This year at Sundance Film Festival 2016 I attended a panel about “the art of casting” hosted by Richard Hicks who interviewed acclaimed casting directors Jessica Daniels, Jessica Kelly and Stephanie Holbrook. I asked them a question at the end in the lines of “what do A-list actors do different to everybody else that make them so good at their auditions?”. Their answer was that, despite that they don’t audition for the most part, when they do, they prepare little for the audition. Instead they just bring their profound sense of honesty and they apply it to the knowledge they have after reading the material a few times. They are so organic and natural as you see on the screen, but at this point, they are letting the material affect them for the first times. Obviously once they book the part (or they are offered the part), they start working on their R&D (research and development) of their characters. We all have heard of the 10 binders Daniel Day Lewis compiled for the character of Lincoln for the first meeting with Spielberg.
Inside the audition room
- First, you will have an organic experience with another human beings, who often is the Casting Director and the casting associate. Your only presence in that room is changing the environment and the energy compared to when you were not there.
- Secondly, you are there for a job and that creates a dynamic between them and you.
- In juxtaposition, you are there to read for a role and the imaginary world you are going to interpret has nothing to do with that room, those people, you the actor or the job.
As an artist all that complexity has an emotional effect on you. Reading the material creates emotions: the finer the artist, the finer the emotions. Creating emotions by remembering those lines and saying them out loud requires yet a finer artist. If those emotions are not there, you are just saying lines. If you are not being moved by it then you are just coming off as someone who can’t connect to the artistic work of a writer. These Casting Directors will simply pass on you.
Your most honest emotions are a combination of these 3 elements during an audition, specially our natural instinctual emotions of being in a room with others and the weight of getting the job. Ask yourself during those moments, how do I really feel about this? Honestly, what does this room, these people and the lines I’m reading actually make me feel? Do I give a shit? Do I actually feel compelled? How do I actually feel about it? — and just say it that way, because that creates a chain reaction of emotions. To trigger the first moment make a strong emotional choice and adopt a body language in accordance with that you feel about the material at that point. Then just say it the way you really feel, because nobody tells you what’s the right way to say it. It’s your way.
My audition sides started like this:
Hey, you did an awesome job. Tonight you outdid yourself.
One time I felt calm, the second I felt excited, the third I felt compelled. It was different every time. The argument went different the six times. All of them felt right. What I was feeling in my living room every single read was honest and true. If the director asks me to “be more happy” it’s up to me to interpret what the other person is giving me (or not giving me) adding my imagination to feel “more happy”. But If I can’t just “be happier” from an honest point, I will just keep feeling whatever I feel in that moment. You can make me do things to create that reality starting from a physical action. Stop what you are doing right now. Stand up and shake your arms in the air as if you were cheering in a big stadium. If I start jumping and shaking my arms in the air — do this now for 10 seconds — my body reacts and I feel excited. Yeah… now I am excited!!! (jump if you haven’t done it). Now, when I start my new read I will say things excited because that’s what I’m feeling right now after shaking my arms and jumping. If I’m calm sitting on the couch and I suddenly I say a line like “woohoo I’m excited!”, that’s fake. So after reading that first line excited, I will start to calm down and my next line will be more calm: “nice show last night”. I will say it with an excited tone that’s gradually coming down. Do exactly what you feel because that will be always honest. The audience will believe it. The director on set may tell you I want you to be “more angry” or whatever, don’t listen to that note.
The preparation before the audition consists on understanding the material beat by beat and plant emotional landmines on them. I borrowed this term from my acting coach Anthony Montes with whom I study at James Franco’s Studio 4. For each emotional change you have to find what that means to you. Maybe it’s something you relate to or you use a substitution. After you understand everything and you have an honest emotional reaction to the story beat by beat, you let it go. Do your preparation before going in the room to read and let those emotional landmines explode by themselves as you express honestly what you feel in that moment. You have given meaning to these words and you are expressing yourself how you feel right now. Like now, I’m craving coffee and I’m angry because I become irritable if I don’t have my dose of caffeine. That’s how I feel, but If I have to tell you “I love you”, I will say it with a mix of feelings starting with love coated by this irritation that I feel for the lack of coffee. I just said “I love you” how I humor it right now. Is it honest? Yes. Is it truthful? Yes. Is it wrong? No, but maybe they don’t like your “performance” for bringing that feeling they may not be expecting. Ok, then, instead of thinking of that cup of coffee I didn’t drink, I’m going to think of puppies. Puppies and bunnies. Twenty puppies and bunnies right here around me jumping and playing with each other and cuddling with me. That’s kind of nice. I feel my mood just shifted. I imagined them in detail: look, sound, smell, touch…soft and… “I love you”. I just said my line coming from a loving feeling. It’s not because I love the casting director or his/her assistant. It’s because I felt something when I thought about those puppies and those bunnies.
I didn’t have to force it. I got in the mood and I said it.
It’s that simple.