By Marci Liroff
A few years ago I was casting a film and a teenaged girl came in to read for the lead character. I knew she was somewhat green because she didn’t have many credits and minimal training – but she had an intriguing look. Since I had spent quite a lot of time with the director in the week’s prior, I knew what we were looking for based on his feedback and the feedback of the producers who watched all the auditions thus far.
We had worked on the scenes in a very thorough way. When I work with an actor in a pre-read or coaching, not only do we break down the character and go through the script for clues, we also talk specifically about what they can do in the audition room to help the filmmakers see them as the role. We talk about questions they can ask, what to wear, and for the women, their hair, make-up and clothing. This role (and one of the scenes) was very physical and we had chosen a physical training scene to see how the character could move by showing us simple sparring moves while reading the dialogue.
When we rehearsed the scene in the initial audition, I could tell that she was coming from the wrong place emotionally – at least wrong for what we were looking for. I re-directed her and shaped the performance and her objectives so that it would be more in the direction of what the filmmakers were looking for. She had worked out an elaborate kickboxing routine (including dropping onto the floor and springing back up) to show-off her kickboxing skills. I told her this wasn’t right for the audition setting and wouldn’t work on-camera, and we simply wanted to see her spar – if she got the part we’d train her for the fight scenes.
The day of the audition she came in looking like a teenage version of a Bond girl. Hair coiffed and curled, make-up just so, and high-heeled boots (we specifically said no high-heels when we gave out the appointments).
She wanted the role so badly she had worked herself up into a nervous frenzy and came off so desperate that she could barely speak and truly wasn’t herself in the audition.
She then went through the scenes and did exactly what I told her not to do. Her scene objectives and choices were the exact opposite of what we’d worked on. Then we got to the sparring scene. Like we always do, we instruct the actor how we want the scene blocked – just some simple sparring moves and no elaborate physicality. Instead of what we just told her to do, she went into the kickboxing routine. The scene was about the dialogue and the relationship between the two characters, not about a choreographed routine. The director was less than pleased. I was so disappointed that she didn’t follow my directions from the other day – along with the director’s on the day.
She begged to come back to prove that she could do it. She pleaded that “this character was her – she knew it in her bones.” Because I love that sort of passion from an actor, I said I’d read her again – without the director this time. I worked with her again to get her back I shape. I told her exactly what to wear and how she should look: leather jacket, flat boots, jeans, and a sleeveless top to show her arms. I was so excited to see what she would do now that she had another chance to prove herself. She came back wearing a long-sleeved blouse that was not form fitting, thigh-high boots with heels and, very long and full false eyelashes. Not the look of this character at all. Not what I had explicitly requested based on the director’s wishes. Again, her reading was off.
When we talked it over a week later she told me that she had also been going to her acting coach. She figured more information and guidance could only be a good thing. Her acting coach was giving her info that directly contradicted what we were looking for and basically undid all the work that we had done together.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to your acting coach for your auditions. Hell, I’m an acting coach so that would be ridiculous. I’m suggesting that if you get specific notes and direction from your casting director at your initial audition, make sure to integrate that into your coaching sessions and alert your coach if he’s sending you in the wrong direction.
Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.