The 1 Thing You Should Know Before Auditioning for TV

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Photo Source: Courtesy ABC, HBO, Netflix, CW

I was once coaching a very talented young actor who, along with his agent and managers, felt he was so right for a part that he put too much pressure on himself leading up to the audition and ended up disappointed in his performance.

It was clear he wasn’t happy with his audition, so I asked him to show me exactly what he’d done in the room. As soon as he started, I saw the problem. Sure, he may have been “right” for the role, but he had the show’s tone totally wrong. The way he was playing the audition was for a straight drama, but the show actually had a lot of quirky humor and style to it.

You can be the best actor in the world and bring truth to the scene you’re performing in an audition, but if you don’t understand the material you’re playing and if you don’t enter the specific world the story is set in, you’ll be at a loss and do yourself a disservice.

The most important thing you should suss out is knowing what you’re dealing with in terms of the style and tone of the project. If you’re auditioning for a hospital show, for example, there are obvious differences between “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scrubs,” “ER,” and “Code Black,” which means you’re going to interpret each one differently.

“Grey’s Anatomy” deals with high stakes, life or death scenarios like unusual or unrecognizable medical conditions that often parallels the real-life drama of the characters’ lives. Episodes are often punctuated with characters dealing with their flaws and own vulnerabilities as we see their personal dramas unfold. Amidst all this, there is humor and quirkiness. “ER,” on the other hand, is a straight, heightened drama that doesn’t have the same lightness.

If you’re reading for a courtroom drama, “How To Get Away With Murder” is different than “The Good Wife,” which is different from “Suits.”

Government drama? “Homeland” is a pressure cooker show that deals with life, death, and political plots that mirror what’s happening in the world. “The Blacklist” is also dramatic, but its sarcastic leading man allows for humor. Then there’s “Blindspot,” which is more action-based thanks to fight scenes, while “24” has a faster pace and high-intensity rhythm.

If you were going to read for “Scandal,” you would certainly want to understand that the dialogue is Shakespearian or Greek Tragedy-esque—there’s a rhythm and a style to it.

Period dramas like “Downton Abbey” required actors to make choices with the language and physicality since the plots are fictional, whereas “The Crown” deals with historical figures and events. A show like “The Tudors” involves more romance than something like “The White Princess,” which is a high-intensity period drama. “Game of Thrones” is also a period drama, but the acting has a rawness due to the violence and sexuality of the show.

When it comes to superhero shows, know the difference between the lighthearted “Supergirl,” the dark realism of “Daredevil,” and the more stylized “Gotham.”

You would act differently in the mockumentaries like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” then you would in a comedy like “30 Rock.” When it comes to sitcoms, “Jane the Virgin” is centered around one character, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is about out-of-the-box individuals trying to fit into society, and “Modern Family” is an ensemble show about the quirkiness and humanity of families.

Before any audition, it’s crucial to figure out how your character fits the theme and tone of the show. Watch episodes if possible, read as much of the script as you can—really be sure you note the particulars like music, the rhythm of the writing, and the world a show is set in.

Think about “Stranger Things.” Yes, it’s set in the recent past, but it also has elements of fantasy, horror, and adventure, all of which would color an audition to include a sense of urgency.

When you audition, you are in the world where the story takes place. Understanding the tone of the show is the number one asset that will lead to a casting director choosing you over the dozens of other actors auditioning for the same role.

Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!

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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Michelle Danner
Michelle Danner is an acting coach, film director, and artistic director at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, and a Backstage Expert. Her latest movie “Bad Impulse,” a psychological thriller, is set for release later this year. The Michelle Danner Acting Studio in Santa Monica, Calif. is currently offering online classes for actors of all ages, experience levels and from all around the world. For more information, check out Danner’s full bio!
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