I have quite a few friends who are professional actors and even the ones who are seemingly very successful are still going up for auditions whether they be for television shows, plays or commercials. It seems to be the case that unless you are Hollywood A-list, you still have to prove your worth via the audition process time and time again. I have certainly enjoyed the acting jobs I have been involved in ranging from independent short films to the Belle&Sebastian TV show Write About Love. Mercifully, I didn’t have to audition for those parts as I was asked to be in them due to the powers that be thankfully being fans of my work. However, the audition process has always intrigued me and when I was asked last year if I would like to attend a commercial casting I thought it would at the very least be an interesting and valuable experience regardless of the fact that to some, it seems a dreadfully stressful process.
Now, on closer inspection the world of commercial castings is not wholly ideal. I don’t really want to appear in an advert but what I do know is that it would pay to be seen by certain casting directors who also cast for films and television programmes. I can see it now, some high powered player going “Remember that Scottish guy who auditioned for the lager commercial? He had something about him didn’t he? I think he would be great for the part of the investigative journalist who has a great line in witty retorts for the 6 part series on the downfall of the Murdoch empire after the phone hacking scandal which is going to be shown on the BBC in Britain and HBO in America.” At the time of writing I have yet to be offered this role but I have attended a few castings.
The way they work, or at least the way I have experienced them is as follows – I get a call the day before saying there is a casting that I am deemed suitable for and I have an alloted time to turn up and do my thing. Sometimes you are given quite a bit of information as to what the advert is about but other times details can be quite vague. On most occasions there is a short script e-mailed through along with a note saying “Actors should be off page for tomorrows casting”, meaning the script should be committed to memory. This always puts the fear in to me. I hate learning lines. I think that’s why I like to ad-lib as much as I can in whatever work environment I find myself in. Of course, it’s all very well ad-libbing but if they want you to stick to a script, you have to stick to a script. For me this normally involves reading over the thing many times, then doing the same out loud while smoking one too many cigarettes, something I’m trying to stamp out. I will not sleep particularly well night before.
The next day I will arrive for the casting roughly twenty minutes early. I do this because I can’t stand to be late for anything, it’s one of my major plus points. I like to find the door where the casting is being held and then walk round the block a few times until it’s two minutes before I’m due at which point I ring the buzzer. I then go up a flight of stairs as castings always seem to take place on the first floor. I proceed to tell someone, normally a woman, my name and that I’m here for the casting. You are then given a sheet to fill out with spaces for your name, agent details, clothing sizes and whether or not you have a valid passport and driving license. Normally you are also given a copy of the script to look over along with the other actors, often recognisable ones from film and television, up for the audition who are sitting quietly and avoiding looking at each other.
It is at this point I take my seat and join in the eye contact avoidance game. I can’t help but feel everyone is thinking the same thing, something along the lines of “Hey c**ty balls, f**k you, I should be getting this gig and not you.” That’s the impression I get anyway. At some point, your name is called and you walk in to a room where there could be one to five people ready to watch the audition. There is almost always a casting director present, sometimes the director and a cameraman to film you trying to impress those that matter. Before you start the audition you are asked to give your name, the name of your agent and to show your hands to camera. The first time I was asked to do this it took me by surprise but mercifully I always keep my finger nails clean. It would also appear the case that if you have less than two functioning hands a career in commercial advertising may be an ill-advised route to take. It’s then time to audition, you may be asked to do it a few times in fact. You then thank them for seeing you and leave the room after which you walk passed the other actors still waiting to go in and still avoiding eye contact with each other. You then descend the inevitable flight of stairs before getting back out to the pavement. At this point you light up a cigarette, take a long draw and think to yourself, “Well, I totally f**ked that up” or if it’s gone well, “Christ, I’m glad that’s over, hmm… I think I’m in with a chance there.”
