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Auditioning, Acting Tip

Auditioning can be a tough process. Standing out during your audition is an even bigger challenge. Yet most actors I know attack scenes in almost the same manner, basing their audition on the words on the piece of paper. If the scenes they’re auditioning for consist of two people arguing, they go right into yelling at the other actor. The best advice I’d ever gotten during training was that we should look at life when auditioning, and even after we get the part.

It’s been awhile since I’ve auditioned for anyone else since I’ve focused on writing my own films, or building up knowledge to implement the marketing that will be required to get it out there into the public eye. I did recently though find myself auditioning for a film, and I can use the sides we were given as an example of what I’m referring to about basing auditioning on the words on the paper. The audition was for a movie entitled Sin City Players being made by Michael Mahal. With the audition we were given several choices of sides.

Some of the sides had props within them. I haven’t seen too many auditions go well when someone mimes a prop. You can always ask if there’s an item in the room to use, in this case a cup, but I hate doing that just out of respect for the directors and not wanting to burden them. After narrowing the sides down based on if they had props and the characters in the scene, I chose the scene with a man sitting in a restaurant. In the scene a woman comes over and hits on him quite strongly, to which he rebuts her advances. As the scene ends, the women walks away, and then after a few moments returns as the man apologizes for being lousy at roleplaying the sexual advances of what was actually his wife and not a stranger.

From what I’ve seen in other auditions I’ve gone on in the past, or even playing these types of scenes in class, I think I can confidently say that most people attacked the scene by rebuking the advances completely. They probably read the scene as a guy saying, “No, don’t touch me. I love my wife.” while the women touched and flirted with him. The catch is, if one plays the scene that way the ending makes no sense. Argument scenes are no different. Everyone yells and wants to be the next Al Pacino, but even Al Pacino knows better. As my instructor use to say, when auditioning or reading a part, we should look to life.

If we think about this scene, we have to look at the ending, and how life plays into it. The words don’t matter as much as where the character is coming from. He’s attempting to roleplay with his wife. Obviously his protests of “No” aren’t really what he’s meaning because it’s roleplaying going on between the two of them. With the apology at the end, again we can maybe take that he’s somewhat awkward in the way the scene plays out. There’s conflict in the character. He’s saying one thing, but attempting another. The words don’t matter as much as the emotional state of the character. In this case he’s saying one thing, but the emotional state is likely meant to be a way to turn each other on in this game of theirs. The conflict itself will make the character more interesting to watch, much more so than completely trying to blow his wife off and then out of nowhere saying the opposite at the end.

So when attacking a scene like this it doesn’t make sense here, or even in life, for someone to be so strong in saying no. It makes much more sense for the character to want to touch back, maybe even doing so and awkwardly removing his hand. It makes sense for him to gaze at her fondly or with want, and then try to hide it in his lousy attempt at roleplaying. I can almost guarantee few people actually did that though if my past experiences are any indication of how people normally attack a scene.

The very same can be said for scenes that contain arguments for the auditioning. The casting directors are forced to hear 90% of those coming in yelling like Pacino and congratulating themselves on a great job. Likely what happens though is the casting director is tuning you out because you just did what almost every other actor auditioning attempted. It may be a great feeling as an actor when you can accomplish it, but is it true to the scene and the character? More importantly, is it interesting? Like Shrek, characters in our scenes are like onions. They have layers. The casting director has probably seen the same layer over and over throughout the day. Why not show him another layer to the character?

In life, not everyone yells in an argument. Some laugh and take jabs calmly with that underlying hate in their voice. Others may have long pauses, because they want to think of the words they’re about to say to do the most damage to the other character. While auditioning there may not be time to hit all those different levels, but it is possible to hit one or two. Once you have the part, an actor can start layering all those things into one based off of the character in the script. Think of how much more interesting you become when you argue differently than what every other actor has done before you, and you’re still staying true to your character but in a different way. When you walk into the door for an audition this is what you want to be thinking about. In essence, when auditioning try to look at the different ways people may do things in life. As a result your character is more likely to get someones attention.

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Martin Douglas
About the Author

Martin Douglas

The author of the novel The Bewitching. Besides writing, Martin Douglas, also spends his time acting, making films, and working on graphic design and video FX. When he’s not working on the creative and fun stuff he can often be found in a Coffee house. His other talents include web design and several programming and scripting languages.

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2 comments on “Auditioning, Acting Tip

  1. T. Santoro says:

    Interesting article. It basically goes back to that old adage of reading all the directions before you start a task. As a director though I think it is important to factor in the expectations of the filmmaker. While it is vital to sell the character, the actor must also sell themselves.

    In the case of my current film an actor came in and pretty much stole the part. They became the character in the blink of an eye and brought them to life. And in the end they did not get the part. The reason for this is they also came in and basically wanted me to revel in their greatness. I complimented their performance and instead of being humble and grateful they acknowledged my compliment as if it was a given.

    Granted some filmmakers will look past this, however I am not one. I am fare and appreciate the work my actors do, but will not revel in their greatness. Sell the filmmaker on your skill, don’t sell them what you think they need.

  2. True. The filmmaker or director has the final say. In auditioning though it is difficult to stand out if you’re reading the scene the same as everyone else. Every character, just like life, has a different way of expressing that. So in a sense by working this way you can stay true to the character, and yet show something different.

    When building the actual character though there’s a slightly different approach I’ve seen that works well. You may play out an argument yelling, and then play it out laughing, and then with the silences and thought. After being comfortable in each, you go back and just let go. If done properly all those parts usually come together to give a wide range of emotion during the scene. The most difficult part is also realizing once all the work is done, you just do it. You let your mind go and get to work. That’s the biggest stickler for actors, the not thinking.

    Personally if I was auditioning someone who came in and showed me this, it would impress me. I’d still want to test them though. If they did it laughing, I may ask them to do the same scene but reserved, etc. It would be a test to see not only how well they took direction, but how well they could adjust on the spot if needed. What I can say though is the scenes in class where these changes were done had more of our group watching intently than those that played it out exactly as it was written. And yes, like you I don’t particularly like working with egos. Best way to walk yourself out of a part. 🙂