What a Casting Director Says in an Audition vs. What They Mean

By Marci Liroff

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

Do casting directors speak in code? Have you been kept up at night trying to decipher what they mean when they say something innocuous like “Thanks for coming in”? I’ve been trained to be both honest and inspiring at the same time, and I want to help you in your craft, not rain on your parade. With that in mind, here are a few of the responses you may hear in the audition room, and what I actually mean when I say them.

“Thank you very much.” Means just that: Thank you for coming. I’m not sure if I’m calling you back.

“That was good.” Again, just that. I don’t mince words, so if I say your audition was good, I mean it! For other CDs out there, they may not know what to say and they’ll just resort to this one, too.

“Interesting take.” This can mean one of two things: It was interesting, or I’m being kind. “Interesting” could mean it was actually in the wrong direction from what the role is calling for, and I’m getting the impression you don’t have a good grasp on who the character is.

“Good adjustment.” If I like what you’re doing, I’ll give you direction or some adjustments. I want to see if you can take direction, or if you’re locked into the performance you’ve planned. Sometimes, I’ll give you the wrong direction just to see what you’ll do with it. Directors will also do this to see if you’re listening to them and if they can work with you.

“Thanks for your preparation.” I see a great number of actors each day for meetings and auditions, and it always blows my mind when an actor comes in and isn’t prepared and full of excuses as to why he’s not ready to be in front of me. When an actor comes in off-book with strong choices for the character, I like to thank them for how thoroughly they prepared. I know it seems odd to thank someone for what should be a given, but I like to give praise and encouragement whenever possible.

“Let’s try it again like this.” You’ve probably heard “Make strong choices.” What this means is that you have to bring something to the audition, not just recite the lines.

If you make strong choices for the character but they’re going off in the wrong direction from what we’re looking for, I’ll work with you to get it right because I can see you’re a smart actor and I want to help refine your performance.

“Thanks for your audition, but you’re not right for this.” If I like your work but you’re clearly not right for the role (you don’t look like the family I’ve already put together, or you don’t match with the woman I have cast opposite you), I want to praise you for your work and let you know, from the horse’s mouth, that you’re not going any further in this process. It’s not because you did something wrong, but because you’re just not right for the role. That said, remember that casting directors have amazing memories and take copious notes when casting a project—we will bring you back for the next project if we see a good fit! 

“I’m going to call you back to read for my producers and director.” This means I like what you did in our preread and you’re ready to go on to the next step. You may have brought in the performance we want and I want you to come back and do the same thing, exactly. Or we worked together to bring your performance to what I know the team is looking for. It’s at this point that many actors make a mistake. They get coached between the two auditions and completely change the performance. I’m not saying don’t get coached; I think you should always get coached for your auditions! Just make sure to clue your coach into the notes that the casting director gave you in the audition so that you can replicate it for the callback.

“Don’t quit your day job.” For the record, I would never, ever say this. Anyone who does is a dream killer and shouldn’t be working in casting.

Make sure to check out my 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.

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To Be(off book) Or Not To Be(off book) – That Is The Question: 4 Hot tips For Success


By Marci Liroff
Many of you ask me if we expect you to be off book. For the first audition, we expect you to be completely familiar with the material, have read the script if available, and have made distinct character choices. You can look down at your sides for reference. But, as you come in for call-backs 2 and 3 times, and certainly for any test at the network or screen test on a film – yes, be off book.  You can still hold your sides if you need to, but be off book.  As you know, competition is SO stiff, and if the next guy is more prepared than you, then it doesn’t make you look very good.  For us, your behavior in an audition is indicative of how you’d be on the set.
Why would you NOT want to be as prepared as you possibly can? I always say, THIS IS YOUR JOB PEOPLE! Why would you come in and do a “sort of good” attempt at the material when you can be GREAT?! You’ve spent years training, you’ve done the work, you’ve studied, now go out there and be as fabulous as you can.
Being off book allows you to connect to the person you’re reading with. It makes your audition look more authentic because you are PRESENT in the scene. When the actor is continually looking down at his sides you sort of break the spell that you are trying to create. As the viewer or reader, it takes me out of the scene when an actor is reading off the page or continually looking down at his sides – usually at a crucial moment in the scene.
Being off book means you are going to be on your toes when that rare moment comes along and the director actually gives you notes in the room and asks you to do it again. Yay you! It means that he/she actually SEES something in you that makes them want to see the scene again with their re-direction. It means they want to see if you actually CAN take direction. Because you know the material like the back of your hand, you’ll be able to LISTEN and weave those notes into your already fine-tuned and thought-out performance because you’re not struggling with the lines. Currently I work with a director who is very articulate in “actor speak” and he’ll give you 10 notes on a scene and expect you to integrate them into it. Try that if you don’t really know the lines? Your head will explode!
Hot tip #1: Hold the sides in front of you. Turn the pages along with the flow of the scene so that if you do get lost, you can easily dip down and find your place and continue along, with ease and grace, and we don’t have to stop and start over. If you get lost – how you get back on track is also something we look for. If you have a total meltdown and start apologizing and freak out and dissolve into a puddle because you got lost or have to start over – that gives us pause because we wonder how you will be “on the day” if you aren’t handling things well in our little office when the meter isn’t running yet! We’re all human, we make mistakes. How we handle them is the key.
Hot tip #2: Holding the sides also shows the executives (network and studio) who are watching this audition outside the room, that it is a work in progress. It’s not a finished product. You can’t imagine how much they all scrutinize your performance. Since they’re removed from the work space (our casting office) they sometimes forget that we’re still playing – this is not a finished performance. When they catch a glimpse of the sides, it plays subconsciously into their viewing skills and reminds them that – oh yeah, these aren’t dailies. It’s subtle but it works.
Hot tip #3: Your memorization skills also come into play when you’re actually shooting. I cast a tv series last year and I couldn’t believe how often lines were flying-in as we were shooting the scene. Both producers were writers on the show and they were changing-up dialog while shooting. If you don’t have this skill-set now, go get it! Develop it. It’ll be the sharpest tool in your bag that’ll take you a very long way in this business.
Hot tip #4: Have you ever been given a scene and the other person in the scene has a long speech and they skip over the whole speech and just read the last line?! You’re all prepared to be listening and responding to the speech and they’ve jumped ahead and you’re totally thrown. Ask FIRST before the audition starts if we’re going to be doing this whole speech or all this dialog within their speech – then you’ll know whether they are going to skip over it or not. I usually advise my coaching clients to ask the CD or reader: “Can you please read the whole speech as it’ll help with my reactions?” Good idea, huh?
For me – one of the key elements in an audition is whether an actor is LISTENING. Whoever these CDs are that are skipping over large chunks of dialog so that they can get to your lines are SO missing the point here. I love to see the look on the actor’s face as he’s comprehending and reacting to what the other character is telling them. 
There are many ways to memorize lines – you have to find the system that works for you. Practice. You can learn a scene or a monologue every day and it’ll help your brain start to become comfortable with this process. Here is a long list of ways to learn lines. There’s also a great app called Rehearsal  which is great for memorization along with other wonderful bells and whistles. Figure out which one works for you and start sharpening your skills. 
In closing, please know that we’re not just looking for the actor that can memorize all the lines. That’s just one very small part of your performance. How you interpret the scene and the character and make it your own is what we need to see as well. Along with knowing the material well, you’ve got to be able to change things up if/when the director gives you adjustments. I see some actors get so locked-up in the way they’ve rehearsed it that they can’t make any changes. We need to see that you will be able to adapt to any changes that come along. 

You can read a version of this article on BackStage Magazine.

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