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Jess Brown ... Got the Part

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Jess Brown ... Got the Part
While in rehearsals at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for Rufus Wainwright's "Prima Donna," Jess Brown was preparing to audition for the role of Elaine Robinson in a production of "The Graduate" at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, Conn. After seeing the casting notice for the show in Back Stage, Brown began her research on the character, the daughter of the infamous Mrs. Robinson. "After reading the play in its entirety, I decided to do something rather questionable -- I watched the movie," she says. "Although this is known to be a major faux pas among actors, I felt justified in my actions because the play was primarily based on the original film, starring Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross. Knowing this, I felt that to be cast, I would need to exemplify certain qualities of the original Elaine while still making it my own."

On arriving at the audition, Brown had to get through a moment of self-doubt. "I started questioning my compatibility with Elaine's character, thinking I was too old, or my hair was too dark, or that I shouldn't have worn these shoes," she says. "When I got into the room, the butterflies had subsided and I became myself again. This is what I believe helped me book the part. Yes, you have to have the chops, and yes, you have to give a damn good audition, but it's not always just about acting ... I believe someone will hire you if they like who you are as a person."

Director Lawrence Thelen agrees that a likable attitude plays a big factor in his casting decisions. "When it comes to casting," he says, "I not only look for someone who possesses the role but also someone who appears to be easy to work with -- someone I want to lock myself in a room with for three weeks. That's more important to me than talent ... And you've got to be aware that you're creating an ensemble, so you want to pull together a group you think will work well with one another." He adds that Brown had the combination of skills that made her right for the production. "The role of Elaine is deceptively difficult. It requires an actress who can evoke pathos, be seriously dramatic, and at the same time have a good sense of comedy. A lot of actresses can do one or two of those, but it was difficult for us to find one who could do all three. Jess clearly possesses them all."

As far as her career path, Brown is open to working in all types of media. "I would love to keep doing what I'm doing -- working. And whether that means continuing to do some more excellent work on the stage, or working on a TV series or a film, that doesn't matter," she says. "They are all so different but at the same time, very similar. We are actors. We adapt. We pretend. I think it's important to always remember that this is a business, just like anything else, but to never forget that it is your passion that drives you. Just like any other job, you need to separate work from your personal life, or you'll just go nuts."

Has Back Stage helped you get cast in the past year? We'd love to tell your story. Be in the weekly column by emailing casting@backstage.com for New York or bswcasting@backstage.com for Los Angeles with "I Got the Part" in the subject line.

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