Solving the Mysteries of Callbacks

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Being called back for a role can be both exhilarating and exasperating. You’re one step closer to getting the job, but you also have more pressure on you to make any necessary adjustments, deliver a solid performance, and ultimately win over the casting team. To help you on your journey, we asked for feedback and advice from industry professionals pertaining to each stage of the callback process.


Are callback auditions good or bad?

Callback audition

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Good, with a caveat: A callback audition means the casting director wants to see you again. But while it’s a big step toward being cast, it doesn’t mean you’ve landed the part just yet.

“Sometimes performers are called back because a person in the casting room asked for them—everyone else is certainly willing to see if the actor can bring something new to his reading, but they didn’t necessarily need to see him again,” says director-producer Seth Gordon. “Sometimes we’re calling actors back to see if they can make a specific adjustment. Sometimes we’ll call them back because they weren’t feeling well and we know they can do better at the callback three days later. Sometimes you’re calling people back because you want to see two actors read the same material back to back. Sometimes we truly want to see something else, to see if something new happens, to see if there’s more that you can learn about that actor in the role.”

Who gets called back?

Someone who is the right type: “It is usually obvious who should get a callback,” says casting director Michelle Carroll. “A lot of times it comes down to a matter of type—is someone the type that they are looking for? They usually need a special type, depending on the role.”

“It depends on the project, but in many cases it’s very clear who is most right for the role and who fits the vision,” agrees casting director Stephanie Klapper.

Someone with presence: “It was an all-over presence I was looking for,” says filmmaker Lauren Berger. “I needed to see that the actors had an idea of where these characters I created were coming from. And I could see an understanding of what was going on. Just watching them, I knew which actors could be which character.”

Someone who captures the material: “Usually what makes me want to call a person back is that what they’ve done captures the material in the way that I envisioned it, and the way the playwright envisioned it,” says Gordon. “There’s no way anybody can know in advance, which I guess is part of the magic of it and part of the vagary of it.”

Someone who seems easy to work with: “Aside from the obvious points of being talented and skilled and good and hard-working, the actors we call back have to be really easy to get along with—no high-maintenance actors,” adds producer-performer Michael Criscuolo.

How many get called back?

A handful of actors: “Usually three to five actors out of 20 to 25 people who audition” get called back, according to Carroll. 

“We were casting five lead characters for our independent film,” Berger says. “We saw close to 50 actors, and called back three people for each role.”

“Sometimes it’s just two or three actors per role, and sometimes it’s a lot,” Gordon notes. “Usually we call back anywhere from two to five.”

Or an unlimited number of actors: “There’s no limit,” says Klapper. “Usually you want to have a good selection and a few choices, but you don’t want to cloud the issue.”

Who will call me back?

Casting directors: “The casting directors make the offers for the parts,” Carroll says. “We call the agent and say, ‘We want to offer the part to your client.’ ”

“The casting director tells the agent or manager, both of whom should work in concert to further the career of the actor,” manager Sue Schachter agrees.

When will I get called back?

Usually within a few days: “Usually it’s within two or three days,” says Schachter. 

Possibly up to a week: “On rare occasions you can hear back a week later or even longer,” Schachter adds.

“Depends on how quick it has to happen,” Carroll explains. “Sometimes we’ll tell the actor on the spot, in their initial audition. If the callback is for that afternoon, we’ll tell them immediately. Other times, if it’s maybe for the next day, or if we don’t make the decision on the spot, we’ll call the agent. If the actor didn’t come in through the agent, we’ll call him directly.”

What distinguishes screen and stage callbacks?

Actor audition


Timing: “The biggest difference is the time involved,” says Carroll. “You usually spend three to six months casting a film, whereas we’re casting a TV episode in eight days. You can give a lot more lead time on film appointments, and you see them more times. For major roles in films, it’s not unusual to have a second callback. Theater has a longer turnaround time—usually you have about two to three weeks to cast a theater project.”

“Every project is different,” Schachter concurs. “Theater sometimes requires the casting directors to go on talent searches for weeks or months at a time, so you won’t know until sometimes six months or a year later.”

Who will be at the callback?

Producers: “The producers were at every single audition I held—the actors joked that it was like going to network,” says Klapper. 

Directors and possibly writers: Callbacks are “attended by the producer and the director. Writers come in occasionally, but not very often,” according to Carroll.

What should I wear to callbacks?

Whatever you feel comfortable in: “It doesn’t matter what they wear—it’s the reading that matters,” Gordon says.

How can I prepare for callbacks?

Practice: “I’m looking for actors to be even more prepared than they were in the first round,” Klapper says. “Hopefully they have read the completed script, and perhaps they can develop a little more depth about what they are doing—that’s always exciting.”

“When I’m directing a play, the only thing I’m concerned about when actors read again at the callback is a tiny bit of progression or growth from the last time I saw them, whether it was an hour ago or a day ago or a week ago,” Criscuolo adds. “Just something that indicates to me that since I saw them last, they looked over the script or the sides and maybe found a couple of new things.”

Focus on the text: “We prefer they don’t try to memorize—that doesn’t show them in their best light,” Gordon advises. “They shouldn’t try to be off book; they should focus on the text and their performance.”

What should I expect at callbacks?

The same material: “The actors read the same material from the audition, unless the script has been rewritten,” Carroll says. 

Reading with readers: “We don’t have actors read with each other; they read with readers,” according to Gordon.

New combinations: “At the callback, we had them read different scenes from the audition, and we had them read together in different combinations,” Berger says. “We did screen tests as well; seeing how characters look together onscreen was very helpful.”

What adjustments should I make at callbacks?

Follow instructions: “If there are special instructions, they will tell us, and we pass the information on to the actor,” says Schachter.

“If there’s an adjustment needed, we usually give the information to the agent, or give it to the actors directly when we call them with the callback appointment. Also, if the casting director sees an actor make a wrong choice or go in a different direction than the director wants, the actor will be told,” Carroll says.

When do I find out if I aced the callback and got the job?

As soon as possible: “Usually if it’s a TV series or a film, you’ll find out way ahead of the shoot date,” Schachter says. “If it’s a commercial, you usually find out a day or two before. But they give you as much notice as they possibly can.”

Any final advice for actors regarding callbacks?

actor audition

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Be prepared: “The biggest piece of advice that we usually like to give out is: Be prepared, be on time, and be pleasant,” Carroll advises. “It’s a high-pressure environment, and it’s in the actor’s best interest not to add to that pressure in any way.”

Be confident: “Just be confident,” Berger says. “Whatever happens, happens.”

Stay the course: “Just go in and do the same thing [you] did in the audition. Be polite, say ‘Thank you,’ and hope for the best,” talent agent Eileen Haves says.

Persevere: “If you don’t get it, don’t be disheartened,” Schachter says. “Because the fact is, if you got a callback, you’re on your way. After you get a series of callbacks, you are usually just around the corner from securing something wonderful.”

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