enjoys auditioning. Woody Allen once famously said that if he had to audition he never would have been cast. But, unfortunately, not many of us write, direct and cast ourselves in our own films. So, you have to learn not only to enjoy auditioning, but to thrive in those few moments that you have an opportunity to impress the powers that be. What follows are a few tips on how to do that.
1. Understand: the audition is sacrosanct. If you respect it, it will eventually respect you. So find a way. Think of it as the game of basketball, and you are Michael Jordan. Or a blank canvas, and you are Van Gogh. Or you are a Tibetan monk, and it is your daily meditation. Treat it that way. That does not mean that you aren’t loose and lose your sense of humor while you’re in the room. It means the opposite – you are able to reach an almost heightened state where you are alive to everything that can and might happen, and you are able to react to it.
2. Establish your own routine. That means from the moment you get the sides to the moment you walk out of the audition room. Before that it does not exist; after that, it’s over. Aside from what you need to learn from what you just did, you needn’t concentrate on it again. But, what you do before it? That’s everything. You should treat your preparation the way an athlete treats the time before taking the field of play. That means everything you do should be geared toward those moments in the audition room. What you eat, how you sleep, the music you listen to: your routine. Find it and stick to it. It is different for everyone. There are people who are not only comfortable with talking to all of the other actors when they walk into the casting office, but they thrive on using those moments to throw other actors off, thereby believing they elevate their own chances of survival. Obviously, I don’t recommend that. Here’s a conversation I overheard once at an audition. Actor A approached actor B to chat him up. After a couple niceties, actor B said: “Dude. I have a family. This is how I put food on the table. I need to concentrate now. No offense.” That’s the way you need to treat auditions. It’s part of your job. Establishing that routine is huge.
3. The schmooze is as important as the read. When I began as an actor, it made me angry that I had to chat to the casting director before we read. Why couldn’t they just judge me on how I acted? Because. These people are going to work with you. And if you’re shooting a film or tv show, most of the time you spend on set is NOT acting. They want to know that you’re someone they want to spend time with. That you’ll help make the day easy and enjoyable. So, you need to be not only that person they want to spend time with, but the best example of that person they want to spend time with. Be interesting, be engaging, be receptive, be generous, and LISTEN. Be able to read the room and know what is going on. And understand this: it’s show business. So be entertaining. Years ago I drove with an actor friend of mine to see his agents. He was already a star, but he was to become and is now a much bigger star. As we pulled underground to the valet, he stopped before we got out of the car. “Hold on,” he said. He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a huge pair of wrap around sunglasses and a beanie. He looked beautiful before he put them on, so I was a little confused. He shrugged: “Gotta give ‘em what they want.” He understood that it’s show business. And the people who hire you are expecting a show. I have no doubt some of the more impressionable agents he sat with that day left work and went shopping for big sunglasses and beanies. I’m of course not recommending that specific kind of show. Find your own.
4. It’s a war of attrition. Having said all of this, the most important thing to remember is that auditioning is a war of attrition. Your job is to make an impression at every battle. You may not get the job that you’re going up for. There are a million things that have to go right for you to get a job, and just as many that can go wrong. You can be brilliant and have the job and the writers can erase your role with a finger on delete before you put your key in the ignition to drive home. You have no control over that. But you DO have control over the impression you make in the room. And while you may not get this one role, a good actor will be remembered by the people who cast. When you walk into a room, they are rooting for you. They want you to be the one. Why? Because it makes their job easier. They may not act like it – chances are they are completely dysfunctional people in their own right. But they still want you to do well. Understand that. Michael Shurtleff, in his book Audition (a must read for an actor) tells a great story about Dustin Hoffman auditioning for Mike Nichols – not for the Graduate, but for a Broadway musical. I won’t repeat it here, but look it up. When I was just starting out, I auditioned for my favorite tv series nine times before finally landing a role on it. The casting people liked me, and they kept bringing me back until the right role came along. It was a war of attrition.
Next time, we’ll talk about the fundamentals of the actual audition. But if you take these principles to heart and embrace the audition, you will work as an actor. And, then both life and auditioning will be easy.