Cold Reading: What Every Actor Needs To Know

So, you want to be an actor? 

There are four (4) cardinal rules guiding successful actors from Los Angeles, CA to New York City, NY:

1) Having talent doesn’t necessarily mean you will work.  Ever.
2) Hard work may pay off.  Or maybe not.
3) Sometimes there is loyalty in the business.  Most of the time there isn’t.
4) There is no such thing as fair.

Being an actor involves dealing with a lot of forces which are out of your control.  What can you do to ensure the most successful career possible?


Preparation is when hard work meets opportunity.  Opportunity could arise at any moment and you must be ready when it knocks.  

Cold reading is a common tool casting directors use to quickly determine whether an actor is right for a certain part.  Cold reading is speaking the words of a script with little to no preparation. 

The goal of every actor is to be able to take someone else’s words and speak them out loud, with confidence and clarity, as if for the first time.  In life, we always know why we say what we say and do what we do.  We have an action, or intention, driving the words we say.  If you have been given a side and very little preparation time, how do you quickly create the behavior of a character?

You must be able to quickly insert yourself into the given circumstances of a scene. 

Try the following quick trick at your next cold read:

When you get the side, read it all the way through for information.  Then, ask yourself: for this character, in this situation, what role am I playing? 

There are eight (8) roles we play in everyday life:
1) mother
2) baby
3) predator
4) competitor
5) seducer
6) joker
7) teacher
8) everyone in the world is crazy but me

If you determine the role you playing in the scene and really play that role, it will have an effect on your behavior.

A casting director does not want to see someone simply reading lines.  Anyone can do that.  A casting director wants to see an actor take on the behavior of the character; they want to see the character in your movements, gestures, tone of voice, etc.  

Lastly, remember that every audition is another opportunity to work and offer your gift as an artist.  Learn from every audition experience.  Immediately accept going in that you are not going to book the part.  Go in and do your best with the choices you have made.  When the audition is over, let it go.  

We are actors because of our dedication to the work and fascination with the complexities of the human spirit.  We use wonder and insight to dig deeper into the world of a character, always striving to live “truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”  After all, it is the work that is the art of it all.

Heather Snow Clark is a lifetime member of the Actors Studio.  She holds her MFA in acting from the New School for Drama and her BFA in acting from East Carolina University.  Heather currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina working as a professional actress and teaching beginner and professional actors the tools and techniques of the trade.  

Please see her website,, for complete details on acting and voice classes, as well as private coaching sessions.

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