Casting: The Day of ‘The Fight’

Written by Tutor Simon Furness.
There’s a plethora of books and opinions on the subject of casting. What follows here is not a list of do’s and don’t but rather some views derived from the ceiling of my vast experience of…..not booking jobs! From which I could probably have earned more in book form than I ever have from acting.
What I’m interested in these days though is what happens before the audition or casting, just as much as what happens in it, since I feel the former may condition the latter. Cause and effect. So if we desire a happy outcome, then the causes we create for that outcome are important. 
I read of a story about a boxer who had a match in London. He lost the fight as it happened and he was asked at what point he lost it.. ‘Leicester’ he replied. I take it that he lost the fight in his mind somewhere between Leicester and London. He still fought the contest though. That’s what makes a boxer. 
So how can you maximise the opportunity of these all too rare in-person meetings, whether for screen or theatre projects?
Prepare. Obviously. But what? And how? Whether for theatre or screen, ensure you’ve been sent the correct sides to learn/prepare. On at least two occasions now, as a result of checking, I was sent extra sides at the last minute. The production office/casting department had forgotten to add on the attached sides or at the last minute decided to give me another role to prepare. Here are two things: production/casting will never explain or apologise for things like this so don’t waste your energy on seeking or demanding either. Taking responsibility for mistakes is not something people do readily, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Life is chaotic and the acting industry is no exception. Instead suck it up, rise to the challenge. If you can handle changes like this, you’re likely to be able to handle bigger ones when and if you get the job.
Since castings come late or not at all, often, then what’s required in the case of theatre is what’s referred to as ‘familiarity with the script’. This is because theatre dialogue is denser, less permeable than screen dialogue on the whole, there is more to read. They rarely require you to learn the dialogue but for heaven’s sake, check! Familiarity with the script means you should be ready enough to look down, take as long as you need to memorise the phrase or sentence, so you can look them in the eye and let ‘em have it. And if you’re not doing the talking? Then you should be listening. All the way. To the end of their bit. Before you look down and grab your next bit. All that takes practice so make sure you do. Over and over again. Aloud. Preferably with another human who can read. That way you’ll be practising truly listening and responding. All that preparation will help soak up the fear on the day. A football match is won or lost in the dressing room not on the pitch.
I also take ‘familiarity’ to mean knowledge of the play (so read the WHOLE play not just your scenes). Find out too about the  production company or theatre and the director’s other work. As you would with any other job interview. Which is what a casting or audition is. The acting bit only accounts for about 50 per cent of your audition so the time you put into reading the play and researching your potential employers is time well spent. 
Additionally give some thought to your point of view about the character you’re being considered for-but be prepared enough to do it their way too if you’re asked. The ability to adjust seamlessly to whatever is thrown at you on the day is a major component of professionalism.
As far as screen acting preparation goes, it’s as above except: you’re almost certainly expected to be ‘off book’ with the lines. They’ll want to put you on tape and they won’t get the best view of you if your head’s buried in a script. It’s not the best view of me that’s for sure.  As far as screen acting goes, the eyes have it. If you don’t believe me, film yourself for a few moments on your phone (looking just past the camera lens not down it) and you’ll see how much your eyes – and your face generally – give away whilst you’re doing apparently nothing. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Until you have dialogue: So learn your lines. Aloud. Over and over. Then you won’t stumble when you get to your all important speech beginning ‘I’ve got a date at 845 on the Balls Pond Road’. 
With screen auditions,  you’re unlikely to be able to read the whole script. It isn’t a finished article in the way it is in the theatre. There are re-writes constantly and characters appear and disappear from one draft to the next. But you can still find out via the internet all that’s necessary about the director’s work and the production company.  As well as…yes…knowing your lines and knowing what you want, who from and what’s just happened.
Regardless of the medium, prepare answers for those deceptively innocuous questions they throw at you like: ‘What did you think of the script?’ (be careful how you answer that one: especially if you thought it was rubbish! Remember that whilst your opinion is valid it’s just an opinion.) These scripts been worked on for months maybe years by one or several writers. Some of whom might even be in the room as you dismiss their efforts in an attempt to sound jokey or spontaneous. So prepare your answer but not so well that it sounds premeditated. 
Another favourite is ‘What have you been doing recently?’. If you’ve been out of work for 5 years, tell them what you have been doing instead. Honestly. Genuinely. I’m not sure how genuinely they are interested in your answers to these questions: as much as anything else, they’re a surreptitious means of finding out what you’re like when you’re not ‘acting’. In the case of the theatre, that’s very useful if they’re thinking of paying you to share a rehearsal room with them for 4 weeks! That’s less of a problem in film and television where the interaction with a director can range from minimal (a small role in a film) to non-existent (in television). In these media, rehearsal is predominantly for the crew not the actor. There’s simply no time for in depth discussion of character motivation etc. Thank God, because a lot of that’s a waste of time.
So much for the script work but that’s not the whole story. Never underestimate the power of the getting the basics right: a good nights sleep the night before and a foolproof travel plan for reaching the audition venue early. 
Don’t be on time. Be early. Travel in this city can be a nightmare: you don’t want to spend the coming days or weeks silently blaming TFL for your late arrival to a meeting you should have been early for. As far as excuses go, it doesn’t cut it. Yes, your agent can phone ahead to advise the casting director of your delay but now you’ve thrown the entire schedule out and they’re paying by the hour to rent that Casting room or Spotlight casting suite. Not the best way of being remembered in future by them, or your agent who had to make that phone call on your behalf.
So: congratulations. You’ve reached the audition venue early. That’s good because it gives you time to get a cuppa there or nearby and generally suss the place out. Sign in with the assistant at the front desk. That’s part of the audition by the way: casting teams often ask the assistant at the end of the day what actor X was like when he arrived. If you’ve been rude, nonchalant over friendly or talked to them whilst buried in your mobile phone screen, that useful human information will find its way back to the people who matter. 
You’ll likely be sat in a waiting area with a bunch of actors who resemble you, be dressed like you, actors whose work you admire, actors whose work you don’t, maybe even actors who are your friends. It’s tempting to waste time with too much chatter at this point,  on the assumption that you are dispelling your own nerves and theirs. The  opposite is usually the case in my experience. So get out of the room if you can. Sit or stand somewhere quiet but nearby if possible. Notice your breath. In. Out. Slowly. Or the pressure of your toes on your socks. Pay attention to the body and the breath – and not to all those thoughts of superiority or inferiority which crowd about. But don’t go too far away: in case you have to dash back late, having lost track of time and now having blown the advantage you had in being early!
Next time, I’ll get into the room and what happens there. In the meantime I hope you get into the room too and hopefully these words have been a help to you getting there. I’ve done most of the things you’re not supposed to as far as auditions go and I might even be older than you, so I trust this may save you time. And by time I mean years. Be well.
For many smaller and even supporting or lead roles in film, actors are required to put themselves on tape. The technical requirements of these have been covered elsewhere by others and I’ll leave that to another time. The self taping trend has also been extended to theatre castings – a dubious application in my view since the two media are so different.
But what of the casting where you have to go in in person and meet the casting director for the particular project for which they need your help.
This last is quite important: it’s easy to forget that a casting director has a role to fill: they believe you can help them solve this problem. They’re therefore hoping that you’re the answer to their prayers. We must therefore prepare ourselves not to go in and get the job but to do the job. Bryan Cranston puts this very eloquently in the famous YouTube clip on this subject see below..

If you’re struggling to get into the room why not join our Business of Acting Workshop which will help!
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