So you tanked that big, important audition? Hang in there. Here is some advice to help lessen the pain.
1. Are you sure you blew it? I’ve often heard actors say, “I was terrible. I can’t believe I booked the job.” I’ve also heard them say, “Why didn’t they hire me? I thought I’d nailed it.” Countless elements of the final casting decisions have no relation to your read so don’t sweat it. It’s very possible that you did just fine.
2. Let it go. If you’re sure your audition was a stinker, don’t beat yourself up. We all have good days and bad. If you have a solid track record, it’s unlikely to affect your future prospects. Even if it was your first audition for a particular casting director and you really bombed it, they may not even remember a few months down the road. (I can rarely recall auditions from one week to the next—good or bad. There’s not enough brain space to retain that much data over time.)
3. Analyze it. Instead of a pity party, see if you can objectively analyze what went wrong. Did your nerves get the best of you? Figure out what to do next time to stay more centered. Were you rusty? Maybe it’s time to get back into a cold-reading class. Was it the part? Some roles you just can’t connect with, even if you’ve learned the lines and figured out your intentions. So be it.
4. Keep an audition log. Make it your practice to keep an audition log so you can detect patterns, identify what works, and repeat the experience. How can you recreate conditions that lead to successful reads? Psyching yourself into the right mood? Getting a good night’s sleep? Leaving a few minutes earlier, so you’re not circling the block looking for parking when you should be getting centered?
5. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to your blunders. No one may have noticed that you messed up your lines or that your head wasn’t in the scene. I’ve received apologies from actors outlining all the ways they failed their audition, when I hadn’t particularly noticed. Sure, it may not have been their best read, but I hadn’t perceived it as a massive failure—until they assured me it was.
6. Start over. If you recognize early in your read that things are going downhill, stop immediately and say, “Hang on, I’m starting again.” Wait a beat for the camera operator to reset the shot, then start over without a fuss.
7. Don’t start over late in your read, though. Instead, use Michael Shurtleff’s “blame or give” strategy, from his classic book “Audition: Everything You Need to Know to Get the Part,” to radically change direction and jolt yourself out of it. Shurtleff writes, “Use whatever words the script provides you at the moment of need to create an outburst of blame that will rock your partner off her feet. Then, if you feel so bad about unleashing your wrath upon an innocent partner, follow it with a total, unexpected opposite: You can make up for your dreadful conduct of falsely blaming her by offering her your love.”
8. Read "Audition." If you haven’t read Shurtleff’s book, pick it up immediately.
9. Ask for a second read. After a disastrous read, you can always try and ask for a second one, if you’re confident you can do better. You may not get the opportunity, but if the casting director says, “Sure, go ahead,” make this take significantly different from your first. There’s nothing worse than sitting through a mediocre audition, only to have to sit through the same one a second time. Take a moment to focus, renew your resolve, or do whatever you need to ensure your second read is the audition you had in mind when you entered the room.
10. Don't let it affect your work. Remember this: An actor who continues to improve his or her craft will ultimately not be affected by a few less-than-perfect performances. I messed up early in my career on a casting job or two, due to inexperience or nerves. Over the years, the same producers—most of whom scarcely recall my early gaffes—have hired me again. Keep perfecting your skills, and each experience will build on the previous one. And if one of your reads doesn’t go so well, be grateful for the accelerated learning opportunity that mistakes provide.
Recent projects include NBC’s Grimm, now in its third season, and 64 episodes of TNT’s Leverage. Gus Van Sant, Robert Benton, Guillermo Arriaga, Catherine Hardwicke and Tim Robbins figure among past film clients. Commercial accounts include Nike, Apple and Nintendo, and international campaigns from Shanghai to Santiago.
Lana is a member of the Casting Society of America and the International Casting Directors Network. She frequently lectures across the U.S. and abroad, most recently at the Finnish Actors’ Union in Helsinki, Amsterdam School of the Arts, The Actors Platform in London, The Acting Studio in Berlin, Studio Bleu in Paris and Prague Film School.
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She has been featured in The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, MSNBC.com, MTV.com, AccessHollywood.com, and Wired, among others. Follow her on Twitter @lanaveenker.