Yes, to be a good actor you actually have to know how to act. The funny thing is, before you can really showcase your artistic talents you also have to get the role. This means nailing the audition.
Auditioning requires a very specific set of skills that are usually different to the ones that actors spend most of their time working on. Because of this, and the immense pressure you can put on yourself (not to mention the nerves involved), it is not uncommon to walk out of there thinking you totally blew it. And yet, auditioning is what actors will spend most of their professional lives doing.
So, it is important for the longevity of your career, as well as your own mental health, to not let an audition determine how you feel about yourself as a person/artist. To get you out of your own head, here is a glimpse at what the people behind the camera in an audition room are actually looking for. Here is how a top casting director Tom McSweeney boils it down…
Firstly, whether you like it or not, an audition is about what you look like. This does not mean that all screen work is superficial. It simply means that you should show up to audition actually looking like… yourself! Any crazy or eye-grabbing clothing, hairstyles, accessories and especially make up, is distracting. If the casting agent is focusing on anything other than your performances, chances are you will be remembered for the wrong reasons. Also if you are busy thinking about how you look, or feeling uncomfortable physically in anyway, your mind also wont be in the moment. This almost always translates as bad acting.
Secondly, the audition is also about what you sound like. You might only have five minutes to cold read a script. Whatever the time frame, you better make sure that you understand every single word on the page. Chances are, your character knows what they are talking about, so you better too. Being understood is also paramount. If the producers can’t understand you, they won’t hire you. Remember to speak clearly and annunciate. If you need voice classes, take them. Breathing also helps with calming down your nerves (and stopping you from rushing), as well as having enough air to send whatever message you are trying to send when your character is speaking.
Thirdly, an audition is usually like an interview, or first impression between you and your employer. You will want to reveal to them whether or not you have a brain (let’s hope you do). If you are switched on, people will want to work with you because it will make everyone else job that much easier. To put it in black and white: a scene is basically a conversation. Figure out what kind of conversation you are having. Deliver that type of conversation to the camera. Sure there are victory tales of people making bold choices in the audition room and maybe teaching the bookers a thing or two that they didn’t see before. But, if you have a brain, don’t reach for alternate readings in order to simply stand out.
Lastly, the audition is also about whether or not the people hiring you will want to spend 12+ hours a day with. Or bet X amount of dollars on you. Show up and leave an audition that makes them confident in your abilities. This will actually free you as an artist, because it takes your mind off of yourself. Be likeable. Be positive. Be cool. Don’t be difficult. Don’t let them see you crucifying yourself. And don’t linger.
As Tom McSweeney summarises it, the audition is not about the perfection of the reading, but the unique quality that you have. Remember, there are four components to an audition:
Do you look right for the part
Do you sound right for the part
Do you have a brain, and
Do we want to work with you