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Casting Advice

Scout's Honor

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Scout's Honor
A former actor, Michael Donovan has become a four-time recipient of the Casting Society of America's Artios Award. The Los Angeles–based CD casts for film, television, theater, and commercials. His theater credits include shows produced at the Hollywood Bowl, Pasadena Playhouse, the Kirk Douglas Theatre, International City Theatre, Reprise Theatre Company, Shakespeare Festival/LA, the Falcon Theatre, the Colony Theatre, Ebony Repertory Theatre, Ensemble Theatre Company of Santa Barbara, and Laguna Playhouse—all in Southern California—as well as Cleveland Play House, the Intiman Theatre (Seattle), Arizona Theatre Company, the Alliance Theatre (Atlanta), and Post Street Theatre (San Francisco). He has also cast numerous films, nine series, and more than 1,200 commercials.

Seek and Find

I go to a ton of theater. The last time I kept track, I saw 67 plays that year. I also go to screenings, I go to improv groups, and occasionally to standup. So basically I'm out there looking all the time. I also go to workshops, to showcases, and I teach for UCLA and a couple of other colleges, so I'm always looking for young people. And I watch television.

I'm always thinking long-range, and I think actors need to think that way too. When you come in to audition, don't think about just this job, but think about developing a relationship with that casting director, producer, director, writer, etc. Don't think about just this one opportunity, but realize you are being presented with multiple opportunities by doing a good job in front of these people. But I am also thinking of my immediate casting needs.

Be the Boy (or Girl) Scout in the Room

Be prepared. You've heard it a million times, but it still slays me that actors think it's okay to walk in unprepared. If we have been specific in what we've asked you to have ready to go, how can you walk in without it? You've not only wasted our time; you've wasted your time. There is simply no excuse. If you had a problem—you got stuck on the set, you got sick, family emergency—have your agent call and reschedule. But to walk in and make some half-assed apology about you didn't have a chance to look at it, what do you want us to do with that? We have nowhere to go now. I don't know what to say except, "I think you should just go home." It tells me nothing about what you could do if you had prepared the material, and I certainly can't do much redirection if you didn't understand what you're talking about. And if the script was provided and you didn't read the script, or if it's a famous play and you didn't read the play, we really have nothing to talk about. Your winging it—unless it's an improv-style audition—doesn't really impress me.

A hint about preparation: Sometimes the script is not available, but what is available is all the other roles. Pull all the sides and piece it together: "Oh, I thought she was my girlfriend, but she's my sister." If there's even 10 roles and there's three pages each, now you've got 30 pages of the script.

Dress for Audition Success

I'm a big believer in color. I think you need to understand what color is good for your skin, your hair, your eyes. As most auditions are on camera, you need to think about what looks good on camera. It's a very individual thing. Nothing that pulls focus from your face. So avoid patterns. Avoid logos, a distracting tie, distracting jewelry, anything that takes our focus in a different direction.

If you're a pale-skinned person, why are you wearing a pale shirt? You vanish. If you're a dark-skinned person, why are you wearing a dark shirt? What lights up your face? What's a good color for you? What do you feel good in? What flatters your physique? All of those are factors in how you feel and look. Whether we are aware of them on a conscious level, we are subconsciously responding to that.

Should you wear the same thing at a callback? Absolutely, in my opinion. "We fell in love with the girl in the purple sweater. Where's the girl in the purple sweater?" "Oh, she's wearing green today." If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Unless we told you to wear something different, let us call back what we saw the first time. It cements that image of you. Even if the client makes some snarky comment, "Look, she wore what she wore
the first time," my response is, "Yes, but you noticed."

Look and Listen

Should you do what you did the first time? You should be prepared to do what you did the first time and be just as willing to change it. The director was probably looking at a recording of your audition—or has not ever seen it and just trusted the casting director and is now working with you for the first time live and may have a very different take on the material. Or maybe, since you auditioned, someone else auditioned with a different thought that the director has fallen in love with and wants to see if you can take it to this different place, and also wants to see if you're directable.

And really listen in the room. So much of the decision is based on: Can you take direction? Can we work together? Going back a step, if I'm the one deciding whether or not you get a callback, I have to see if you're directable.

Be Polite, Not Overwhelming

I'm kind of surprised when I don't hear anything from actors after they've booked a nice job. As a former actor, I think of this as an opportunity to remind the casting director that they booked me and who I am. It's a way of building a relationship with that person. Strictly from a business standpoint, it just makes sense. And when you send a thank-you, it can be on a postcard which has your name, picture, and contact information on it. Or, if you're going to send a card, tuck your postcard inside it. I get lovely thank-you notes from actors whose signature I can't read.

A lot of casting people don't want a thank-you gift of anything home-baked, because then you're going, "I don't know what I'm eating." What I get a lot of is chocolate and nuts. I'm allergic to both. The rest of the team here is thrilled. But if you know the casting director personally, do whatever you feel is appropriate. If you happen to find a way that you know what the casting director loves, like there's a certain flower or a certain bottle of wine, those things are fine.

Expensive thank-you gifts make me very uncomfortable. Again, as a former actor, I know how tough it is. I don't think anybody should be sending expensive gifts. Actors often ask me what's appropriate. What's appropriate, I think, is a Starbucks or Coffee Bean card. It's a nice little way of saying thank you. If you book a big job, send flowers. I would recommend that your gifts not be overly personal. But if you book a regular on "Friends," I want a Porsche.



Michael Donovan will participate in the panel discussion "Audition Etiquette: How to Enter the Room and Other Insider Tips From CDs" at Actorfest LA on Saturday, Nov. 6.  For more information, go to Actorfest.com.

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