While the rest of the world divides the year by change of season, ecology and hours of daylight, in Hollywood we mark time by what is currently casting.
Episodic Season is the magical time of year when the stars fall slightly to the background and television opens up for some newer actors. Series leads and regulars were cast during Pilot Season (although some replacements are made this time of year too) and many television shows are now filling Guest Star and Co-Star roles.
If you’re lucky enough to be among the small percentage of actors in the TV casting pool this summer, here are some tips to help you rise to the top, stay afloat and make a splash at your auditions.
1. Take it easy, but take it. An audition is a strange job interview because you’re asked to do a lot of the work before you get hired. I recommend learning a play-based problem solving technique so your response to the creative problems of auditions is joy rather than fear and preparation becomes a creative and fun part of the acting process. Do your homework: Learn what you can about the show’s tone and style and make choices that belong in that world. And then experiment and explore. Make bold choices and communicate them. Take the chance to play outside the box. If preparation is particularly challenging, or it’s your first time in a new category (first Guest Star role, for example), work with a coach who can help you make sure your audition is both well prepared and alive in the moment. Prepare fully and have fun with it.
2. Stay present. Don’t obsess about your preparation once you’re at the audition. How we talk to ourselves affects how we perform. When sitting in the lobby for your audition, don’t get distracted by what happened in the past or what may or may not happen in the future. Here’s a tool to stay in the present while waiting: pick a color (say, yellow) and look around the room and find all of that color there is to see. Really look. Did you miss any? When you have finished, pick another color, and so on. This will help keep you out of your head and focused in the present moment because you can’t find colors in the past or in the future. It requires being in the here and now.
3. Fake it till you make it. A recent Harvard Business School study on job interviews and body language revealed how we hold our body prior to the interview affects cortisol levels (the hormone associated with stress). I encourage my clients to hold their bodies in powerful positions prior to auditions, expanding the limbs, with the chin up, smiling and taking up space (think of the position a runner takes when they’ve won a race). One client recently entered the lobby for a film audition and saw 10 guys who looked like him sitting cross-legged with arms folded inward. With no empty chairs, he remained standing, put his hands on his hips like Superman and then used the “colors” tool. He felt great about the audition and he got the callback.
4. Reward yourself. My grandmother used to say, “It’s important to give yourself a pat on the back.” She was way ahead of her time. Being an actor is the most rewarding thing I have ever known, but it can be hard. I tell my clients to plan something fun after each audition. Schedule it. After a recent callback I had to catch a flight from LAX. Rather than preoccupy myself with the auditor’s approval, I was excited for my travels. Obviously a vacation isn’t always possible, but an ice cream cone, a hike in Griffith Park or a romantic rendezvous with your significant other will often suffice to keep you from obsessing over the audition’s result.
5. Give a gift. Casting a television show isn’t easy. First, imagine having to watch the same scene over and over and over again, all day, sometimes longer. And then watch it again with directors and/or producers. Second, Episodic television has a fast turnover. Casting to filming can be a matter of days, sometimes less. Casting directors, producers and network executives are dealing with a combination of tedium and time pressure that could make anyone crazy. If you’re asked to audition, you’ve been asked to help. EVERYONE involved is hoping you have a solution to their particular casting equation. You aren’t privy to all the components of that equation so don’t be discouraged if your E doesn’t equal their MC squared.
When I first moved to Hollywood an Emmy Award Winning Casting Director gave me some great advice. She said, “Do the things that make you feel like an actor.” Do what you do and do it well. Even if you’re as good as Meryl Streep, you may not book the job. There might be some variable preventing you that you just don’t know about (perhaps they need someone shorter than Tom Cruise for this one).
What if, instead of choosing an objective that is literally out of your control (booking the job), you choose one you can actually accomplish at an audition? Your job as an actor, in part, is to move people. If you manage in your audition, to make your audience laugh, cry, or remind them of what it is to be alive, you will not only feel like an actor, but will have shared your gift with an audience who is often surrounded by very needy people and under an extreme amount of pressure. Give your gift. And then reward yourself.
Rob Adler coaches for companies like ABC/Disney and Lionsgate and is on the faculty at the University of Southern California. He is a working actor, director, teacher and the founder of the AdlerImprov Studio in Hollywood, which specializes in helping actors get out of their head and bring spontaneity, presence and play to scripted TV and film scenes. For more information, please visit AdlerImprov – Because Great Acting Looks Improvised.