"That's why I'm here," said my friend, laughing, as he scanned the lobby crammed with dozens of actors all vying for the same role in a Snuggles commercial. "I'm working out my family issues every time I audition."
He was joking, but there's also an absurd truth to it: We want them to like us. For some of us, we need them to like us, for whatever underlying reasons. But we can't let them see that.
It's the same as the crucial difference between wanting a job and needing a job, observes Killian McHugh, who teaches a commercial technique class in Hollywood (www.killiansworkshop.com) and directs commercial sessions for Alyson Horn Casting. "Actors come into this room and shoot themselves in the foot every day because they feel they need the job."
McHugh likens auditioning to dating. "You don't want to appear to be the clingy, needy guy. You have to play it a little cool," which makes you instantly more appealing, he says. Expanding the analogy, he adds, "As soon as they discover you don't need them, they want you. But that doesn't mean you don't give a fuck about the product."
Your job when you get the copy, McHugh explains, is to understand the needs of the commercial and how you can fulfill them through your character. That understanding—or "the sell," as he calls it—should be among your prime objectives at an audition. If, on the other hand, the people auditioning you primarily notice how much you need them, "they won't want you," he says.
While each of us brings our own peculiar psychological history to an audition, McHugh offers a few tips to help us shake off the mindset that makes us look so unattractively needy:
1. Your job isn't to book the commercial. It's to be present in the moment and play the scene in a real and convincing way. The rest, he says, will take care of itself. If all you're thinking about is booking, you can't be present in your acting. So by being present and doing your job at the audition and callback, you make booking more likely.
Of course, this is easier said than done, as the less we book, the more we feel we need it. When your rent is due, not showing that you need the job can be trickier than a magician making a tiger disappear. But making your acting work your sole focus at the audition will certainly help block out unhelpful thoughts.
2. Make sure the audition—andacting, for that matter—is not the only focus in your life. Take singing lessons, go surfing, do volunteer work—pursue whatever interests will consistently take your focus away from "I need to audition today." That may be as important as any other acting prep you do.
An actor can make an audition the most important thing happening in his or her life, but remember, McHugh says, "Nothing happens to you by not getting the job. No matter what happens in that room, you are not going to leave in a worse position than when you arrived. You won't be worse off if you don't book that job." While it may be cold comfort when your money is running low, it's really true: It's just an audition.
3. Assume the mantle of confidence when you're auditioning. "There's a giant difference between cocky and confident," McHugh says. And if you're giving yourself away with fidgety movements or darting eyes, "you'll be coming across as nonconfident—and we want confident. The camera picks up everything at an audition, especially your eyes." That's why an on-camera commercial class can be so useful: It can help you discover things you're doing unconsciously that may be preventing you from getting callbacks.
McHugh sums it up with some of the best auditioning advice I've ever received: "If you're not having fun auditioning, we're not having fun watching. That's the secret."