By Yesi Ramirez | Indiewire July 10, 2012 at 11:4AM
In my nine years of working in casting, I’ve watched countless auditions for roles in everything from blockbuster films to tiny indies, television pilots and series. From show-stopping performances to jaw-dropping flubs, believe me, I’ve seen it all.
But while the roles and the films change, the general principles that make for a great audition remain relatively consistent. So I’ve pulled from my first-hand experience to develop these 10 keys to impressing casting directors and nailing auditions, no matter what the project is.
Be polite. Always. To everyone. There are lots of actors that are qualified to play the role. So unless you’re already a star — and sometimes even then — no one is going to put up with you if you’re difficult to work with or walk in with attitude. For example, if you think you are better suited for a different role than the one you are scheduled to read, it’s fine to ask if you can read for that other role. However, the casting associates may decline your request, and if that’s the case, graciously take no for an answer. There could be any number of reasons we said no: We could have an offer out, producers might want more name value or you could simply be wrong for the role. Arguing with us and insisting on reading is a waste of your time and ours. It’s also rude.
Tone it down. “Less is more” couldn’t be truer for acting in film and television. This advice is particularly pertinent to anyone that comes from a theater background. Casting directors that work in film and television are really looking for a more conversational style — something more subtle and real. Save the dramatic gestures and facial expressions for the stage. Keep your performance grounded — over-the-top can really backfire in an audition.
Show some personality. Relax. Be yourself. Let your natural personality shine through. Use the short time you have to make an impression before you start your scene and before you leave the room. Charm will take you far and make you more memorable amid the blur of actors we see all day. The same holds true for the actual performance. If you bring more of your own personality to the role, the performance will seem both more real and more original. Put your own stamp on it. This is what sets you apart from the rest.
Memorize your lines. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people come to an audition unprepared. If you’re constantly referencing your sides, it takes you and us out of your scene.
Put in the character work. Knowing your lines is not enough. What is relatable about the role you’re reading for? How do you connect to that fictional person? Figure that out well before you’re in the room with us. Believe me, we’ll be able to tell if you’re sourcing the performance from a real and personal place. We’re always looking for a performance that comes from an emotional or instinctual place rather than an intellectual one.
Do the research. Who and what are you coming in for? Specifically, if you’re coming in for a show that is a series, watch a couple of episodes and become familiar with the style of the show. Is it half-hour or one-hour? Single-camera or multi-camera? Know the differences. What network is it on, and what’s the style of that network? If it’s a film, who’s the director, what type of films does he/she do, what is his/her style, pace, actor preference, etc.? Do research on the casting directors, what kinds of films they cast, the types of actors they favor, etc. This will make you better equipped when preparing the material.
Dress the attitude, not the part. Don’t come in an elaborate costume. That’s just distracting, and it takes away from the audition. For example, I had an actor come in for an audition where the scene called for his character to be smoking. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. First off, it’s illegal to smoke in a building, and secondly, it’s inconsiderate. You don’t have to go to this extreme to dress the part. Don’t come dressed or made up to look so different from the character that we really have to strain our imaginations to envision you in the role. But you can help us out a little in terms of the vibe of the character. As a bonus, what you are wearing can help you feel closer to the character.
Show range. This is especially true for a dramatic part. Some actors make the mistake of keeping a one-note intensity to their reading. Instead, design your reading with a more naturalistic dramatic build. Show us a range of emotion. A moment of intensity is much more effective than hitting us over the head with an overly drawn-out dramatic reading. Once again, less is more. Layer your performance with subtlety and nuance.
Timing is everything. This is especially true for comedy. Know your lines well enough to deliver them at the appropriate speed and with the right rhythm. Many a funny line has been butchered by a laborious delivery.
Don’t get discouraged. Most auditions will not lead to you getting the part. That’s the unfortunate reality. The trick is to take each audition experience, learn from it and maintain your dedication and enthusiasm. I had an actor come in once who was obviously a little discouraged by the business. He let his bitterness overtake him, and he made an obscene gesture that was directed at the people in the room as he walked out. Needless to say, he didn’t get the job. Every audition is a new opportunity, and a career can take off in an instant. Bring as much enthusiasm and self-belief as you can to every reading. It will brighten the energy in the room.
These tips are simple, but they’re important. And they work. You may be tempted to think it’s wasted effort if you don’t end up scoring the gig, but the opposite is true: Every time you put this work into an audition it informs and strengthens the next.