How Do You Deal with Nerves?

Nick Dillenburg
New York; Into the Hazard

Nerves are usually an actor's problem, not a character's. I try to step in and inhabit the character as much as possible to get away from nerves. But I think it's only natural that we get them, not just onstage but especially in auditions. I don't ignore that energy but try to use it as fuel.

However you choose to deal with or overcome nerves, you just want to make sure they don't hold you back. I sometimes use physical warm-ups, breathing techniques, and plain old distraction. I think we as actors all look forward to that day we can eliminate auditions from our lives altogether.

Scott Michael Foster

Los Angeles; Greek, Quarterlife

I really only get nervous in a couple of these situations. Auditioning can be really nerve-racking, especially if it's a big audition or if you really want the job. What I tend to do when it's close to my turn to go into the casting room is just relax, breathe, put everything out of my mind that might make me think of what I'm actually nervous about, and just be me for a few minutes. I find that being clear-headed before going in the room can often bring something out of yourself that you didn't know you had.

Fernanda Kelly

Los Angeles; The Young and the Restless, Veronica Mars

When I first started, I remember I would tell my parents, "Oh my gosh, I get so nervous. I get really shaky." My parents were like, "Why? You studied; you know what you're doing; you love what you're doing; just go have fun." But then as you get older, you get more conscious that you haven't made it. At least I did. So it kind of went in reverse: I was over it, then I went back again.

Now, I have this new thing going on where my mouth gets really dry and I can't even speak. So basically I just do breathing exercises right before my audition, I take a lot of water, and I chant in my head since I practice Buddhism. If you have something personal, a faith or something, that can help. But really, at the end of the day, for me, nothing works. It's just being present, having fun, and doing what you do. I think when I'm thinking about everything other than my audition, I get nervous. When I'm present and enjoying it, it doesn't happen.

Trey Lyford

New York; machines machines machines machines machines machines machines,
All Wear Bowlers

First off, for auditions I try not to sweat too much. I dress nicely—blue shirt like everyone else—and then I try not to ask too many dumb questions. Then when I go into the audition room, I tend to sweat too much, feel awkwardly dressed, and the very first thing I like to do to make the room and myself feel comfortable is ask a really stupid question: something that will not only baffle the people in the room looking to hire a confident, no-nonsense actor but a question that will utterly disorient me as well. "Do you mind if I kneel during the scene?" "Will this air prime time or during the day?" "What is your concept on 'with feeling'?" So that is what I like to do for nerves during an audition. I'm working on it, and I have plans to get better at it, I do.

As far as jitters before a show, I just try to stretch them out of me. I will put myself into as many pretzellike positions as I can to force blood into my body and trick myself into thinking I just took a hot bath or got a massage. In all seriousness, I do stretch and warm-up for about an hour in physically challenging roles and less for roles where I'm not diving out of a chair, dancing, and slipping on spilled water. A combination of yoga, push-ups, and sleeping tends to do the trick. Whatever brings a sense of ease to the work.

In general, the best thing I find is to really allow yourself to go out there and suck. It's important to know that the world isn't going to end if you fail. In fact, the work tends to be better for it. I had a professor in grad school that always used to say that: "Just go out there and be bad." You'd be surprised at how much freedom that can give you.

Alexis Raben
Los Angeles;
Miss March, The Invasion

Ideally, I try to turn nerves into character- and situation-appropriate emotions, or at least into excitement about performing.

If I am feeling my heart pounding and nervous energy running through my body, I try to find reasons why my character might be experiencing the same sensations at that moment. Oftentimes the symptoms that we interpret as nerves, which can have a negative impact on our performance, can also be interpreted as potentially useful feelings such as excitement, fear, or anger. So instead of trying to fight what my body is feeling, I try to see if there is a way to use it in a performance. Another thing I find useful in dealing with nerves is making sure I really know my lines. It seems that being shaky on lines can become an easy source of nerves, and that is one that is so easy to combat.

Finally, breathing is a big help. I like to take deep, almost meditative breaths before a performance, and I remember to breathe throughout the performance. I try to remember that nerves can be simply a sign of excitement and adrenaline—both things that make performing such a unique and fun experience.