That, in general, are how things play out but each casting differs from another ranging from the relativly straight forward to the bizarre and ridiculous. In this occasional series I’ll go in to detail about some of the castings I’ve been to which will hopefully raise a smile, be of interest but not facilitate any tears. First up, the chance to film in New York while holding a Kindle.
To be more specific, the role here is for a man between 30 and 35 years who is warm, friendly and articulate. He is also obsessed with his new Kindle, the product which the shoot is for. The script is short and features two characters, the man and his wife. I assume the lines for the wife will be voiced by the director, as has been my experience at previous auditions. The filming location is New York City and the shoot will last a few days.
I get notification of this one on the way back from Brighton where I have been shooting a short film which will be shown as part of a live show I’m appearing in. No bother though, it’s a short script and it will be just me, the director and a camera which the director will also operate. I’m not a particular fan of Kindles, I like libraries and I like a book in my hand as opposed to on a computer screen but I will of course keep this to myself. The fact that it’s being filmed in New York is very enticing. By way of preparation I am sent an earlier American version of the advert which features a guy and a girl. Basically, the guy has a kindle the girl hasn’t, the premise is that she is stressing out about getting to a book shop in time to buy a new novel while he simply downloads it in under 60 seconds thus demonstrating the advantages of the product. I find it pretty cheesy and I think to myself that if I ever had the misfortune of meeting these people I would want to slap the bloke in the face with a big haddock and do a shit in the woman’s hand bag in order to give her something to really stress about.
The next day I make my way to Clerkenwell in central east London where the studio is based and wait in the rain for 20 minutes before I ring the buzzer, thankfully I have an umbrella, again, always the professional. I walk up a flight of stairs and I’m greeted by a woman who I presume must be a casting director, take a seat and fill out the information form. It is when the casting director asks if I’m doing the scene with her that alarm bells begin to ring. I am in fact about to audition with an actress who will be playing my wife. The first thing I notice is that she has a hand bag with her, I opt not to add to any stress she may be feeling by doing a shit in it. Worrying times though. I had no idea I would be auditioning with a live actress. Consequently, I’m convinced she will notice very quickly that I have no professional training and feel that it’s a disgrace for someone like her, who has no doubt trained at acting school and been in all manner of touring plays while waiting on her big break, is having to do a scene with a novice. I come to the conclusion that I will have to ‘act’ at being an actor before we even start acting out the scene. This manifests itself by me doing my utmost to show no visible sign of nerves and in my head at least, making up anecdotes from my time spent at The Central School Of Speech & Drama.
The one saving grace is that the part I am playing requires me to be engrossed in my kindle while not paying too much attention to my wife who is determined to get to a book shop. We go for it and I have to admit, I’m impressed by the way she immediately becomes the character, like a switch has been turned on. She is suddenly playing the part of a busy wife. I’ve never been married and so can’t rely on past experience. Luckily, I have been slightly disinterested in certain relationships I’ve had in the past and decide to rely on that for inspiration instead.
It seems to work to an extent as the director says we have a good chemistry. This visibly pleases the actress more than it does me, I have a feeling everyone auditioning here will be told they have good chemistry in an effort to give them more confidence for the scene. I may be wrong of course but I’ve heard my fair share of industry bollocks over the years that I take everything with a pinch of salt. I do nod in appreciation though as if to say “Well thank you for that, as trained actors we were hoping for chemistry.” We end up doing the scene three times. The director gives the actress some direction but none to me. I can’t figure out if this is because I am simply doing a great job or that the director already views me as a lost cause and any extra direction is superfluous. On the third and final take I forget my last line but we complete the scene regardless. This forgetfulness still narks me after I have thanked the director, done the same to my on screen wife, walked down the flight of stairs, opened the door back on to the pavement and lit a cigarette while believing that although I hadn’t quite messed it up, I hadn’t nailed it either.
Final Conclusion – No Callback
Final Comment – No great surprise. Onwards…
Image – Old Opera house Theatre Co