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Secret Agent Man

Why it Pays Big Bucks to Be Nice at an Audition

Why it Pays Big Bucks to Be Nice at an Audition
Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

Once upon a time, I worked with an actor we’ll call Ryan who was enjoying a stellar TV career, but his real goal, like many others, was to make the jump to movies. I felt this was realistic because the guy had the goods and the looks. So that became our mission.

The other agents and I busted our humps to get him as many film auditions as possible. It took a while, but one fine day we finally struck gold. Ryan auditioned for a leading role in one of those studio films that tend to spawn sequels. He met the casting director, the producers, and the director. Everyone loved him.

In these situations, I don’t just receive an offer. The actor has to test at the studio and, in this case, my client was up against one other performer. When there’s this much money involved, a lot of people in suits have to sign off on the final choice. So they bring the actors in to read on camera, mixing and matching them with other cast members, until they’ve explored every possibility. Unlike the testing process on pilots, these tests are usually lit and shot by professionals, hair and makeup people are present, and the director is there to provide guidance.

As always, it took a few days of painful waiting, but the news was good. Ryan got the part! There was a lot of cheering and celebrating that week. We all knew the kid’s life was about to change in a major way.

Now, here’s where the story gets interesting.

A month later, the casting director and I had dinner. We had known each other for years, so the two of us were always very open with each other. When I asked her if it was a close call after the test, she leaned in and told me the other guy was a better actor.

My mouth dropped open. “I don’t understand. If that’s the case, why didn’t they choose him?”

“Because he’s an asshole,” she said.

It took me a while to process that, but I came to understand exactly what she meant. You see, these movies take months to shoot; we’re talking long hours and six-day weeks on location. So if you’re the director, who are you going to hire: the actor who’s extremely talented but will make your life a living hell, or the actor who is maybe a little less talented but a really nice guy?

During the test, the actor who didn’t get the part had been a major pain in the ass. He had challenged the direction and taken forever to get his audition taped. Ryan, on the other hand, had become everyone’s best friend, and his enthusiasm had been contagious. There was no doubt he was the person you wanted around when the workday starts pushing past 12 hours and everyone is exhausted.

Therein lies the lesson: Assuming the right amount of talent is present, the powers that be will usually hire the performer they dig the most. Keep that in mind each time you go out on an audition. If people like you, they will go out of their way to help you—and that’s the perfect way to build a career.

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