Auditioning

What ‘Jurassic Park’ Can Teach Us About Winning The Role

Most of us remember the scene in “Jurassic Park” when Jeff Goldblum illustrates chaos theory by placing a drop of water on Laura Dern’s hand. The presentation serves to give a clear example of the fallibility of prediction. Each time Goldblum placed a drop of water on the same spot on Dern’s hand, he asked her which direction she thought it would roll. Each time she was wrong. It’s the same with auditioning. Though your starting point might be the same, don’t expect your audition is going to feel like what you did at home, in the car, or in your acting class.

Here are some things I hear actors say: 

  • “I had it memorized in the car.”
  • “I nailed it at home with my boyfriend.”
  • “I nailed it in my class.”

As one should anticipate, the audition is simply going to feel differently in the audition room. This is, in part, by virtue of the fact that you’re in a foreign environment, and partly because nothing is ever the same—as Goldblum’s character so memorably demonstrated. There are a range of factors which can be unexpected or adjusted in the room which you can’t control, and which could potentially throw you from how you felt when rehearsing the scene on the phone with your Mom—whether they have you sitting down or standing up, whether the reader is close or far or male or female. If you aren’t malleable, you’re not going to be able to survive—much like the dinosaurs, to continue the analogy. 

But more importantly, as an artist there’s going to be a sense of disappointment that you experience along with a stunting of development by virtue of the fact that you’re not constantly creating something, but rather reciting something. 

This is a problem because it strips your audition of any danger or real dynamism. Every time you act a scene, you should be living through it in a completely different way each time. 

In my opinion, the only thing you have control over is your start—a really specific, fun and impactful choice (hook)—and the structure you created in preparation. Essentially, this start is akin to Goldblum placing the drop of water on Dern’s hand. You need to hit the proverbial mark that you prepared, but you should honestly have no idea where it’s going to roll. After the start, the rest of the scene shouldn’t really feel like a comfortable pair of shoes. In fact, the more off balance it is, the more it resembles the dangerous uncertainty of life.  

If you don’t have that about-to-fall feeling, I think you’re just playing it safe.  

This leads us back to the “Jurassic Park” scene. If you’ll all remember, the conversation about water droplets and chaos theory took place in one of the Jeeps. But shortly after, all the main characters leapt out of the cars and started exploring past the fenced in borders of the park, where the danger (and adventure) lurked. You need to have that mentality of starting from a strong place of structure (and comfort), such as in the seat of a Jeep, and the willingness to rip off your seatbelt, throw open that door, and head into the uncharted territory, where you don’t know what you will encounter. 

I coach my clients to 110 percent so they can go into the audition room at 100 percent and book the role, seeing it as an adventure and an exploration—not a place to regurgitate prepared material, but a place to take their bombproof preparation, jump off it, and not look back. 

This article was originally posted on Backstage

 

The #1 Way To Beat Audition Nerves In Seconds

Everyone seems to have a method or “technique” for telling you how you should battle your audition nerves. It typically involves trying very hard to convince you not to be nervous, or repeating to yourself that you are indeed worthy of success, or that what you’re feeling is perfectly normal and that you should just “use it.” While I agree with the concept of “using it,” it feels like a superficial solution to a much more complex problem. As we’re all different, there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to redirecting and alleviating your nerves.

It is my belief that nerves can be completely obliterated when you are lit up and under the influence of sharp, impactful, and fun emotional choices.

One of my clients is so nervous and terrified when she walks into an audition room that she can feel—and hear—her heart pounding out of her chest. After helping her find what I call her “hook” or “light up” for the scene, I asked how many heartbeats she noticed. The answer was none. That doesn’t mean that her heart wasn’t racing, it’s that she didn’t notice it because she was dialed in. If you’re focused on your nerves, you’re going to feel more nervous.

