7 Indie Stars on the Best Audition Advice They’ve Received

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The Gotham Awards ceremony last week was teeming with the industry veterans and the stars of this year’s most-acclaimed independent movies. It was fair to assume, then, that it was a room full of people who know their way around an audition room. Backstage took some time to ask attendees that ever-helpful question, “What is the best advice you ever received about auditioning?” Read their answers below.

Alia Shawkat (“Search Party,” “Transparent”)
“A really good friend of mine who’s a great casting director told me, ‘You have to remember that the casting director wants you to get the part.’ Even if you walk in and you’re not the right type, they want you to do the best job ever, and it’s hard because when you walk in they’re just giving you this kind of dead face: ‘And impress me.’ The truth is, they’re like, ‘We want to see you do so well.’ It’s not, ‘You’re going to fall on your face, I bet you can’t do it.’ That’s always what I used to think, I was like, ‘I’ve got to impress them.’ And really it’s like they want you to do good.”

John Carroll Lynch (“American Horror Story,” “The Founder”)
“To have a ‘fuck you’ attitude. I think the most important thing that I employ is the two minutes you’re in the room or the three minutes or five minutes, whatever it is, is your opportunity to act that day. You don’t have another one. So act. And then go home.”

Michael Stuhlbarg (“Call Me By Your Name,” “The Shape of Water”)
“Know your material as thoroughly as you can, particularly if it’s a film or television audition, so that they can see your eyes. It makes a lot of sense to me because I was terrible at auditioning for years, and, you know, I guess it’s important for them to see you think on camera.”

Carla Gugino (“Gerald’s Game”)
“One of the great pieces of advice I was given early on, and it’s really affected me, is, don’t dress or do your hair or your makeup in a way that you think is what they want to see in the role. Do it [so that] you feel the most like the person that you’re playing. And the second one is when you’re in that room, it is your part. So you’re not trying to get it. It actually is your part. That is what I do tell a lot of young actors, because I think that’s the key: In that moment it’s your incarnation of that person.”

Jason Clarke (“Mudbound”)
“Trust yourself. Once you walk in that door, you’ve either done the work or you haven’t. Don’t sweat it. Not everything is going to be for you today. Auditioning is very tough. Always audition for yourself. It’s very hard to appease anybody in an audition—and you want to, as an actor, please your director—but an audition is a totally separate issue. It’s a very tricky thing. I never was any good at auditions. It took me many many years to be comfortable in feeling open enough to keep doing it in front of people. And I became resentful about doing it in front of people. When you work with a director you trade that trust. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Work hard on it, go in there, throw it down, and leave.”

Lois Smith (“Lady Bird,” “Marjorie Prime”)
“Well, I guess finally that it’s yourself. No matter how the character may be—different, the same—you’ve got to bring the self with it too.”

Michael K. Williams (“Hap and Leonard,” “The Night Of”)
“The best advice I ever received for an audition was from my theater director and mentor Mr. Mel Williams. He told me, ‘Mike, never try to create a character for an audition. Keep it clean and keep it closer to who you are. Keep it truthful. But, you know, it’s just three or four pages...just keep it honest to what you know your truth would be in the said situation. And after you’ve created your decisions, don’t sew up that turkey—keep the threads open just in case they want to rip it apart and send you in a different direction.’ And the most important thing: Have fun.... And read Backstage. Backstage still has good gigs.”

Check out Backstage’s film audition listings!