Procedural dramas, loosely defined as shows where a problem is introduced, investigated, and solved in the course of an episode, are taking over television. Not only are there more than ever before, but there are more types than ever before. We have crime, legal, medical (three new hospital dramas this season), military, and science procedurals, as well as procedurals that go all season long in the solving of one crime.
In this landscape, you will have opportunities to audition for procedurals more than any other type of show. It is therefore essential for you to have a way of working that allows you to recognize the genre, sub-genre, the type of role in the sub-genre, the requirements of that role, and that also gives you the skills to still bring your singular point of view and voice to role.
Let’s take a brief look at three of the roles most commonly cast as co-star and/or guest stars on a crime procedural, as well as some tips on how to audition for them:
Suspect. These roles are usually comprised of a scene or scenes in which you are being questioned/interviewed by detectives. There are almost always two people doing the interrogating. It’s very important when auditioning for one of these roles to establish different relationships with each of the detectives; it’s a rookie mistake to lump them together. You can tell from the lines if there’s a good cop-bad cop dynamic taking place. If not, it’s up to you to decide, for example, which of the two you find more understanding and who you find more threatening. If you watch crime procedurals, you’ll notice during these scenes the camera spends a lot of time on the suspect’s face, gauging their reaction to each detective’s questions. It is essential they see in the audition that you have the ability to have two separate relationships and two separate sets of reactions.
Continuing on this theme, it is also a requirement that you listen especially well in these auditions. Given that these will be heavily reactionary roles, they will need to see that you can be just as interesting in your silences as you are when you’re speaking. Plus, there’s a lot at stake! If you’re the killer, you have to hear exactly what they’re saying in order to not step in a trap. And if you’re innocent, you need to prove it to them by answering their questions believably. All in all, there are plenty of reasons to be alive and active in your listening when you’re auditioning to be a suspect.
Witness. When you’re auditioning for a witness to a crime, you need to bring a very strong intent to the story that you’re telling. You can’t just recount the incident. If you book the role you will be responsible for delivering the emotional content of the event, as well as the facts. A personal intent that resonates deeply with you will drive you through the description of the events and give the incident a heartbeat. Only then will we believe that it is something truly worthy of an hour’s time to figure out!
Expert. As our detectives move through their investigation, they may seek the help of a forensic expert—a coroner, a professor, a legal scholar, or some other type of expert. These can be really fun and challenging roles to play, but understanding the requirements is essential to giving a job-getting audition.
First of all, you have to be believable in the profession for which you’re auditioning. This means of course, knowing the lines, but also having a sense of natural ease with any of the technical dialogue. If it doesn’t sound like a second language coming out of your mouth, you won’t get the job. When you’re preparing, have fun getting to know the sounds and feelings of the words, from how they feel crossing your vocal cords to where they resonate in your body. If you simply memorize the lines, you’ll sound like an actor reciting. If you take the time to embody the words, you’ll sound like an expert speaking.
Now, in order to bring all of that expert dialogue to life requires that you have a compelling relationship to your job. These roles often have no backstory and little emotional content, and yet you are a person and people come alive in relationship to what/who is important to them. So, really dig into the feelings you have for your job, how secure or insecure you are in it, if you’re passionate or tired, if it’s your world or a necessary evil. Make it interesting to you, so that the words contain the life and weight of the career as you feel it and as the expert lives it.
Also, as with the suspect, the relationships with the detectives are also key. Does the fact that you’re talking to detectives make you feel smug, enthusiastic, creepy, defensive? Which one of them really bugs you?
When you watch crime procedurals you’ll see that the people who book these roles always have a strong point of view on what they do and how they share their expertise to the people in front of them.
These are easy roles to go generic on in an audition—don’t! The information that the expert conveys must be clear and memorable. It’s often the case that the outcome of the show hinges on something the expert said in the first 15 minutes of the episode and the audience needs to remember when and where they heard it. So, while you won’t be going into the audition to put on a huge show, you need to have great commitment to the specific decisions you’ve made for the piece. Your audition hinges on it!
This is just a small sampling of the roles that you could be auditioning for on one particular type of procedural. The larger point is that the more specific the types of procedurals are getting, the more specific your audition work has to be.
The days of saying that a show is simply a comedy or a drama are over. Television today is much more complex than that. The actors who will book in this environment will be the ones whose text recognition skills, technical skills, and creative skills are all operating together at a higher level than they ever have before.
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