What do you think would happen to audition nerves if you fell in love before you entered the room? Imagine if you were getting out of your car, walked to the elevator, time stood still, and for a solid 10 seconds the universe blinked in unison with you as you stood and stared at the person who was undoubtedly your star-crossed lover. You would enter the audition room with a far more powerful emotion coursing through your veins, having communed and finally met your soul mate. This emotion, I assure you, would be way more compelling than any simple nerves you might be feeling. Your preparation needs to be like that. When the stakes are high, your preparation has to be tighter, hotter, and stronger so that it can lift you out of the nerves. It becomes your job to discover what lights you up and turns you on about the scene, thus, kicking your nerves off center stage.

I help my clients go into the room and book the role by guiding them to their hottest and most impactful choices; these choices will unequivocally defeat your audition nerves.

If you feel like your preparation is rock solid and that you have a strong hook to launch you into the scene, but when you get to the waiting room of a casting office or a theater and your heart starts racing, you start sweating or you begin to shake, know that’s OK. You can still do a phenomenal job and you can still book the role. Some actors think that any sign of nerves means that it’s all over—it’s not. If your body starts to freak out, that’s fine. Let your body have its freak out. Wherever you are—in the car, on the subway, in the waiting room, walking down the hall to the audition room—tell yourself, “Hey, I’m having a freak-out.” Don’t fight it and don’t act like it’s the end of the world. Freaking out over your freak-out is the worst thing you can do, as you give your nerves more power and more agency. If you can have a sense of humor about it, it can really help take the edge off.    

Remember also that like a first date, an audition begins the moment casting/producers lay eyes on you, which can often be before you step foot in the room. You start assessing your blind date the moment you see him/her, not at the moment he or she starts talking. And just like on a date, you will give someone a break if they don’t look perfect, but if they radiate oodles of confidence, it can actually make them more beautiful! So radiate those oodles of confidence, particularly because there’s often a chance that the casting team might try to chat you up in order to get a sense of you. That is of course the time to let your winning personality shine (though not the time to try to seem like you are attempting to get them to like you). 

Given those circumstances of audition nerves and the actor now faced with the “conversational audition” before any acting takes place, my advice to actors is to just be yourself, but under the influence of an emotional attitude of great power and confidence. Before walking into the audition room, one of my brave clients lights himself up with the attitude, “I’m the fucking solution to your problem.” Another effective trick to lift the nerves out of your body within seconds is to simply say to yourself, “I already did it, and now I get to go back in and do it again.”

As with anything, confidence comes with repeated success, colossal failure, and years of flying hours. Start to adopt the attitude that, “I’ve already made it,” and live every day as if you’re already having the career of your dreams.

This article was originally posted on Backstage

 

5 Steps For A Legendary Cold Read

Let’s get real: A professional cold read is 10–20 minutes of laser-targeted prep to lay down a winning audition. A properly prepared cold read can have the same impact as a fully prepared audition, where the actor has at least 24 hours of prep time. 

This is analogous to how sometimes a 30-second commercial can make you laugh harder than a five-minute “SNL” monologue. It’s the compelling choices made—not the time and effort spent—that makes one successful and the other not as much. Smart choices make a lasting impact. Labored, inauthentic choices—or those reeking of acting technique—only reflect the misguided effort used to get there. 

Sherri Shepherd, a former student, once performed a cold read in my class where she was reacting to a home invasion, under the threat of imminent death and rape. It was one of the most dangerous and impactful performances I’ve ever seen. She didn’t make the mistake of pasting together a flimsy take on the material after frantically scanning it twice. She took a requisite amount of time, around 20 minutes, to make specific, fun choices and organize her mind. It was remarkable in that—without being off-book—she was so emotionally full (fear, shock, and horror) without once dropping the connection to her reader. She was also an expert at the technical demandsof a pitch-perfect cold read—she effortlessly lifted the text up and off the page. 

The time constraints of a cold read are often the primary challenge that can rattle actors. 

You don’t have hours to repeat your damn lines in front of the mirror, or with your roommate, or to your mom over the phone. You don’t have time to record your practice reads with your phone and watch them back. You don’t have time to sleep on it either, awaking in the morning refreshed with the taste of some inspired choice that will no doubt help you book the job. 

