Coming out of seven weeks of pilot season lunacy (this year it hit us all hard and without mercy), and with so many actors struggling in the audition room, it has become even clearer to us what books work and what doesn’t. It may not be what you think.
There’s an actress whose work I’ve admired over time, without actually knowing what she was capable of. She’s worked a good deal, but never made it onto my list of favorite actors (a list of not famous, but ferocious actors). A few weeks ago, in the midst of another exhausting 16 hour day, uninspired auditions, and the rantings of pissed off agents, I learned that a role in our pilot had come to the attention of this actor; she really wanted to read for it. This is not a role I would have thought of for her, but her interest was keen. Over the years, when I’d seen an actor have that kind of clarity about a role when others didn’t see it (remembering Glenn Close in the Fatal Attraction casting process), I’d always believed that it was worth honoring that actor’s conviction. So I agreed to read the actor.
And then she showed up and did her work. I was blown away. I was so struck by her personal and specific connection to the story, by her bravery, and by her tangible enthusiasm for the process of working on the material. She was deeply in it. She was ferocious. She claimed it. And it was palpable. It was a high for both of us.
I quickly introduced her and only 3 other actors for the role to the producers, writer, and director. They had the same experience. So did the Studio and Network. And she was cast. What normally is an excruciating process was made painless by the undeniable work of an actor who was willing to fight for a role, one she knew others might not have seen her in. An actor who took ownership, who came in to work, all in. There was no denying her. This is what we call artistic leadership.
It’s this kind of work that is required to get the attention of stressed-out, sleep-deprived casting directors who are desperate for someone to show up with guts and Olympian-sized muscle. It’s this kind of work that makes an actor stand out from the throngs of actors tripping over lines, wiping sweat from their brows, walking into doors, fearing that this one audition will make or break them. It’s this kind of work that actually books a job.
It’s about you entering the arena ready to play, ready to fight, ready to work. If they’re going to put 5 million dollars of their pilot money on you- working on a compromised schedule with a crew they’ve never met before and so much on the line- the creative team HAS TO KNOW that you do not need anyone to take care of you. Rather, that you’ll show up on set like a pro, like an Olympian, at the top of your game. That has to be evident in your audition. The Studio has to know that you’re the kind of actor for whom a “test audience” at a mall in Nevada will cheer and help get that pilot picked up. You have to be able to deliver your lines effortlessly, no matter what the jargon, no matter how much little you’ve had to prepare. You have to be able to drop into the moment with ease, with command, with total access. You have to show up with the full force of your talent. If you don’t, there is somebody else who will. And that person will be cast.
This kind of work requires that you bring a personal part of yourself to the story. And there is no time more opportune to claim the role than when a script is in its infancy. Nobody really knows what any role is until an actor takes ownership of it, no matter who wrote it or is directing it. And no matter what the breakdown says. You cannot play “a thousand mile stare,” or “the smartest person in the room.” But you can find that sweet spot where the role resonates for you personally, where the story matters to you deeply, and where you can bring your truth to the circumstances.
When you show up in a casting room doing bold, personal work and give yourself permission to play for keeps, you distinguish yourself from 90% of the actors on the schedule. You decide that for those few minutes, this role, this story, this work is yours.
However anxious you are, however unprepared you feel, whatever you think is at stake, all of those big feelings have to be channeled into the work. That energy is only useful if it becomes the motor for the work itself. Wanting the role must become wanting something in the scene. Needing the job must turn into a deeply driven need for someone in the story to give you something. Being validated and loved does not belong in your relationship with the casting director or producers; instead, it has to find its place in the story you’re telling. And here’s the thing: we will adore and champion you– grateful and in awe- if you do the kind of work that actor did a few weeks ago, the intimate and gutsy work that booked her the pilot. And when you do, the molecules in the room shift, the air is changed, the crazy desperate world outside disappears. We lose ourselves in you. We fall in love. And from that place, and that place alone, actors get cast.
You are in full command of your experience, and in many ways, of ours. The work is yours. The job, well, it’s more likely yours if you claim it. And if not, you’ve claimed your acting practice and your own self-worth, which is the most important thing.
What do you have to do to be in this kind of shape and in this kind of practice so that you can work at this level, so that you have a real shot at booking the job?
We want you to be ferocious. Check out these classes to make it happen.