– The Acting Audition

Written and Narrated by Joseph Dean Coburn



Like musicians and dancers, there are two things actors do consistently throughout their lives: practice and look for work.

Acting auditions are your “Shot” in the vernacular. The audition is where you prove you belong in the game. You prove that you’re “Ready” by: 1. Proving you can act (and I’m not talking about that crap you did in high school or college) and 2. You’re “right” for the part. That means you have the look and personality that will support the role for which you are auditioning.

The reasons the stunts you pulled in school won’t work are two-fold; your teachers never worked professionally, or at all, and what you learned in school will not have brought you to the state of being “commercial”.

Commercial, is an industry term that means “you meet the audience’s expectations of a professional.” The term is applied to direction, lighting, makeup, costuming, art direction, acting, editing and every other element in a professional production.

So, how does one approach a lifetime of auditioning? First, read every book on acting and great actors you can find.  Boy, is there a lot of crap there. Lee Strasberg said he trained Brando. He did not. Stella Adler was Brando’s teacher but you have to read three Brando biographies to figure out the truth.

Next, get serious about your training. This is show business. That means that you have to be able to function like a professional. College teaches acting in a way that will have you functioning like an amateur. And BOY is the difference obvious! I can live without seeing one more smug puppy whining, “I have my degree,” as if that mattered.

Oh, and for the people who refuse to train – claiming that they are “naturals,” – here’s a little piece of advice: Just stay home. The idea that you may be a “natural” for any role and that this is enough to get you working in Hollywood is just plain unrealistic. If you want to compete and win against the strongest competitors in the most competitive industry on earth, then you’d better prepare yourself accordingly.

The acting audition should be handled just like any other acting assignment. The bottom line is that if you can act, and you’re right for the part, you might get the job. If you can NOT act, you will NOT get the job and you will have damaged your reputation in the acting audition.

Too many actors exhaust themselves trying to read the mind of the casting director, tormenting themselves over what for which the casting director may or may not be looking, then wrenching themselves around in an attempt to turn themselves into someone else. Like any other job interview, people hire people they know and like.

You will be called into an acting audition based on your headshot and resumé or based on a recommendation from someone who knows and likes you (in many cases someone from your acting class who knows your work). In these cases, you’re already “right” for the part in the eyes of the casting director.

In the acting audition, the casting director will have an opportunity to look at you, listen to you, and see what you would do IF you got the part. Even if you don’t get the callback, the casting director may very well keep your headshot and resume if you prove you’re “READY”. Because of the acting audition, he or she will have had the opportunity to get to know you and maybe even to like you and if they can’t get you this job, they’ll remember you when something comes up for which you are immediately “Right”.

When you are Ready or Right (two more industry terms) it means that you have prepared seriously to work and therefore you meet the audience’s expectations of a professional. They knew you were right when you walked on camera it was obvious to everyone in the room that you were a perfect fit for the role they were casting.

It’s a movie. They’re spending a lot of money to make it and they will take the time to get someone who is perfect for the expense. They don’t want to stretch so if casting you would be a stretch they will go for “perfect fit” every time.

The acting audition is not about you or your career. The acting audition is about filling a role in a collaborative commercial art form. If you are right for the role, you get the part, even if you don’t get hired you will have taken one more positive step in creating your reputation.

Oh, one additional note. If you’re just starting out and have a list of roles you refuse to take, or have been known to say things like, “I’m not doing TV, or theater, or internet,” – it’s time to change your attitude.   While I’m at it, don’t act stupid.  One of my students always wore sunglasses on stage and carried a Buzz Lightyear doll with him because, according to him: “They’re part of my image.” Yeah, well if that’s your strategy, stay home but definitely do not put my name on your resume’.

One more word, EGO — no known benefit, no known cure — ’nuff said.

To the professional, the acting audition is just another opportunity to act. Like any artist, you go in, show that you can act and to what extent, and make clear to everyone that you know how to do your job. If you were interviewing to be a welder, and you had not gone to welding school and you didn’t know how to weld, the interview would not go well. If you’ve taken the required training and you know your job, the acting audition should be easy.

The number of casting directors with whom I have spoken over the years easily reaches into the dozens. I’ve asked them all the same questions and without exception, I have gotten the same answers.

The first question I asked was “What is the absolute minimum you expect of a professional actor?”

The answer was the same across the board and I mean they used the exact same verbiage. “I expect to see people show up on time and prepared,” they said.

