Apologies for the vulgarity…but it’s true.
You sometimes sit in your car afterwards…shell-shocked, trying to understand what just happened. I don’t know a single actor without audition horror stories. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment – but I find it hilarious to look back at some of these sticky situations. When you decide to be an actor, you really have no idea what you are getting into. You picture the work…not the process of getting there.
Some days being an actor, even an actor between jobs, rocks. Some auditions are gifts. You are on THE LOT, you have reserved parking (these small things can feel like lotto winnings when they are rare). It feels glamorous and ‘old-Hollywood’. You feel part of something important when the project is one you WANT to be part of, with people you are excited to work with. The character speaks to you and you KNOW you can not only do the job beautifully, but you can bring fire to the role that no one else can. You can bring the character to life, and surprise even the writer and creator with your connection, insight and delivery of the material. You feel like a warrior who is conquering. When you nail an audition it is magic, – like real magic where you transport someone to another place and time and can bring them to tears, turn them on, scare them, take their breath away, get them to laugh or to REALLY SEE YOU like they hadn’t before you created that magic. It is incredibly fulfilling, validating and POWERFUL. You feel invincible – because, when you truly connect, you can not make a wrong choice. Everything you do sizzles with heaping spoonfuls of YES(!) and they can’t get enough.
….but many auditions are an exercise in humiliation.
They say actors go on more job interviews in a week, than most people do in a lifetime. With the stakes being this high and the odds being against you, the pressure is on. The wins can be epic…and the failures can be spectacular.
Add this to the fact that auditions are freakin’ weird – and you have a recipe for disaster.
Auditioning and acting are two very different skills. In an audition, you are reading with someone who is usually not an actor and is just sitting in a chair next to the camera, feeding you all of the other characters lines, often monotone, and completely unengaged with you. There is no interaction between the actor and reader, no props, sets, costumes or anything to ‘fill’ the moment. Just your read. For chatty dramatic scenes, or witty comedic banter this is cool… for complicated action scenes, or really any scene that involves any action – this can be absurd. Picture saying your lines while simultaneously pretending to be skydiving, or being killed, or worse – having sex, and you start to picture the cringe worthy event that is an audition. Not to mention you are trying to do the best you can with this crazy situation while your ‘audience’ (casting director, writer, producers, director etc) may be eating lunch or texting or looking through a stack of headshots (“No keep going”, they’ll say. “I can see everything you are doing” What? No you can’t. Not properly.)
Side note: (I am amused and horrified that they have started including footage of auditions as part of DVD commentary…as mentioned above, sometimes it is magic, but sometimes even for A-listers who were brilliant in the role, the auditions just feel sad and humiliating as they stand there pretending to fend off an invisible attacker using the sides as an imaginary knife. WHY are they showing the world this crazy part of the process that doesn’t make anyone look good??)
Sometimes auditions are the 7th circle of Hell.
(Most) actors aren’t mimes, so the potential ridiculousness of this advanced level of charades can’t be underestimated.
Picture for instance, you must convince us you are driving a car through a fiery inferno and shooting a gun, after being stabbed in the neck by the alien in the passenger seat, and simultaneously disarming a bomb in the glove box- all while delivering a dramatic I’m sorry/forgive me monologue in a South African accent over the phone to your dying wife that should leave us in tears. Don’t forget that the stakes are enormous, not only is making your mortgage on the line – but this is one of those roles in a major project that could take you to the ‘next level’. And ACTION! That audition may leave someone in tears, but between you and casting, it’s probably not casting. It’s you in your car afterwards as you think ‘what the eff am I doing with my life’.
Auditions are spinning the roulette wheel. You never know what you are gonna get. And whatever that is, you show up and do the best you can with what you are given. After 15 years working, I still have auditions arrive and think ‘what am I supposed to do with this material’? How can I pull this off without looking like a complete asshat?
I have endless examples of audition material that is heinous and embarrassing…. But instead I’ll focus on the situation itself. Regardless of the material, auditions can be insane. Here is a sampling of crazy things that have happened when I was auditioning….and btw, these are not tiny projects…this is the real deal stuff.
Being in the waiting room, thinking you are on a final call back for a project – but overhearing the casting director in the next room, on the phone discussing how they already hired someone for this job, but called you back in because they want to put you on tape, to show the actress they did hire, what they would like her to do. Yes, this happened.
