How To Audition for Background Work

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Photo Source: Colleen Hayes/NBC

Sometimes producers ask casting directors to hold auditions for background actors. I know that may not seem necessary since an extra is a non-speaking role usually placed in the background of a scene. But, believe it or not, we may still need to screen talent through an audition process based on the role’s requirements. Why is it necessary to hold these auditions and how can you prepare? Glad you asked!

These auditions, sometimes called “look-sees,” are different from auditions for speaking roles in that the real key to getting booked is all about a specific look, age, or type for the project. We’ll generally put a call out for specific types of talent or someone with special abilities as referenced in the breakdown. If you fit those criteria and are interested or available, then by all means submit your headshot to be considered.

To get cast, it’s imperative to be keenly aware of your look and how aligned that is to the way people actually perceive you. It’s also important to make sure your headshot reflects that look since that is who you’re submitting for consideration. Most importantly, and this is where a lot of talent falls short, you need to look like your headshot. If you don’t know what your type is, then ask your friends and peers for their ideas on what roles they’d theoretically cast you as, such as police officers, blue-collar workers, lawyers, etc. Knowing how you come across is a huge step that could book you work as an extra or otherwise!

What should you expect at these auditions if there aren’t any sides? The audition is usually a quick meet and greet session with the casting folks. You’ll hand in your headshot and résumé, we might take a quick selfie, and we’ll confirm your union or nonunion status. Be prepared, though. We could even videotape you. “Wait,” you ask. “Isn’t an extra a non-speaking role?” That’s true but we may ask you to improvise a scene out of the project, especially if it’s for a featured background role. Get ready to be in the moment with whatever situation we throw at you. 

A few months ago, I was casting a national shoe commercial and we were looking for five to six featured background actors for an airport scene. We ended up auditioning a handful of specific types after selecting them from headshots that were submitted. At the audition, talent had to improv a scene where they were waiting in line at the security checkpoint. For me, I was looking for talent to find their own private moment while they waited in line. The talent that was creative and could improvise what that situation was really like for them were the ones the client liked best. Ultimately, we ended up booking talent that was great at improvising. 

How do you prepare for these types of auditions? I’d recommend taking improv classes, which are a good idea for any role, so you’re able to take direction and think on your feet in the moment. Most often than not, being a background actor is also about being able to blend in and not bring individual attention to yourself. 

So, remember to know your type and look, and be sure you actually look like your headshot. But most importantly, just be yourself. That's what we're looking for anyway!

Looking for remote work? Backstage has got you covered! Click here for auditions you can do from home!

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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Melanie Forchetti
Melanie graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in acting. She worked at Writers & Artists and at The Firm, a celebrity management company. She is the former Head of Casting of Mike Lemon Casting, having cast over a thousand award-winning films, commercials, and television shows for networks such as Netflix, Amazon, CNN, Oxygen, and Investigation Discovery among others. Currently, Melanie is Head of Casting for Forchetti Casting, LLC in Georgia.
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