Walk in the door to find the lobby full of guys reading for the same role. None of us look alike. None of us are even the same type. Casting the net wide.
The oldest fellow appears to be about seventy, the youngest about twenty-five. One guy has a full beard, another has a mustache, the rest are clean shaven. Two are wearing glasses. Three are dressed in black from head to toe, myself included. Based on the character description, I felt it was the smart choice.
Five or six went all out and are wearing what I would call costumes. That’s the kind of thing that can hit or miss. If you guess wrong, the choice is so bold there is no taking it back.
A couple of years ago, I read for Dracula. Not for the stage, this was for a comedy short. My character gave his name as Dracula. He was a vampire. Named Dracula. So, I wore a long black cloak and slicked back my hair and looked like… Dracula.
Surprise! They didn’t want an actual vampire named Dracula. They wanted an actor playing Dracula in a scene. A play within a play sort of thing.
Today, the guys in costume are taking a chance with the time period. The script is set in the 1960s, but fashion changed pretty drastically from 1961 to 1969. The hippie dippie look can be fun to do, but if the story is set closer to the start of the decade, they will have guessed way off. Among the pencil thin ties and close cropped haircuts. Plaid short sleeved shirts buttoned all the way up. Trim fitting pants a couple inches too short.
Then there are two who look the part in real life. They know one another, so they are probably often called to read for the same roles.
Out comes a cheery, talkative guy who begins to address us. After a few beats, I realize he is the casting director. It doesn’t often happen that the casting director stands in the lobby and gives a pep talk to the actors about to read for him. This guy seems to know most of the actors by name, and which agents they have.
Me, he looks at like he’s never seen me before (he hasn’t) and is wondering why he called me in.
He tells us the entire plot of the film, which is overly generous, since we are reading for a character who is only in two scenes, with a total of three lines. Next, he tells us that when we come into the room to read for him, he’s going to have us play around, improvise, try several different takes. One of those takes, however, should be totally real and natural.
This is what I hear:
“Make your first take totally real and natural.”
Which is exactly what I do. Although I understand that the casting director wants us to be playful and experiment freely at the audition, I also understand the director wants to know I can be relied upon to read my lines in a completely real and natural way on the set. Every take. Should I be hired. After he feels confident that I can do that, then I’ll let him tell me whether or not it is safe to start improvising.
As it happens, when I go in to the audition room, the cheery talkative casting director is not there. He must have stepped out to use the bathroom or something, and I am alone in the room with the brusque camera operator who doesn’t seem interested in being nice to me. For that matter, he doesn’t seem interested in me at all. Until I read.
You know you’re doing well when the brusque camera operator who isn’t interested in being nice is now smiling and being nice. We only do one take for the first scene, so it is a good thing that I had chosen to play it real and natural the first time.
When I read the second scene, he says, “You automatically did what I’ve been telling everyone to do.” He is referring to a little moment I added at the end, when I started to put down a prop, but then changed my mind and walked out of the frame still holding it.
Now he is interested, and gives me some redirection for a second take. I try my best to do what he asks. He seems pleased, and I leave.
This is the best kind of audition. When you can walk away knowing that you either got it right the first time, or were so completely wrong that you never stood a chance of being hired anyway.