Fleabag’s Casting Director on How to Win in Auditions

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Photo Source: BBC. Pictured – members of the cast of Fleabag

It’s a tough time for actors right now, but The Slate – Backstage’s live series of classes, seminars, and digital exercises – will help turn time on your hands to your advantage.

Kelly Valentine Hendry is one of the biggest names in UK casting right now. She’s cast huge TV hits including Fleabag, Broadchurch, The Last Kingdom, Gangs of London, The Cry, and Humans. Her company, KVH Casting, definitely knows British talent and where to find it, so if you want to know how to bag your breakout role, this is the woman to ask. She recently spilt the beans to us during a live Q&A for The Slate, revealing all about her career, what she looks for in new talent, her self-taping tips, and the best audition she’s ever seen. Here are just some of the take-outs from the film:

On the importance of your agent’s rep
“I do not care where someone comes from, agency-wise. There are obviously the big ones, and they tend to have some of the bigger clients. However, they’re quite often the people who don’t find the talent in the first place. We love the big agents, but a lot of the young, up-and-coming agencies are scouting the drama schools outside of London, youth groups, you name it – so that’s where you’ll find the surprises.

Will you have a better shot with your career with a bigger agent? There’s no denying that that would be true. But loads of actors are still with their smaller agencies and never left, so it’s what works for you. If you are getting the meetings then you do not need a better bigger agent!

On getting in touch with casting directors directly
“Write a very clear message on the subject line of what you’re applying for and just be as simple as possible. You don’t need to think about it too much. For example, in The Last Kingdom, which we’ve just had picked up, just be sure to say – if you happen to be Scandinavian – you put: Scandinavian six-foot-five actor re. The Last Kingdom. I’m definitely opening that because I’m running out of big, strapping Vikings! So, just be clear in the subject matter, keep it short, simple and specific. The blanket kind of email [that says] ‘I would be right for…’ is where you’re going to fall through the gaps. Be specific about how you’re unique!”

On auditions and self-taping post-COVID
“Self-taping is an opportunity and I think everybody just needs to jump on board. It’s not going anywhere, especially in the current environment, and it’s only going to get bigger. Attempt to perfect your self-tape but don’t think about it too much. That’s how you’re going to get jobs.

People who don’t have agents should be very keen on self-taping. If you get in touch in the correct manner – I just mean politely, at the right time – and you can get your self-tape to a casting director then you’re off!”

On her best self-tape tips
“Bearing in mind I’m getting thousands of tapes, so sometimes, when it’s really badly done, I just think: ‘You know what? It’s not worth it.’ I don’t want that going up because, even though [the client] knows it’s self-taped, it’s still me that’s presenting it.

My tips? Personally, I don’t like white backgrounds. They don’t make you look as good. You want a blue or a grey, and you want to light yourself. You want to make sure that your sound is really good, and have your readers stand a little bit away from the camera because you want to just hear them. Sometimes, readers are terrible, and it genuinely does distract. Quite often, directors will watch with headphones on and they’ll have really good headphones that pick up all the extra noise. It doesn’t take much for things to annoy people.

On an actors’ best strategy for a callback
“On a callback, they liked what they saw, or I liked what I saw. So, the director will want to see if he can direct you. They’ve already liked what you’ve done. Great. Stick to that. I’d even suggest come in wearing exactly the same.

Now, the following is such an important bit of advice which is going to sound so obvious, but it is single-handedly one of the reasons that people don’t get the job: it’s that you can do a blinding audition with the directors – then I ask you to do it again and give you a couple of little notes. If you do not do those notes, after the person leaves they say: ‘I love their first tape, but they don’t take direction.’ Just make sure you change it as asked – just listen and make sure that you do that. Get good at it.

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