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The Working Actor

How to Handle a Casting Director’s Bad Line Readings

How to Handle a Casting Director’s Bad Line Readings
Photo Source: Thomas Pitilli

A few weeks ago, I answered a letter from “Partner Problems,” who’d been paired up at an audition with a completely unprepared actor who couldn’t even deliver the lines. My suggestion that such an extreme case would justify an insistence on reading with a different actor prompted many worthy responses, some in agreement and some in disagreement.

One poster posed a secondary question: What if you’re reading with the casting director, rather than another actor, and his or her reading is terrible? “I have had this happen to me numerous times. Don’t you think it is a disservice to the actor when it is an important part and one has to read with someone who is clearly just voicing the words, and not even trying to give forth any participation?”

Well, that’s a very different situation for several reasons. First of all, unlike reading with an actor who can’t execute the basics, getting a flat read from a casting director isn’t an aberration; it’s the norm. They’re neither expected to be actors nor obligated to give an inspiring reading. Remember, all your fellow auditioners are reading with the same person, so it’s a level playing field. Besides, you can’t swap out the casting director for another one. And it would be inappropriate and foolish to say, “You’re not a good reader, so I’m leaving.”

Whether we think it’s a disservice is really a moot point. Casting people know what they need to do their jobs. We can help by not getting thrown by their bad acting. Just imagine the line readings and reactions you’d hoped for and respond accordingly. There are lots of frustrating things in the acting business. At a certain point, we have to decide whether we’re going to feed the frustration and allow it to gnaw at us (as so many actors do) or accept the norms and do the best we can. A pro learns to audition opposite bad readers and trust that the casting person is seeing what he or she needs to see.

Casting director Marci Liroff was kind enough to weigh in. “It’s truly ridiculous that a CD is a bad reader and not helping in the audition process. They should just get a reader.… That said, I think as an actor you have to be able to ‘bring it’ in all given circumstances.” Liroff points out that even on set, you can end up reading with “a monotone script supervisor” (if your scene partner is wrapped) or, on a special effects film, with a piece of tape on a green screen. “So, saying your scene partner and/or the CD is bad is unfortunate, but you’ve got to be able to rise above it and show us what you’ve got.” I agree. And as I said in the aforementioned column, even if your flat-line scene partner is a fellow actor, you don’t get to object unless he’s literally failing to execute the most basic requirements: saying his lines and leaving room for yours. 

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