Cold reads are like standing at the drive-through window with eight cars honking behind you. No time to stare into space and think about which acting theorist really touched you the most. Cold reads are the time for steel-edge concerted focus. And even with the dearth of time you can still create a great performance. Just as a drive-through window shouldn’t prevent you from having a great meal, it’s all about the decisions made under the gun.

The 10–20 minutes you have to prepare a cold read don’t prevent you from making specific, fun, and devastatingly impactful choices. You just need to keep a razor-sharp focus—like a Navy SEAL or a trained assassin.

The golden rule of the cold read is the same as any audition: Don’t guess what they are looking for. Assume you are what they’re looking for, and bring yourself to the piece with choices that pack a punch.

Here are five tips to help you prep for your next cold read.

1. Style. What’s the style of the piece? What world are you in? Film or TV, and what genre?

2. Bare-bones relationship. What’s your bare-bones relationship to every character in the scene? No “he’s my friend” answers here! The specific answer is, “He’s my best friend since childhood. In fact, we grew up in the same house when his parents were going through a divorce.”

3. Emotional relationship. What’s your emotional relationship to everyone in the scene? What’s your specific emotional feeling for them?. No “I like her” answers will do! “She’s the love of my life and I’m intensely attracted to her” is what you’re looking for.

4. Context. What’s the context? How do you see the scene? Paint the picture of how you see everything in the scene. Never just “place” people here and there like furniture! The higher art is to ask yourself, “How do I see it?”

5. Hook. Your “hook” is your deeply emotional attitude at top of the scene. My article “How To Stand Out in the First Moment of a Scene” shows how a “hook” can light you up at the start of any scene.

After that hook, it’s blank canvas time. You don’t know what she’s going to do, and she has no clue what you’ve got up your sleeve—moment by moment, talking and listening. 

There are actually two more steps in this process, and I want nothing more to share them with my dedicated and educated readers. I just get the impression my students would lynch me if I gave everything away outside of class, and I see where they’re coming from.  

Even so, if you can make precise decisions on these five choices alone, you’ll be well ahead of virtually the bulk of actors auditioning, creating a smooth runway to launch a soaring audition. 

This article was originally posted on Backstage

 

Taking The Chill Out Of The Cold Read

There are cold reads as they exist in acting class and there are cold reads as they exist in first-project productions (student films and novice production companies). Then there are cold reads as they exist in the professional arena of the industry. 

The first two are rushed with often unrealistic expectations marked by a shoddy understanding of the business. The latter refers to a legitimate/professional cold read: When a casting director, producer, director, or writer hands you a piece of text (audition sides or on-set revisions) and says, “We would love to see what you can do with this material. Please take 10–20 minutes—in your own space—to prepare the piece. It’s a given that you won’t be memorized. The only difference between a fully prepared audition and a winning cold read is that your lines are not memorized. 

Somehow, certain acting teachers and low-budget productions have gotten the idea that they can hand actors some sides, say “take five minutes” (which can end up to be more like two) and expect to see a decent performance. This is akin to an emergency room doctor walking up to an unconscious patient and the nurse turning to him/her, and saying, “Go on, save his life.” Obviously, any doctor, no matter how brilliant, would have to take the time to first determine what was wrong with the patient before taking steps to prevent a fatality. 

More importantly, no doctor worth a damn would allow himself or his talent and experience to be put in a situation so unprofessional that it bordered on absurdity. Actors need to have the same zero-tolerance policy for these unprofessional cold read situations.

There is no professional situation in which an actor would have a script dropped on them and be asked to “act” without being given a minimal allotment of prep time. Dropping a script on a performer and giving them the command “go” takes away their power. It is the responsibility and the duty of the actor to stand up for him or herself and say, “I’m going to need 15 minutes of prep time” with a firm voice and a smile.

Last week, a client described a horrible cold read experience she recently had. She said she felt extremely rushed and overwhelmed. When I asked how long did you take to prepare she said, “They only gave me one minute.” I instantly knew this must have been a first-project production team. No major/reputable casting office or production company would ever tell an actor she only had one minute to prepare previously unseen material.

