How to Get Cast on ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’

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Photo Source: NBC courtesy Michael Parmelee

If you’ve auditioned for”Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” in the past decade, you probably met Philip Huffman, a casting director at Jonathan Strauss Casting. But in the fast-paced world of network television, it might have been a blur. Hopefully, you made a lasting impression, but if not, here’s a little insight on what might have happened, and how it could go better next time.

A typical “SVU” episode has 20-30 roles for a victim, a villain, a lawyer, a judge, plus the smattering of homeless people, crazy people, best friends of victims, and witnesses. Most roles are cast for just one episode, but a handful of recurring roles are planned, and some happen organically, often times because the actor had a lasting impression.

Huffman and his colleagues have seven days to prep an episode.

Day one: The script comes in and Huffman immediately goes through the characters and makes decisions about casting. He releases a breakdown of detailed character descriptions to agents.

Day two: Pre-screening happens all day. This is when Huffman and his colleagues audition actors they haven’t met before, or those they do know, but who might be playing a new type of role. If you are called back after the pre-screen, you will be invited to the producer session.

Day three: The producer session will typically involve the director, executive producer, the casting director, and a writer to audition the selection of actors from the pre-screen. If you haven’t heard anything by day three, most likely you will not be cast in this episode.

Day four: A list of selects come out of the producer session. Selects are sent to the higher creative team. Once the shooting schedule is released, the team will start making offers.

Day five: Casting happens. Not all characters start shooting on day one, so a few characters might be cast a bit later, on day six or seven.

READ: 59 Famous Actors who Have Guest-Starred on ‘Law & Order" Special Victims Unit’

So how do you make sure you get that call on day four?

Having an agent helps, but isn't required.
Auditions are by appointment. “That’s not to say we only see people with agents,” Huffman says. “Agents are our first line of attack, and they make our job a lot easier.” However, Huffman went on to say that if he were an actor today, he would get a camera, some simple sound equipment, and a backdrop and create an audition tape to circulate.

Prepare, but be flexible.
Huffman said the best auditions are when the actors are prepared and know the role, but are flexible with what’s thrown at them in the room. So, if the director wants to see you try a different emotion or take the scene down an unforeseen path, just go with it.

Bring out subtleties, and be aware of the realities of the role.
Don’t underestimate the difficulty of making the lines for Juror Number Four sound natural. Huffman warns against overdoing an audition for a smaller role. “If you play the waiter or doorman, keep it simple,” he said. “I want to feel like you’re not acting.” But, if you are auditioning for the part of a rape victim, “Take your time and dig in,” Huffman said.

Be in the moment.
When actors come into an audition and ask Huffman if there is anything they should know about the part, he would rather first see what the actor’s instinct is before saying anything. “Someone might bring something unexpected to it. That’s great when it happens organically,” he said.

In terms of the performance aspect of the audition, Huffman says he would rather the actor have their sides in hand than be searching for lines. “Be as prepared as possible, especially for the producer session, but have your sides in hand,” Huffman said.

Finally, remember that everyone in the audition room wants you to get the part. “If you look good, we all look good,” Huffman said of the producer session.

If that call doesn’t come, don’t be discouraged, Huffman said. “It’s flattering, actors want the credit,” Huffman said. “But there are still so many actors who haven’t been on this show.” Eighteen seasons later (and counting), there’s always hope for another chance.

Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!