Casting director Meg Morman of Morman Boling Casting understands why many actors find the audition process scary. Every time a nervous actor walks into her West Hollywood office with sweaty palms and pounding heart, Morman sympathizes. "Whenever an actor comes in, I'm rooting for them. I want them to be fantastic and make me look good," she says, adding that she is always on the lookout for talented, directable actors. "Sometimes somebody will walk in the door, and they just have something special; something sparkles in their personality, and they really shine, and it makes my job very easy. I want every actor that comes in the door to do a great job, and I think actors need to know that. The casting director is there supporting them and hoping that they do well. It's not a situation where you're going in to somebody who is waiting for you to do badly or judging you in that way. [Casting directors] are excited to see you, and they're excited to see you do a great job."
There's another reason Morman is always rooting for an actor's best performance: She, too, was an actor. She majored in theatre arts at Otterbein College in Ohio. "In order to graduate from my BFA program, we were required to do a full-time internship in casting, either in New York or L.A. So I came out to L.A. and interned on the TV shows Touched by an Angel and Promised Land," Morman says. "It was very eye-opening to see what happened in the Los Angeles market and how many actors were here and trying to break in, let alone work regularly. I really enjoyed the casting process; auditioning actors and working with producers and directors to fill roles was a lot of fun for me."
Morman turned that joy into a career. As a casting director, she has built a respectable résumé and become something of an indie casting queen. Her projects include writer-director-actor Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know, which won awards at the 2005 Cannes and Sundance film festivals and elsewhere; Daltry Calhoun, starring Johnny Knoxville and Elizabeth Banks; and this year's Sundance hit Waitress, starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion.
Morman's experience as an actor helps her understand a lot of the issues actors may have on the other side of the casting table. "For me, being an actor, I understand what the nerves are and also understand the process you have to go through to get yourself prepared for an audition or a role," she says. "I've been through the rehearsal process, I've been through the audition process, and for me it makes it easier to redirect and work with an actor, because I understand where they're coming from a lot of the time."
The casting director has found that a lot of actors are too obsessed with making their auditions perfect. "It's not necessarily about making the right choices with a scene with audition material; it's about making a strong choice and being able to adjust," she advises. "I also think what a lot of people have a hard time doing is being themselves, coming in and being positive about being there and showing me that you enjoy what you do."
Not only does Morman believe there's no such thing as perfection but she says the pursuit of it can often be to the detriment of a performance. "I think another mistake that actors make is that [they will] read a scene once and they'll feel like they haven't given their best performance, and so they'll be very insistent about reading it again," she explains. "I don't have a problem with that, because if you're really passionate about it and you really think you can do a much better job, then it doesn't hurt you to ask to do it again. If you're given that opportunity to do it again, then you better nail it. You better do something monumentally different than what you did before and really take advantage of that opportunity."
Like it or not, there will be at least one time in every career when even a well-prepared actor will flub an audition. "It's very easy to tell when somebody hasn't worked on their material," Morman says. But that doesn't mean she's a drill sergeant: "While I expect you to be prepared, I don't expect you to be perfect in an audition." She gives a few pointers on what actors can do to stay in character and not lose their cool: "If you completely lose your place and there's just no saving it, then I think it's fine to say, 'I'm sorry, can I start over?' But if you go up on one line or flub a line, say it a little different than it's supposed to be, it's important to keep going because when you're shooting on film, you can't waste the film. Sometimes they can edit around something. Just because you go up on a line, forget a little line or half of a line, I need to see that on a set you will be able to keep going and then leave it up to the director to say, 'Let's go back and do it again.' Or, 'No, that worked out just fine.' A no-no would be to just stop."
She points out that not getting a part doesn't necessarily mean the actor had a bad audition. If an actor gives a great audition but isn't cast, it often leads to future trips to her office to read for other roles. Morman relates the story of young actor Carlie Westerman (Veronica Mars, Malcolm in the Middle), who didn't land one role she auditioned for but impressed Morman so much that the casting director called her in again, this time for Me and You and Everyone We Know. Westerman got the role of Sylvie, a girl who builds a trousseau for her marriage nearly two decades ahead of time. Says Morman, "When I read Miranda's script, I knew right away that [Westerman's] personality, just who she was, fit that character perfectly. So when I brought her in for Miranda, she was just herself, and she was exactly what Miranda was looking for. It was very exciting to see her deliver that and have Miranda respond to it the way that I had."
Morman says there's a reason the word "business" is in the term "show business." She says, "You have to look at an audition as a job interview, and you have to put your best foot forward. You have to leave [negativity] at the door when you come into an audition room and have a really positive attitude about what you're doing."
She offers the following advice on managing an acting career: "There needs to be a balance between studying the craft of acting and treating acting like a business. You are your business, and you can't forget about the marketing side of the business and the follow-up. Even if you have an agent and manager, you still need to be finding ways to get yourself noticed. Just because you have somebody out there working for you, it doesn't mean that you can stop working for yourself. You need to be in charge of your business."