5 Hip-Pocket Tricks for a Successful Commercial Audition

As actors, we sometimes have to breathe life into flat characters. And when you have only 30 to 60 seconds at a commercial audition to create an entire story, you really need what I call hip-pocket tricks: easy, quick, powerful tools to create excitement, leave a memory, or paint a picture in the minds of the "they" who could grant you a gig.

1. Accents

Ask friends and strangers where they think your family is from, then learn the accents of people from those countries and regions. The Samuel French bookstore in L.A. has more than 50 different dialect CDs under $25. Google "learning dialects" and you'll get almost 9,000 hits. There are even YouTube videos about learning accents. You can also study with a dialect coach. No matter what method you choose, you can master everything from the standard American accent to Russian. When you layer a perfectly suited accent onto the dialogue, you could look like a regular Meryl Streep.

2. Lying (as the character)

Jon Lovitz's "Saturday Night Live" character Tommy Flanagan may be funny, but if you're acting in a commercial and you have to lie to your mom about what time you got in or to your wife about her missing yogurt, you might need to apply a lighter touch. This trick is remarkably simple: On the operative words, just close your eyes for ever-so-slightly longer than a blink. It's human nature that we have trouble lying while looking someone in the eye. But as an actor, looking down or away can appear as if you're looking at the script or a cue card. Conversely, never close your eyes when slating your name. To the viewer, it feels like it's not your name or you're just not comfortable in your own skin.

3. Facial angles

Set up a video camera about 10 feet away from you and frame yourself in a head-and-shoulders close-up. Now imagine you're on a balcony looking down at a beach below: Your eyes should be focused on the feet of the tripod, not down at your feet. You're following the flight of a bird: How far to the left and right can you look before the camera loses one eye? How high can you look up before we see only nostrils? For men, learn where your inner psychopath shows up. For some guys, pointing the chin down and looking up into camera works; for others, it just makes them look like a sweet teddy bear. Similarly, pushing your chin up and looking down your nose into camera might bring out your evildoer, or it might just make you look stuck-up. Knowing the angles of your face means much simpler acting is required. Less is more.

4. Fixing a verbal stumble

Even if you mispronounce the name of the product or get a couple words wrong, never ask if you can start over. It makes you look like a scared newbie. Most camera operators are sincerely going to say, "You're doing fine; keep going," which only puts you in more of a panic. Plus, with auditions recorded to DVD or posted online immediately, it's often impossible to erase a bad take. Instead, fix it and keep going. This shows the director that you can do take after take no matter what.

5. Getting a second take

Never ask, "Do you want to see anything else?" After much conversation with the ad agency, most commercial directors have perfectly storyboarded pictures in their heads. So you need to make a specific suggestion—a one- or two-word idea: "Would you like to see it faster?" Or "Do you want it warmer, more intimate?" I'll bet you most directors will turn to the client and say, "Warmer. Yes, let's see it warmer." As though the director thought of it. Voila! You get another take. But you'd better live up to the suggested changes.