Being asked to audition in a famous producers living room because they didn’t want to come into the office. Getting there and having to do a dance routine (expected, as this was the role of a dancer) but almost being attacked by the large pet Doberman Pinscher who interpreted my high kicks as threatening to his owner. Yes, this happened too.
Being asked if I could be taller, have bigger boobs, if I could pass for Eskimo, Iranian, 15, 46, if I could bring additional funds to the project, if I could get some of my famous friends interested, – or this one – if I wanted to be set up on a date with their brother. Umm, what?
Having the reader suddenly try to inappropriately touch me or kiss me in the scene. #ewww Not threatening, just not acceptable!
Having the reader who was suffering from an obvious hangover, stand up, walk across the room and throw up, in the middle of my read. Yes, for real.
Having the casting director lose it during my audition – just start sobbing, and that turning into me counseling them on the divorce they were in the middle of.
Having the sprinklers in the building go off . Yep.
Having my car stolen from the studio valet. (Returned about 30 minutes later when they realized I was looking for it…it was ‘borrowed’ to go pick up lunch. What? Yes.)
Having the casting directors dog throw up. I tried not to take that personally.
Having the reader make it all about them – trying to book a job they aren’t even in the running for. This backfired on them, but was awkward for all of us.
Or this one…I recently auditioned for a project where they were casting two characters in the session – the character I was going in for…and ‘Missy’ a transsexual. I have to admit, I was intimidated by how stunning most of these ‘Missy’s’ were in the waiting room. So, I walk into the office for the reading and should I be offended or complimented by the fact that the CD started reading me for the Missy role? I chose to feel quite fly.
There was a show (no longer on the air) that had a bit of a love affair with me. They brought me in 17, yes you read that correctly – seventeen– times in 2 years (15 times straight to producers) and never hired me. Things like that blow my mind. So close, yet so far.
Or this gem: A friends of mine was testing for a huge new series and was thrown out of the building at the final callback for network because the company president was offended, and found it disrespectful that he was wearing flip flops instead of ‘real shoes’ to audition for his project. (the flip flops were appropriate to the beach-bum character, and worn at each previous audition, btw)
Sometimes the frustration comes after the fact-
I had a producer come up to me at an event a few years after I had auditioned for his series. He was excited to come up and re-introduce himself and tell me the ‘funniest story’ about how “He loved me at my audition and wanted to cast me as a lead role in his series, but they lost my photo and couldn’t remember my last name and eventually gave the part to another girl. But it wasn’t that big of a deal, the series only lasted a year. Isn’t that hilarious!” No, that’s not even a little bit funny. You and I have totally different definitions of what qualifies as amusing. Would you excuse me a minute while I go cry in the corner? Thanks. Even if he was exaggerating…that story sucked.
Being replaced at the last second after being hired, when they found a bigger name to take the role. Ouch.
You never know what is behind the door. It may be your dreams coming true. Or it might be fodder to entertain your friends over dinner. The absurdity blends into one giant kaleidoscope of mayhem that you have to wear like a badge of pride to avoid being sucked into a downward spiral. Luckily, the moments you covet, the ones that really stick to your ribs, are the ones where the magic happens. Where you hold the audience in the palm of your hand and bend them to your will.
Fresh faces – actors just off the bus, with no expectations, (and no resume) book more than their fair share of work. I imagine casting is often attracted to the girl who is just happy to be there and doesn’t care what she is asked to do. She’s game for whatever and doesn’t know any better. It gets more frustrating as you get older – you have less patience with the gamble of what is on the other side of the casting door. You feel you’ve paid your dues and have less tolerance for the goofy experiences you feel should be far behind you at this point in your career….and I’m sure that can occasionally feel off putting to those in charge.
I was chatting with some girlfriends the other night – swapping war stories – and we all agreed we had a bit of a chip on our shoulders that had built up over the years from dealing with so many strange and disheartening experiences.
We came up with a new motto: We are cashing in our chips!
Leaving our chip(munk)s behind:
Starting fresh. With renewed optimism and eager to play. Just don’t ask us to mime.
Want more audition horror stories? Check out this great show: http://www.worstauditioneverblog.com/
Or the fantastic documentary Showing Up at http://www.showingupmovie.com/
Bonus thought: *Chipmunk on your shoulder is much cuter than a chip.