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 dramas. 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 number of 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 people 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 relatively 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. Next up, the chance to pretend to be French and bag some free continental lager.
The casting is for Stella Artois and there is a lot to go on for this one. I am up for the part of “Paul”, who is a barman attending a class with other barmen in order to be taught how to pour the perfect pint by the beautiful “Audrey”, who is taking the class. I like the sound of Paul. He is unconventionally attractive, enigmatic, charming and likable, this I know from the character description. He is the perfect French New Wave man but he is not a chiseled model. He is meant to be cool but without trying to be. Of prime importance is the actor’s ability to be able to handle subtle humour well. It is also mentioned that Paul is the one who will interact with Audrey the most. There is no clue as to the shooting location but one would hope it’s at least a short bus ride from Grenoble.
I really want this, I am eager to bag the role. The Stella Artois commercials I have seen of late all recall the French new wave of cinema and they have said that this new advert will be akin to a Jean-Luc Goddard movie. This is all very cool, I’ll never be in one of his films so this is the next best thing. I really want this. There is also going to be a very pretty girl in the advert and that can only be viewed as a massive bonus, we will probably get on well, start dating, end up getting married and laugh about how we met on a Stella Artois commercial. This is some time in the future and so I must first concentrate on the audition. There are only a few lines and I imagine there will be one person behind a camera who will voice the lines of “Audrey”. I really want this.
I’m feeling good about this as I make my way to the studio just off Leicester Square. My state of quiet self confidence is immediately rocked on arrival though. There are male models everywhere. Loads of the bastards, all with stupid hair cuts and t-shirts with plunging neck lines. This is not the Goddard way. If you are going to wear a t-shirt to such a casting at least make it a blue and white striped one which looks vaguely French, the kind Brian Jones wore in 1966. This only serves to unsettle and anger me in equal measure. The outline document specifically stated that they were looking for men who weren’t chiseled models or had conventional good looks. These guys are straight out of Milan or wherever else male models hang out and I wager have no appreciation of the nouvelle vague or are able to drink four pints of Stella without turning in to a blabbering arsehole in flip flops. I could drink a keg of Stella and still extue the virtues of Goddard, Truffaut and Rivette without slurring. I’d give it a good shot anyway and still be fit enough to read a chapter of Satre’s Nausea before feeling like puking. This self-righteousness is quickly curbed when I realise there are in fact two castings going on at the same time, one for Stella and one for a new VO5 hair product, hence the male models. It is only then that I clock two unconventional yet not wholly unattractive blokes sitting quietly in the corner with a script. This is my competition and I must beat them. I really want this.
When it’s my turn to be called I’m surprised by how many people are in the room. I count 7 but I try not to let my eyes dart about too much as I must remain focussed. I’m introduced to the director and some other people but I’m still not sure what their roles are. The director is American and appears confident, self assured and in my view at least, a bit of a prick. He may well be a nice chap but the way he sits with one foot on a table acting all nonchalant doesn’t sit well with me. I feel decidedly prickly.
Here I am about to act out a scene for his benefit while bearing my artistic soul and he can’t even be arsed to take his foot off the table. He deserves a foot up his arse. It’s worth remembering I’m the one who has made a film, albeit a short, which has gone to the heart of Hollywood and created a stir. Well, perhaps not a stir but the fact remains a successful Hollywood producer doesn’t just like it, he loves it. I decide it’s advisible to keep all these thoughts to myself. Best not to appear boastful while this hapless prick has to direct commercials until he gets his big film break, if indeed it ever comes. Poor bloke, at least he’s trying I suppose.
I do the scene once, pretending to be “Paul” speaking to “Audrey” and it doesn’t go too badly. I feel suitably attractive in an unconventional way but with a sense of charm and underlying vulnerability. The woman behind the camera delivers the lines and I retort at all the correct points. On finishing the scene I can’t help but feel everyone in the room is thinking “Well, if he’s not our Paul I don’t know who is?” The director pipes up, “Ok, that was good but could you do it again but a bit less smiley?”. Less smiley? I know I didn’t look glum but I wasn’t aware of how smiley I was. Rest assured, I can do “less smiley” no problem. So, once again I play out the scene with less of a smile and more of an enigmatic, willing to learn how to pour the perfect pint whimsy to my facial gestures. They must be loving this I think to myself, even the director who has now taken his foot off the table. This is the moment they find their Paul and I become a new Jean-Paul Belmondo figure for the internet based Stella Artois Goddard aping commercial fan base that is sure to rise up in approval of my work. I finish the scene, the director shuffles, sits up and says “Ok, thank you very much”. Nothing else. I was expecting a little more on the side of awe struck but I figure he has to remain cool about things and is probably already bemoaning the fact that he has to sit through loads of other actors while all the time knowing he has already found his Paul. We’ll probably even laugh one day about the fact that on first impressions I thought he was a prick. I’ll even introduce him to the Hollywood producer who loves my short if he plays his cards right. I leave the room, walk down a flight of stairs and out in to the open air where I feel I certainly didn’t fuck things up. It was not a disaster and after the smiley corrections I put in a good performance. I really want this.
Final Conclusion – No Call Back.
Final Comment – Buggar, I really wanted that.