Nerves are a part of auditioning. They're adrenaline. They're the same kind of adrenaline that athletes experience right before they take the field. It’s our “getting ready” energy. The trick is to focus that energy into something that will help and not hinder us when we walk into the audition room.
Here are three things that help me.
1. Listen. Every acting teacher in the world talks about the importance of listening. It’s crucial. It’s the foundation of any piece of good acting you will ever do. However, when the pressure is on, it’s often the first casualty. As somebody who occasionally sits in the director’s chair, I can tell you that there’s a big difference between an actor who is listening for his or her “cue” and an actor who is firmly “in” the scene and working off the reader. Having seen the difference firsthand, I always put myself through a quick three-point “listening” check list before I enter the audition room. 1.) Am I physically relaxed? 2.) Am I alert and able to take in everything that’s going on around me? 3.) Am I curious? For me, curiosity is the most important of the three. So much of the audition process is out of our control. Rather than try to force my will on the experience, I attempt to “allow” it to happen. That doesn’t mean I come into the room without a game plan. It simply means that (like the character I’m playing) I haven’t yet lived through this particular moment of time. Curiosity allows me to be wonderfully “present” and invested in the moment.
2. Have Something To Do. “Action” is another common concept taught in most classes, but often when actors enter the audition room, they feel like their fate depends on how well they can drum up big waves of emotion. The problem with this approach is that nerves can sometimes rob us of organic emotion. That’s why we need to be clear on what our character is “doing” in the scene. I always make sure I’ve got a verb clearly placed in my mind. Is my character “negotiating,” “seducing,” “obliterating” the other character? Action ultimately defines a character much more than the words they are saying. Action gives me a crucial point of focus. It allows me to show the director that I understand and can serve the scene. When the action is clear in my head, it’s amazing how often emotion comes along for the ride.
3. Use Your Imagination. If I am feeling a little nervous about an audition, I use the greatest tool any artist has at their command: my imagination. As crazy as this will probably sound, I sometimes use this skill to pretend that I am a big bankable star. This allows me to walk into the room with a certain confidence and often frees me up to do my best work. Most stars that I have worked with are very good at getting down to business and showing everybody in the room what exactly made them into a star in the first place. This level of skill creates trust. The creative team can see that this person knows what they are doing and can be counted on to take the ball and run with it. That level of confidence can benefit us “non-stars” as well.
One last piece of advice: Directors and producers are just as keenly sensitive as actors. They are human too and pick up on all sorts of little nuances. Don’t send them signals of desperation. Instead, show them how much you love your craft. You will be surprised at how well that approach will benefit you in the long run.
David Dean Bottrell’s recent TV credits include guest star roles on “Justified,” “True Blood,” “Save Me,” “NCIS,” “Criminal Minds,” “iCarly,” “Castle,” and “Days of Our Lives.” He’s probably best known for his recurring role as the creepy “Lincoln Meyer” on “Boston Legal.” He currently teaches two popular ongoing acting classes in Los Angeles. More info: DavidDeanBottrell@gmail.com