Thus, if people are going to treat you, the actor, in an unprofessional manner, you need to be the one who puts them in check. This doesn’t have to be done in an annoyed or irritated fashion, as such emotions really just stem from fear, after all, and you’d just be reflecting the emotions projected at you in this instance. By asking this production team or acting teacher for the necessary amount of time, you’re like a kind guidance counselor who essentially reminds them how to treat people. By sticking up for yourself, you’re essentially doing them a favor. 

This article was originally posted on Backstage

 

4 Tips For Owning The Audition Room

Who you are—your personality and lust for fun—defines the results you achieve as an actor, and in every other professional life endeavor. Thus, your personality and capacity to have fun needs to be present and accessible when you’re auditioning, and this needs to start the moment you cross the threshold into the audition room. As many of my producer and director colleagues attest to, your audition starts the moment you walk into that room and not—as many would believe—when you start “acting.”

Do not put yourself into an emotional “state” trying to “get into character” before you walk into the room. If you invest in a preparation that must be constantly stoked, fluffed, and “maintained” prior to the first moment of the scene, you’ll miss every moment leading up to your performance. It creates a scenario where you’re in your head—you’re nowhere close to being in the moment, you’re focused on some end result that you feel you must arrive at and which must look a certain way. 

I see this most often when clients have a scene where they have to cry at some point.The actor often gets hung up on getting to the emotional point of having tears that he or she makes that the primal focus of the scene. It would be like spending an entire first date focusing on whether or not you will get a “goodnight kiss” to the exclusion of all else that may have happened on the date—clearly this is a recipe for failure. You’d miss out on getting to know the very basics about the person sitting across from you at dinner, and would have no idea whether you two had any real connection or not—all because you’re preoccupied with some end result.

For actors, existing in some contrived state of emotional preparation in the waiting room is just as problematic. It prevents the actor from doing the things that might actually help them land the job. 

You’ll miss the opportunity to reveal your personality when you walk in. And God forbid, have a meaningful and fun conversation with the casting director, director, producer, etc.

The whole journey of acting is the act of becoming—if you arrive at a destination the journey is over, and you’ve essentially stolen the experience from the audience by telling them what they’re supposed to feel. 

When an actor forces him/herself into an emotion, not only can the audience sniff out the lack of authenticity (even if the audience is just the camera operator and casting director), they also no longer need to feel anything as you’ve already told them what to experience with the selected emotion you’re trying to cling to and present. You close the space for your audience to feel something you never thought possible. You strangle the moment and cut off blood flow, leaving no room for fun, surprise, or to effect change. 

If you find yourself getting in the dangerous position of clinging to your emotional preparation, here are some points to remember.

1. Walk in with confidence. One of my exceptionally talented master class students walks into every audition with the attitude of confidence, “I’m the fucking solution to your problem.” And, he can back that up every time by making a specific and fun choice. This is comparable to how, on a date, an average looking person can instantly seem more attractive just by the confidence he or she brings to the table. It all comes down to believing in the product of you and having complete certainty that everyone is going to want to buy. 

2. Say hello to the casting director, camera operator, reader, associate, etc. Acknowledge them—however brief—and the work they’re about to do to put your best performance on tape for the director and producer.

3. Don’t be overly chatty or too eager to please Just as it’s important to walk in with confidence and say a quick hello to all the people in the room, it’s also equally important to not walk in with this sense of desperation that you have to win over everyone in the room at the first moment. This often manifests as actors being overly chatty in the room, cracking too many jokes, and awkwardly putting out the vibe of “please like me.” If you walk in with confidence, then you know that they already like you. Furthermore, some casting directors find that an actor who is too talkative at the top of an audition might be too talkative on set.

4. Say thank you and leave; don’t ask for a second read! Make sure you leave your best performance in the room and afterwards simply say thank you. Never ask if you can “try that again.” That shows you weren’t confident in your original choice. Often times the first read was perfect and the second read shuts the actor out of contention. Leave the room the way that you entered it—with cool, collected confidence. It’s the quiet knowing smile that your date flashes you at the end of the night that proclaims he/she knows you want to see him/her again, and you can go in for that goodnight kiss.

