Industry Experts Weigh in on What Actors Need to Book a Commercial

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Commercial acting jobs can be a great way to buff up your reel (and wallet!) between gigs. They can also be the bread and butter of your being as an actor. Whatever the case may be, there are things you need to know about this specific form. From auditioning to materials, we touched base with industry and Backstage Experts on their most crucial commercial acting advice.

For commercial headshots, broader is often better.
“Are you the upscale luxury car driver or the college student compact car driver? What is your authentic age range? Are you the stylish hipster phone commercial type or the nerdy, quirky office type? As always, you want to show unique qualities in your headshot. But, keep in mind, commercial headshots are really about that broader appeal.” —Marc Cartwright, L.A.-based headshot photographer and Backstage Expert

Imitation is lethal in commercial acting, too.
“You need to fight the urge to imitate the guy that you’ve seen on these commercials, and focus on bringing yourself to the part. Don’t try and channel the sophisticated guy that drinks espresso and is a sports car connoisseur. Don’t try and imitate the busy mom who loves her kids but is exasperated by her incorrigible husband. You can only be you. Work on commercial copy with the support of a class that helps you bring yourself to the role—while being a busy mom, an espresso-drinker, a frustrated credit card user, a laundry-doer chasing whiter whites. It must always be your version of it.” —Joseph Pearlman, acting coach and Backstage Expert

Get comfortable busting the fourth wall.
“In commercials, a lot of it is just expression and personality if there is no dialogue. You break the fourth wall. A lot of times, you’re talking right to the camera. You have to be able to create that space. What I teach in my workshops all the time is how to be in the moment. A lot of people just aren’t prepared to be in the moment in commercials, and then they don’t know how to use the camera.” —Stuart Stone, casting director and author of “The Keys to Commercial Acting”

Practice with a product you actually love.
To be believable in a commercial, [actors] should take a product they use every day that they know and love and do a commercial for their product. That’s when you’re being real, because you use it! Then transpose that into the product that you’re doing. We can see whether you’re telling the truth or you’re lying. We don’t want to see [that]. We want to believe you.” —Ellen Jacoby, Miami-based casting director

Your demo reel is everything in commercials.
“These days, a demo reel is just as important as a headshot when it comes to securing the next opportunity. Think about getting into a room with someone you have never been in with. A reel isn’t only used to seek out representation, but to show casting directors firsthand exactly what you have done and what you can do. I like to keep my reel short and sweet.” —David Banks, L.A.-based commercial actor

Your off-camera demeanor matters, too.
“The company may be hiring you to be the spokesperson for their product. Be likeable and genuine. Find a moment to bring some humor into your audition. Advertising sells to the consumer. What better way than with wit, charm, and a bit of fun.” —Denise Simon, acting coach, career consultant, and Backstage Expert

Live and breathe the “focused play.”
“As a commercial actor, when I walk in the room, I take a breath and look forward to meeting some new people and playing a little bit. Just me, fully enjoying myself in focused play for three to five minutes. What a treat! For Lending Tree, I walked into the callback room and saw numerous people, a camera and monitor, and a man holding a green Muppet-like puppet.

“ ‘You will be reading with Lenny (the puppet),’ ” the man behind the camera said. I busted out laughing and said, ‘Super!’ I was the first actor, so the director re-directed me to do the commercial about five or six different ways. It was a blast!! Lenny, the puppet, improvised with me (or as we say in the commercial world, “We made it our own”). I booked it! That day ‘my thing’ was the ‘the thing’ Lending Tree was looking for.” —Amie Farrell, on-camera scene study teacher, actor, director, and acting coach

You're ready to book a gig! Check out Backstage's commercial audition listings!