Are you about to find yourself in the audition room for a commercial? While there are, of course, some constants when it comes to etiquette in the room, there are practical specifics you should prepare yourself for, depending on the medium. Certain skills, for instance, will come in handy for commercials but not on other platforms. Here, commercial casting directors share how to leave a good impression and eventually book the gig.
Commercial actors still need to train, but don’t forget to be yourself.
“Train, train, train. I think the commercial business is very different [from film and TV] in the sense that sometimes you bring in a really solid actor that can give me wall-to-wall commercial copy, and sometimes I have somebody who can just sit around a table eating a burger for a fast-food restaurant commercial. On those particular jobs, it’s important to have a very strong sense of self. Looking like many people in the lobby, how do you stand out? Will you stand out by being yourself? I always tell my students, ‘Take a breath, look them in the eye, and just be honest.’ Take a moment, imagine you’re doing an improv, have a few plans that you can come up with in the lobby, and go in and do it. I think the commercial actors who are able to go in, make a few choices, do what they did, and then leave the room and just let it go are the ones that are the most successful. My clients may not always know what they want, and you may be what they want. So just be yourself.” —Kyle Coker, senior casting director at Binder Casting with RWS Entertainment
“When you audition for a commercial, you should bring your unique personality to it. That’s the main thing that sets you apart from the thousands of other actors who might be submitted for the same role. If the audition is a personality interview, which is fairly common for vignette spots, be prepared to tell a brief anecdote about something that excites you—something other than acting. A personality interview is designed to let the creative team get to know you as a person, not as an actor, and to potentially fuel ideas to build a vignette around your passion.” —Justin Radley, casting director at asg casting, inc. and president of the Commercial Casting Directors Association
“Don’t worry about what everyone else in the waiting room looks like—younger, taller, better looking, etc. Step in the audition room and own it. Do you. Audition slots are so competitive to get. Remember, you were selected from thousands for a reason, so take confidence from that. You can’t always get the role, no matter what you do, but you can leave everyone in the casting room with a positive opinion of you and your ability.” —Thomas Adams, casting director at Thomas Adams Casting
Following the breakdown’s instructions is essential to success.
“It’s very important that the actors who come to see me are dressed a certain way. I put a lot of information in my breakdown. I want you to look and be dressed a certain way, because if you’re not dressed that way, it looks like I didn’t tell you that info. My clients are very literal, and they need to see things a certain way in order to do their own presentation, so pay attention to the breakdown. [And] look at the dates: Are you available? If not, please don’t come in. Book out with your agents whenever you’re not going to be available. It’s so wonderful now that there are so many great TV and film opportunities, but often it takes you out of being able to do commercials, so be up front about that with your agent and let them know your availability.” —KC
“Commercials rely on the quick read. There’s not a lot of time to tell a story, so the more instantly recognizable the character and situation is, the better. This means you should pay attention to the wardrobe notes. Theatrical CDs don’t typically expect you to show up in costume, but in commercials, it works in your favor if you show up looking the part. When the creative team reviews the link at the end of the day, if they are making callback selects of actors auditioning for the role of a groom in a wedding, it’s much easier for them to visualize the actor wearing a tuxedo in that role compared to an actor who shows up in a logo T-shirt and dirty jeans.” —JR
Improv training can help you stand out.
“For auditions with scripted dialogue, it’s a good idea to have some ideas banked about how to add something to the script. It’s very common in commercials that directors are looking for actors who can bring something more to the material than what’s already on the page. If an actor can show multiple ways to play a scene in the audition, it’s clear that that actor is going to make the director’s job easier on set because they will contribute to the collaborative creative process of making the best possible spot. This is one reason I recommend actors interested in commercials take improv classes to keep those skills sharp. If they are given the opportunity in an audition to add something to the scene while staying in character, actors with improv skills tend to stand out. I should be clear, however, that you should only add to the script if you’re given permission to do so in the room.” —JR
Know what you’re selling. Research the product!
“While the tone and level of acting in theatrical auditions can vary depending on the genre, an actor’s performance in a commercial is typically grounded in reality. Generally speaking, the more subtle the acting, the better. This is because the true star of the spot is the product, and the actors are there to show a relationship to that product. Again, this is very general. Of course, there are spots that have more heightened tones, which is why it’s important to do some research into the brand being advertised whenever possible. Look up previous spots to get a sense of how the actors tend to play it. This is no different from research you would do before auditioning for a sitcom or episodic.” —JR
Commercials are a good way to build your résumé and support yourself for passion projects.
“It’s no secret that commercials are a nice payday. I love seeing actors I cast tell me years later that a commercial paid for an extension or bought his or her first family car. More creatively, they can allow you to do the other projects you love, like helping to subsidize the next fringe theater run or short film project. The obvious monetary benefits aside, I believe that the experience itself and the people you work with can very much further an actor’s career.” —TA
Ready to get to work? Check out Backstage’s commercial audition listings!