Preparation for commercial auditions for most actors consists of reading the copy a few times, trying to get it mostly memorized, and then going in the room and hoping for the best. I’m willing to wager that around 60% of all actors do this. This is about as effective as watching an episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” in order to prep for an agent or manager meeting. Yet, so many actors do this, and not surprisingly, get little to no results from their commercial auditions, and quickly become frustrated and cynical.
To be fair, it’s not completely the actors’ fault. There’s so much hype and mythology surrounding commercial auditions that actors feel like a mere good delivery, mostly off-book should be adequate for gainful employment. Actors are told over and over again that booking a commercial is “just about your look” so why should they approach such auditions with the same strategic fervor that they would a theatrical audition?
Sure, your look matters, but only to an extent. All major commercial production teams and casting directors treat the commercial like a short scene. And so should you. You should view commercials as perhaps a more authentic snapshot of human life than episodics or film, because they feature real products that most of us already know and use in our daily lives. And while the people featured in commercials have cleaner kitchens and clearer skin than we do, they are still trying to incorporate peace, safety, and happiness into their lives just like the rest of us.
The best thing you can do to launch a commercial career is to join a high level craft-based acting class (many are not—do your research) and learn how to properly break down a scene: line-by-line work, character development, learning how to make winning choices, advanced third reality work, style, etc. The method that you use to break down a scene in class, whether it’s HBO or David Mamet, must be the same technique that you use to break down commercial copy about how American Express has no late fees.
You need to fight the urge to imitate the guy that you’ve seen on these commercials, and focus on bringing yourself to the part. Don’t try and channel the sophisticated guy that drinks espresso and is a sports car connoisseur. Don’t try and imitate the busy mom who loves her kids but is exasperated by her incorrigible husband. You can only be you. Work on commercial copy with the support of a class that helps you bring yourself to the role—while being a busy mom, an espresso-drinker, a frustrated credit card user, a laundry doer chasing whiter-whites. It’s must always be your version of it.
Show them you can improvise. This is one of the biggest nuggets of gold (platinum really) that you can use today to win more roles. So often, I would say 90% of the time, the commercial copy that you are given at an audition, the client just feels so-so about. They really want to see what ingenuity and wit you can bring to it. And if they don’t, they will tell you. This occurs when the session runner tells all the actors in the waiting room, “stick to the script.” Sometimes it’s your job to take the swill that the writers came up with, and make it look awesome—to show them what they didn’t know they wanted.
Getting this vigorous weekly workout is the prerequisite to any successful commercial career, as its aim is to keep you sharp, proactive and at competition level to succeed in this Olympic-like environment. At our studio, we help actors to launch commercial careers and make the impossibly brave choices that win the role. Conquering the commercial beast is another skill in your actor canon of weaponry, and despite so many objections I hear from actors, it can help you become a more powerful, sharper theatrical actor. So many great actors that have come before you have done them, and many great actors continue to do them (often overseas). So be prepared to work, open your arms to welcoming more financial success in your life, and get ready to be excited about KFC’s new grilled chicken sandwich.
This article was originally posted on Backstage