Everything You Need to Know to Nail a Chemistry Read

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Chemistry is the complex emotional or psychological interaction between two people. If this were a romantic article, it would be about love. Instead, we are discussing the astonishing rapport between two actors, and how that connection is achieved in order to book the room, and ultimately, the role.

A chemistry read is an opportunity to read with actors being considered for a role opposite yours, usually lead roles. The main purpose is to see how you instinctively connect and work with the other actor. But before you get that opportunity, the casting director must see that potential in your initial audition. For me, that means:

  • Confidence: When an actor is calm and self-assured, it instantly puts the audition room at ease and tells me you’re ready to work.
  • Flexibility: Being open to receiving notes or redirects—and then fully executing those notes—tells me you will be able to take care of yourself with my producers and director (and on set).
  • Connection: Actors utilizing their personal history for key moments or intrinsically connecting the script to something from their past makes me believe this story is also their story. 
  • A sense of play: The actors who were willing to play were more open to adjusting their choices. The result was collaboration in the audition room. So much more fun.
  • An appreciation of the script: Whether this is true or not, once you get the callback, it is likely the writer, director, or producer will be in the room and wants to think you love their baby as much as they do. Be ready to discuss why.
  • A relationship with the environment: People behave differently depending on their surroundings. It always stands out to me when actors change the way they utilize the room and provide specific details to the character. This takes them out of the office and into the world of the character. It draws me in and makes me believe.

At this point, following the initial read and after callbacks with the producers or the director (or both), we collaborate on the best pairings. It is still guesswork, but we have a hunch. We already imagine you in the role. Now we want to see how each actor plays off each other. This is the chemistry read. Allow your best self to show up and be ready to collaborate, not outdo or one-up the other actors. Our chemistry reads included three cameras, and five actors for two roles. So, how did our two leads book their roles?

1. Find the right approach. All pairings had good reads, but each was a different movie. So, the question became, which movie version do we make?

2. Transcend the material. The actors who booked it took what the writer-director imagined and made it stronger. Satisfy the page and then some. Bring your own personal stamp. Allow each moment or beat to breathe—to connect truthfully—before moving on.

3. Put in the work. It is chemical, but it’s also the work. The actors were actively getting (or fighting) for what they wanted from the other, and that’s compelling to watch. They consistently kept ahead of their audience, making us wonder what they would do next. Like any strong relationship, each made the other look better and be better.

4. Calm your nerves. During a chemistry read, test, mix-and-match, callbacks, whatever the situation, there may be a host of nerves taking hold of your body. Take the pressure off yourself and give it to your partner in the scene. You have a job to do. Stick with that. You have done good work. Know that we have your back if you come to the table. The other “stuff” does not matter in this moment.

5. Memorize your sides. People are really on two sides of this, no pun intended. If you’re memorized, you are free. Take your scene and learn it thought by thought visually. This coupled with research and analysis allows more opportunity to discover and share a strong performance. Whatever is occurring in your daily life, do not negate it, but use it to serve the piece. By the time you are at callbacks, you are off-book. Certainly at chemistry reads, you don’t want to be attached to the paper, but rather creating relationships with your fellow actor, director, and the casting director who wants to bring you back for her future projects.

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Caroline Liem
Caroline Liem is a casting director, teacher/coach based in Los Angeles. For the past 20 years, she has cast films, studios features, television pilots, and TV series. She is faculty at Pace University and UT Austin and teaches locally at the Village.
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