5 Ways to Dig Deeper for TV + Film Auditions

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In film and television, it’s not always the best actor who books the job—it’s the best auditionee. Many great actors find the audition process daunting and stressful. Even Sally Field, a two-time oscar winner, had to audition twice for her role in the film “Lincoln.” If only the studios and networks knew that we were legends in our living rooms!

To help the powers that be see what we are capable up, here are five tips to help you “show up” when it matters most: when the pressure is on in an audition. (And check back in a couple of weeks for a second round of helpful tips!)

1. Expand your empathy.
The word “audition” can make actors feel like their work is about to be evaluated as good or bad. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress and pressure of having to deliver a performance in a small room to people who may or may not know your capabilities and talent. This is an easy trap that we can fall into. Suddenly, the most important thing isn’t the character’s needs and wants, but “doing a good job!”

Instead, remember that the audition is an opportunity to experience someone else’s situation through the character.

Most of us were drawn to acting because we are intrigued by the human experience and have great wonder about other people and what it is to be someone else. So create empathy for the character and the situation he or she is in. Even if it’s two lines as a paramedic in a medical drama, those two lines offer an opportunity to get a glimpse into what it feels like to be this person and have to deal with what they face every day. This creates a stronger purpose for being there in that casting room—to live in their shoes for a few minutes.

With this approach, you expand your artistic empathy by treating every audition as an exercise in human empathy. (Getting the job is a nice bonus.)

2. Structure a strategy.
Auditions can be last-minute opportunities with little time to prepare or properly investigate the material, so it’s useful to have a strategy in place when time is limited. Recognize how you work as an actor and create your own checklist. Are you someone who needs to know the lines back to front? Do you need to prioritize intentions and wants? Are there certain accents you need to have on standby? Is there a certain technique you use to prepare?

We don’t necessarily have a choice as to when we get to perform or to wait for the moment of inspiration to hit; we’re are assigned a day and time, which means that having a strategy for creating the most dynamic work you can given the time you have to prepare is crucial.

A useful exercise is working on mock audition sides and giving yourself a very short amount of time to prep. Film the “audition” and then play it back to get a sense of what comes through. You’ll find by doing this you can identify which are the vital and essential steps in your personal audition preparation.

READ: The Importance of Specificity

3. Prepare to play.
For many actors, getting an audition can make them feel like they have a major exam coming up. The minute the appointment time and sides are sent through, they go into study mode and life stops until they leave the audition room. Some actors like to spend hours memorizing lines, others may do imaginative or emotional work around the material. There is no right or wrong way to prepare, but you should always find the way that is fun for you.

How do you know if it’s fun? It should compel you to want to be around the material and play with it. If you feel you've forgotten what fun is, try this: Put down the material and don’t pick it up unless you’re found a reason to do so that is joyful and enticing. Put it back down when it starts to feel like arduous homework and ask yourself, “In this moment, how could I work in a way that would be more fun?”

You may discover that going for a walk, listening to music, or daydreaming about the character is fun. Maybe it’s watching a movie similar to the story you’re exploring. Or perhaps fun can be found in making silly videos as the character. The point is to find a sense of play in the preparation.

4. Connect and care.
Often times, we audition for roles and projects that may not personally excite us. The bigger motivation in these situations is employment and money. But it’s our job to be a multitude of humans in a multitude of human situations. When we get an audition we don't relate to or even find interesting, it offers a great chance to dig deeper and find a way to connect to the character and care for their concerns. There are many tools designed to assist here: personalization; as ifs; substitution, etc. But the bottom line is when it matters to you, it also matters to the audience.

When actors work out what it is the character wants in a scene, I often follow it up by asking, “What do you really want?” Sometimes, what the actor wants is to not have to audition or to just get the job. But when you begin to care for your characters and their circumstances, the audition takes on value and a purpose beyond just getting the job.

Think about the character as a living person and how you would feel if someone had your life to play with for a few minutes in an audition room? This kind of thinking can create a care factor that we may otherwise bypass when getting the job is more important than the creative material.

5. Cultivate curiosity.
There’s a lot of research to suggest that many of the world’s most original thinkers have a deep sense of curiosity—they challenge the status quo and look for other possibilities. When actors receive audition sides, the typical approach is to read them over to get a sense of what the scene is about and quickly interpret the sense and meaning.

But originals go a step further and explore other options in additional to the literal. As actors, we must challenge our initial interpretation of the material and get curious about what alternatives there are. Even if they’re eccentric or ridiculous, spend time thinking about what other choices may be possible. Even if you go back to your first choice, at least you have explored the potential. In this place of curiosity, you just may discover a unique and different moment of behavior or way of delivering a line that otherwise would go unnoticed.

Check back soon for part two!

Put these tips into action and check out our 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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Les Chantery
Les Chantery has taught acting since graduating National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in 2003. He recently launched his own studio, The Actors Station, where he runs screen testing workshops and classes.
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