Ask and You May Receive

With so many elements of our lives in other people's hands-agents, casting directors, producers, directors-it's easy to feel as if we have little control over our careers. But there is one place we have much more control than we imagine: the audition room. You may think this a flight of lunacy on my part: Aren't auditions the least likely place for actors to control what happens to them? Actually, no. Control is very much in our hands, yet I'd venture that most actors give it up because they're intimidated-by the people in the room or the very process of auditioning. In other words, we forget to take care of ourselves.

How many times have you shown up for a commercial audition a few minutes early, only to be pulled right into the audition room? Your coat is barely off, you haven't fixed your hair, and worse, you haven't looked at the copy or the storyboard. But the casting director is telling you to come into the room. Now. So you have two options: You can say nothing, acquiesce, and head into the room, quietly fuming inside, or you can say with a smile, "I'm sorry. I just walked in. I need just a minute."

"If you'd like a little more time, it's a fair request," says David Bellantoni, a casting director with Beth Melsky's office in New York, "because you'll do better on the tape, and that's better for me." The key to the request is twofold, he says: brevity and unfailing politeness. Using those two elements, you can ask for nearly anything. If your request isn't honored, however, there's no arguing with the casting director. Ever. You'll never win, and CDs have preternaturally long memories for actors they feel have been "difficult."

If you're thinking of making a request, says Bellantoni, who has been casting in Los Angeles and New York for more than a decade, it's important to take stock of your surroundings: "If the casting director or session runner seems relaxed and they're not backed up and you'd like a little more time, it's fair to ask." If, on the other hand, the waiting room is jammed and they're trying to put together a family or a callback group, "you can ask," he says, "but be aware it might be tougher for your request to be handled."

If your request for more time is rejected, then what? You smile and do as requested with enthusiasm. You can say something nasty in the privacy of your home, but save your diatribe till then. On the street, you never know who may be walking by. The trick is to ask for what you want, then let the chips fall where they may. I've been to auditions where I wanted to read the other role, not the one I was brought in for. There's nothing wrong with asking, but remember that you have no way of knowing whether you're right for that part based on the casting specs, which could have been changed five minutes before you walked in. In the twinkling of a casting eye, a role can turn from white to black or from country club to trailer trash.

Once you're in the audition room, don't think you should stop taking care of yourself. I'm an actor who likes to rehearse, and I often ask if I can. Alas, casting directors don't always allow that, often because they don't have the time. "What the actor doesn't see," says Bellantoni, "are the strict demands of the casting schedule." He says the ad agency and the director typically want to keep things moving at a callback. If there's a delay, they'll ask why, and if you're the cause, it never works in your favor.

"Be aware of the totality of the scenario at the casting facility versus what you feel you need right now," Bellantoni advises. Do that and you'll have a better shot of getting what you want.