This article was originally posted on Backstage

Book The Role (And The Room) In 5 Steps

“I’m not sure if they want me to play this more like, quirky and weird, or more like, dry and sarcastic.”

I hear remarks to this effect from my clients around 18 times a day. In this case, they refers to the casting office, and this refers to the character the actor is auditioning for.

I know I don’t need to the tell the professional actors who read this column that’s it’s not your job—nor is it worth your timeto even let your mind wander near the neighborhood of, “I wonder what the casting director is looking for.” All you need to know is that the casting director is looking for someone to save his or her ass. So, make a fun choice and bring yourself to the role!

As I’ve expressed in other articles, it’s your job to start every scene emotionally full with a precise point of view. These two pillars are at the fundamental base of your choice. 

Every actor who has completed some form of quality training has been instilled with the knowledge that it’s important to make a “strong choice.” Even so, it’s still necessary to take a long look at the interlocking factors that make up a winning choice. 

What is a choice? During the process of breaking down any script and building a character, hundreds—perhaps thousands—of specific and fun choices must be considered and either accepted or discarded in order to determine the exact rhythm of your character’s heartbeat.

Here are five steps to move you forward along the path of making an Oscar-level choice:

1. What is the style of the writing? Asking this question helps you to determine what world you are in. A Sorkin universe, where everyone is educated and ready with a quick retort, is lightyears away from a punctuation and pause-specific Mamet universe. 

2. What is your specific bare bones relationship to the other character in the scene?Say you’re going out for Alex, the supportive friend. No one is ever just a “friend”… they’re your best friend from childhood you’ve known for over 10 years, or they’re the friend from work you’ve known for 18 months that you just hang out with at happy hour on Thursdays, but would never spend time with out in the real world. 

3. What’s your specific emotional relationship with every other character in the script? 

“I like this person,” or “I just met this person.” I can’t tell you how these answers from actors really make me groan. Sure, they’re a good starting point, but answers like these are so vanilla and non-specific; they’re not really going to help you. 

I like this person: OK, if it’s a friend, is there resentment anywhere? Buried? What about envy? Adoration? Emulation? A desire to please? A desire to distance oneself? A sense or worry or responsibility towards this person? Few friendships are as simple as, “I like this person.” Once you get to know someone and really care about them, things start to get a wee bit more complex, even for the most seemingly “perfect” friendships. 

I just met this person: OK. Would you ever sleep with him orher? Sober? No? How many drinks would it take? Do you look at this person and feel superior? Inferior? Do you want to help this person get a new haircut and better shoes? Do you want this person to help you get a new haircut and a better pair of shoes? Think about it. 

4. Where are you specifically located in time and space? You’re never just hanging out with your girlfriend at the mall… you’re the fifth customers in line waiting for a table at the sushi restaurant in the strip mall without enough available parking. You have to pee. You don’t really like California rolls, but you’re going to order one today. If you can’t see where you are,you can be 100 percent sure your audience will have no clue.

5. What am I actively doing in the moment? Forget goals and objectives and hell, let’s even forget the word action. In fact, let’s not even refer to ourselves as actors. Many “techniques” impose upon actors the need to figure out what they’re “fighting for.” When in our real lives are we only fighting for one particular thing? Quite often, scenes force us to experience other people doing things to us or pushing us to feel something.In acting, a reaction is also an action. 

All of these choices will eventually culminate in a final overwhelmingly hot hook: a deeply emotional point of view to ignite the start of every scene. I speak more about finding the “hook” in my previous article, “How To Stand Out in the First Moment of a Scene.”

Remember Krysten Ritter’s very poignant and haunting recurring role on “Breaking Bad?” From the moment her character entered the storyline, she carried the quiet baggage of a woman who was fighting hard to stay sober with the chamber of horrors and complicated familial relationships that interlocked. It was a quiet level of depth that made her performance so lovely and so lingering. Ritter got to that depth, no doubt, by making a series of very specific choices which led her down the iridescent path to emotional fullness and, ultimately, an unforgettable performance. 

This article was originally posted on Backstage