“On time,” means a few minutes early. One minute late is LATE and there goes your reputation. If you show up late for the job interview then it’s obvious you don’t care enough to show up on time for the job. Enjoy unemployment. By the way, there are no known benefits to unemployment.

“Prepared” means that you’ve done some serious work in preparation for the audition – work that reflects your ability to do the job professionally.

“I want to see Strong choices,” is the next most common observation from C.D.’s.

A strong choice is one that makes you feel an emotion. A weak choice is one that makes you think.

A strong choice means that you know how you feel in the circumstances, or with this relationship, or that theme, or the point of the scene. It would certainly be in your favor to know how to read a script so that even in a few lines you can be truthful emotionally in the given imaginary circumstances.

After only a single day of watching acting auditions in L.A., it would blow your mind to see how many people – who claim to be professional actors – just read the lines out loud when it’s their turn.

The next most common answers from Casting Directors is that between 75% and 95% of the people they audition have no business being in the business. That’s a quote and those numbers are real.

If you’ve read my this essay correctly and you take your auditions seriously then you will be among the top 25 to 5% right from the start.

The acting audition is where casting directors do the weeding.

Videotaped auditions have been a huge benefit in casting. After all, the camera picks up everything. If an actor is forcing, faking, or indicating, the camera captures it in excruciating detail. Likewise if the actor is honest, instinctive and emotionally responsive, the camera is like a microscope.  In the audition itself, it may look like there’s nothing going on, but when reviewed on camera, it’s much easier to see the emotional content in a scene.

Without the truthful emotional content it’s just talking heads saying words when it’s their turn.

To begin with, get it through your heads that Casting Directors only call people in who ‘look the part.’ If they need someone with a big nose, or someone who looks smarmy, or angry, or demure, they’ll know that you fit the generality by studying your headshot. You  can help tell the story when you “look the part”. You have no control over your look. In your auditions, prove you can act. That’s your job. That’s something you can do.

Next, they’ll want to see if you have the right personality for the role they’re casting. To do that, they’ll have to call you in and meet you. If you come in late, look like you’ve just thrown yourself together, don’t know for what role you’re reading, or indicate in any way that you might embarrass the casting director (who, at some point, will have to bring you in to meet the director), you just blew it.

Oh, here’s the next thing I have heard most often from Casting Directors in Hollywood, “(S)He forgot the script (sides)!” How can you show up without the thing that is central to your presence in the acting audition? You get to go home for being stupid and there is no consolation prize for that.

It is expected of the professional that you know your lines.

Remember, casting directors have their reputations to protect and to build, and payroll obligations to meet. Show up on time. “Do not waste my time,” is another response I’ve heard. Do some work in preparation for the audition BEFORE you get there. If you don’t know how to do that, then go get some training.

Use the acting audition to build your reputation. Show up on time, do some work in preparation for the audition. Don’t try to do what you think the CD wants to see, show them how you would do it if you got the job.

If you take the time to treat the acting audition seriously, you will be taken seriously.

There are two “types” that are easily weeded out from the acting audition process. For the sake of argument, I’ll call them “Desperate-Needies” and “Shock-Clowns.”

The Desperate-Needies “need” the job “desperately”.  They come in obsequiously or near tears, and will do absolutely anything to get the job.

The Shock-Clowns do the most outrageous things imaginable, or put themselves together in outrageous ways, in order to stand out. If they were applying for any other job on earth, they’d be escorted out the door and all the way to the parking lot.

The make-up, wardrobe and antics of the Shock-Clowns get them talked about but not in the way they would like.

The Desperate-Needies, on the other hand, have only one hope – to be cast in the role of someone desperate and needy.

Go to a hundred auditions so you can learn how to conduct yourself in an audition. There’s no better way. Smart, serious people starting out in the acting industry take the time to finish the following sentence, “I want to be known for …” And they finish that sentence with, “being on time and prepared” and “knowing my job clear through.” Then they take the necessary steps to make those things happen.

My advice to you: Know your job clear through, prepare for your audition, and show up on time. That’s everything you need to know about the acting audition. The rest is commentary.

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How we talk about acting ...

Born in a trunk on West 76th in 1952, I grew up on stage. My gods were Paul Osborne, Herb Gardner, John Steinbeck, and Tennessee Williams. They created me. My parents were teachers, directors, and actors.

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