A thing experienced is not a thing perceived.
We are so often in our heads about what we think something looks like—a choice, an idea, a commitment to something—that instead of committing to that thing and having the experience, we second-guess it based on what we think the casting director is looking for.
But the truth is, the casting director doesn’t know what he or she is looking for, neither does the director or producer or agent.
Yes, they may have a “type” in mind, and if you physically fit what that type is, you can get called in. But that’s at the physical/superficial level, and there are hundreds of actors who may share your type. So what sets you apart is your giving yourself permission to do it your way—not the way you think it’s supposed to be or what you think they’re looking for. When you do it your way unapologetically, you will become what they’re looking for.
I recently assessed an actor who explained to me how he went to an audition and the casting director asked him, “Do you have any questions?” (which to me is a polite way of simply saying, “Are You Ready?”), but he took that as an opportunity to second-guess his choice and asked her if the relationship between the two characters was adversarial. The casting director said no. He was screwed. He immediately went into his head and doubted everything he wanted to do. Being scared to go for his original choice and not follow his impulses led to his reading being flat and unmemorable. Surprise? Not really.
He came to me after the audition and told me what happened. I asked him to do the scene for me just as he read it in the room. And yes, it was as flat as a pancake.
I asked him to do the scene again coming from his original choice of exploring a more adversarial point of view. He did and the dynamic completely changed.
Here’s the insight! In his mind—and in his committing to something—he thought he was being adversarial (and that it would read only that way). But for me watching him—it simply read as someone who was more committed and more interesting, someone taking more chances and was sexier and more mysterious. He played more, had more fun, and was consequently more real and human. In other words—not flat, so he didn’t come across as adversarial. He came across as being alive.
The breakthrough is in realizing and in making a choice, and no longer asking for permission to do something. What you experience in your own work and what we might perceive are completely different things.
Stop making everything so black-and-white and reductive. Trust that the magical alchemy of acting, and playing and creating in the moment takes care of the details that you don’t have to micro-manage.
If you’re having an experience, then I am having an experience, and so will the casting director or producer or director. From there they may give you an adjustment or take you in another direction, but if you don’t first allow yourself to have the experience, they won’t either, and you’ll be unmemorable.
And that’s where the thing about “type” comes in. If you’re unmemorable, there are hundreds of other people out there who can fulfill that which you are reading, and do so in a memorable way. That is to say, their way.
And that’s what’s memorable about it.
So don’t delay any longer—go for things fully and stop second-guessing. Trust that in strong choices, the person watching will have their own subjective experience witnessing humanity in front of them, and they will. Stop trying to control what you think other people should—or want—to see.
That requires trust, and a healthy sense of giving yourself permission. So the next time someone asks, “Do you have any questions?” and you don’t, trust the part of yourself inside that has the answers.
Anthony Meindl is an award-winning writer, director, producer, and artistic director of Anthony Meindl's Actor Workshop (AMAW) with studios in Los Angeles, New York, London, and Vancouver. It was honored by Backstage three years in a row and named the Best Acting Studio in Los Angeles (Best Scene Study and Best Cold Read).
Meindl's first feature film, “Birds of a Feather,” won the Spirit of the Festival Award at the 2012 Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival, and he won Best Director at the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles. It releases on iTunes and DVD in March of 2014. He is a regular contributor to The Daily Love, Backstage, and various spirituality podcasts. He has been featured in ABC News, Daily Variety, LA Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and CW KTLA. He has been a guest speaker at the GATE 2013 Story Conference, founded by Jim Carrey and Eckhart Tolle, and David Lynch's Masters in Film Program (Maharishi University of Management).
He is also the author of the best-selling creativity book, At Left Brain Turn Right, which helps artists of all kinds unleash their creative genius within. Check out Meindl's free smartphone app on iTunes. Follow Meindl on Twitter @AnthonyMeindl.