Okay, so you’ve gotten your audition sides. You’re lucky enough to have 48 hours to read them, research the role and get at least functionally off book. You’ve worked with coaches and friends, mouthed the words over and over at the coffee shop, on the train, in the cab, at the supermarket and in the waiting room. You’ve got this puppy nailed. You take a breath enter the room, smile at the casting director, reader and anyone else present, get a polite-to-warm response, deliver the sides the way you’ve done them literally a million times and you hear … “that was great, but I just want you to bring more of yourself to it, loosen up, have more fun with it,” or some version thereof. Your brain blasts the music from the shower scene in “Psycho,” and you politely say “Okay! Got it!” But in your head you’re thinking, “What do they mean ‘myself?’” “What did I miss?” “What should I do differently?” “I don’t know what they want!” “I’m sure they didn’t say that to the other actors!” “What am I gonna do now!?”
Don’t worry. You didn’t do anything wrong. We (Casting Directors and Directors) will always ask you to change only what we want you to change. That’s our job. If we didn’t ask you to change a specific moment, choice, the pace, a joke, etc. then we don’t need you to. We just felt like we were missing some of your personality. And it’s a pretty easy fix. Just embrace the Zen of the Four Disagreements.
DISAGREEMENT 1: IF YOU WANT TO GET IT RIGHT, DON’T WORRY ABOUT GETTING IT RIGHT.
Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” It’s true, but that’s not such a bad thing. Your audition will almost always go differently than you thought it would. It’ll sound or feel different than the one that was in your head on the way to the audition, or that you worked on at home. It may matter to you, but it won’t to us. Whatever happens in the actual audition space will always be better than what you force to happen. Your brain is a lightning fast, improvisational adaptation machine and it will change to accommodate your new environment in the most appropriate way. Even the inevitable stumbles, stutters, and accidental re-writes can carry with them insights into your personality that the strongest controlled strings of pre-planned moments can’t. Accept that things will often be different in the room. The problem that this reality brings with it is the echoing voice of regret that whispers repeatedly in your ears “that wasn’t what I wanted to do! It was better the other way!” First of all, that’s almost never true. What you’re doing in front of us is the product of the moment that we’re sharing. Secondly, even if you’re right, we don’t know what you did somewhere else so we’ll never know what you “did better before.” And third, for all you know, we may not have even liked the original! … It’s like being at a restaurant. Your audition is the meal and no one cares what version of it the chef served to someone else yesterday or how they feel about it.
In 1927 Werner Heisenberg proved with “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle” that the very act of studying something changes its behavior. This holds true of performance as well as physics. I’ve seen a ton of potentially brilliant auditions ruined because the auditioner was watching themselves and judging (which really means convicting) their performance as they went. I first heard the term “paralysis by means of analysis” from Kevin O’Leary on the TV show “Shark Tank” and I thought it summed up this situation perfectly. Don’t check in with yourself to see how it’s going! Casting Directors know what you actually did; what worked, what didn’t, etc. so we can make an accurate assessment based on what really happened and direct you toward what other people want to see. Actors will tend to focus on the previous moment, a general concept, or whether or not they think we like what they’re doing. None of these things are changeable. None of these in-the-moment concerns will make you better. And all of it is completely in your head. Your opinion in this moment is irrelevant because we casting directors are making different comparisons than you are. Dwelling on what you think you did or didn’t do that you felt you shouldn’t or should have will never make you better. It will only make you not do what you need to in the here and now. Know you’re at the audition because you’re good, we trust you, you deserve it, you’re going to get it right, and give it up to the acting Gods.
DISAGREEMENT 2: IF YOU WANT TO PLAY THE MOMENTS, DON’T WORRY ABOUT PLAYING THE MOMENTS.
No one works better when they’re being micromanaged. Having someone scrutinizing every move you make, will usually make you screw something up. It’s an uncomfortable situation caused by a paranoid mind. You wouldn’t want to work for a micromanaging boss. So why would you micromanage yourself? It brings the same results. You’ve made your choices. They came from your brain, the same brain that will be making you move, speak, ad lib, deal with problems and well … act. Your brain will do what it wants to do and it will be right. In my 20+ years in casting, I’ve seen a lot of people mark up a script or make a ton of choices and end up in a room working without a reader, or a reader who very much isn’t their rehearsal partner. It’s a different dynamic. Their brain short circuits and they jump from pre-planned moment to pre-planned moment like they’re grabbing at the floating planks of a decimated ship to keep from drowning. It’s not that dramatic of course, but what we end up with is a bunch of technically precise moments with no life in between. Trust that the choices you made will happen the way they should. And trust that if a moment, or several, change, it’s the product of this moment in this environment with these people and we won’t be comparing what you did to what you thought you should have done.
DISAGREEMENT 3: IF YOU WANT TO SERVE THE SCRIPT, DON’T WORRY ABOUT SERVING THE SCRIPT.
Loving the script is great! Feeling like you may not be worthy and hoping you do it justice is not. At the end of the day, a script is a sequence of words on a page that evoke thoughts, emotions, opinions, or life decisions. But it needs human life, spontaneity, and personality to accomplish that. You can’t put a script on stage or in front of a camera. You can only put actors there and that comes with that actor’s personality in that context in that venue in front of those people. Worrying about doing well enough, being “right for it,” doing the script justice, accomplishing the mission of the project, etcetera and so forth will only give you an extra burden to bare. Just be yourself and do what you do with the words you’ve been given. Other people will take care of the rest. Really wanting the part is nice, but we haven’t decided what personalities, voice types or looks are right yet (other than in a general sense). Just give us what we need, yourself. If we know who you are, we’ll know what to do with you. And if this job isn’t meant to be yours you’ve at least fueled the vehicle that will take you to the next opportunity.
DISAGREEMENT 4: IF YOU WANT TO MAKE ME HAPPY, DON’T WORRY ABOUT MAKING ME HAPPY!
If you’ve ever been on a date with someone who reeeeeaaaallly wants that date to work you know this dynamic. It’s sweet that they care so much and want a successful evening, but anyone who’s working too hard to prove that they’re worthy of you really believes that they aren’t. They’ll work extra hard. They’ll be pushy and paranoid. And you won’t know who that person really is or who they will be if the relationship actually moves forward. They’ll hide their true self in an attempt to project what they think you want them to be. Don’t be an arrogant jerk, obviously, but know that from the second you’re called in to audition, we’re in it together. You already have the Casting Director’s approval. We know you’re right for the role, we’re not testing you. This is strictly about two people who’ve done the work sharing an experience together. We already like you, at least enough for what’s required for this phase of our working relationship.
It’s easy to feel alone in this business. You are. We all are. Each project creates a family for a while, then it dissolves. What’s left behind is the imprint of who you are in someone else’s brain waiting to be called upon later in another context. In this business, it’s not who you know, but who knows you. No one can predict who books a job; not even the most successful casting directors. So just be yourself, trust your instincts, trust that the work you’ve done will be there when you need it, trust us to ask for changes if we need them, and just be part of the relationship in the room. You may not book the role. No one books everything. But in this business of relationships every audition can have a positive outcome; worse case scenario, you can get another audition; best case scenario you can get a bigger role than you originally auditioned for. And sometimes along the way you end up with the job you read for.
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