Casting- The Great Mutual Awkwardness

March 1, 2012

If there are any actors reading this, hands up who likes the auditioning process? Anybody? You at the back, was your hand in the air? Oh, you were scratching your head, okay…

No actor likes the auditioning process. Of course they don’t. It’s like going for a job interview and having a medical exam all rolled into one. And if you’re thinking that depends on the sort of roles you’re going for, nudge nudge wink wink, think again.

From an actor’s perspective, the casting process goes a little like this:

You hear about an audition through your agent/acting websites/friendly neighbourhood casting director and you turn up at the venue, possibly with an idea of the film, possibly with some sides to read, possibly with the wrong ideas on both. You check in and see various other actors- some very much like you (but potentially better looking/talented/right for the role) and others whose similarities to you include breathing air and having eyes- and you try to guage your chances of landing this gig with no frame of reference. You peer at the sides you’ve been given, trying to find some hidden clues in there as to who this character is, who the director/producer/writer want them to be and if there is anything in you that fits that bill. You try to learn the lines- you want to be off-book, they like it when actors are off-book. Makes you look like you know what you’re doing… doesn’t it? But the lines aren’t sticking, the dialogue doesn’t feel right or it feels too right and you feel like you want to improvise. Will they like that? You start to second-guess yourself and whatever approach you’ve decided on, all the while watching the others go through the door at the end one by one and then come out again, trying to read something on their faces about what it was like, did they do well, are you going to be the better option?

Then it’s your turn. You go into the room and there’s a table separating you from several strangers, many of whom you’ll never see again (even if you get the job) and an empty chair that would have your name on it if didn’t have “some actor” scrawled on it in invisible ink. Several pairs of eyes stare at you, scrutinizing your face, your hair, the clothes you’ve picked out. They’re seeing all the little flaws you know you have, picking them out and scribbling them down on notepads or swanky laptops. You’re introduced, you hand over a CV or headshot (whilst secretly totting up the cost of these things and how likely it is to land at the bottom of a shredder) and after a few seconds’ chit chat, you use all you’ve deduced so far from the meagre sides and clues given to you to create your version of this character and pitch it blindly to the people who actually created it in the first place. If you’re lucky, you might get to go again. If you’re really lucky, you might get some direction. You might get told “that’s great” but either way, you soon find yourself leaving the venue, walking past other hopefuls, with the crushing feeling that your audition was too short and replaying everything you did in that room on mental loop on the tube ride home. And then you have to lie and pretend to be positive when your mum/partner/goldfish asks how it went.

Sound like a nightmare? It is. But it’s a nightmare actors go through on a (potentially) daily basis because you don’t get to the good dreams without having a few nightmares along the way. On the plus side, the actor’s nightmare is often over mercifully quickly. The director’s nightmare can go on all day…

You’re casting for this film or show you’re working on and your casting director has arranged a day of auditions for you. They proudly tell you they’ve got loads of people turning up and show you a schedule that will need military precision to carry it off. You get to the venue early and try to eat your hastily-purchased McBreakfast while one of the more organised members of your production crew tells you who’s coming in when, who’s going to be late and who’s swapping their times… and all through this you’re trying to hold in your head what you’re looking for in each of these characters. A look, a feeling… anything. Half of the time you don’t know and when the casting director asks you what you’re looking for, you try to describe the character in words that they’ll be able to act on. Words that they’ll have their own definitions for and you can guarantee they won’t quite be from the same dictionary as yours. With you on the panel are several other people, many of whom you’ll never see again (even if you get to keep the job til the wrap party) and each of them have their own agendas and ideas for the film and the casting of it.

Then it begins. One by one, actors are bought in and presented to you like you’re in a dim sum restaurant. You can see they’re nervous, anxious, some of them really want this job. But there’s no time for chit chat, no time to put them at ease and no time for introductions. They don’t even know you’re the director half the time- you’re just one of the people on this panel judging them on criteria that no-one there has a complete grasp of. You get a CV or headshot and try to read it or look at it but the words are blurring and the faces look the same (yet remarkably different from the people in front of you). Then they read the scene. Some are prepared, some are off-book, some are on-the-nose and awkward, some are great. If you’re lucky, they get to go again. If you’re really lucky, you might get to direct them. You might have to say “that’s great” (and sometimes it genuinely was!) and watch them leave, knowing that they feel they failed when all that actually happened was they sat an exam when no-one, including the people doing the marking, knew what the answers were. This goes on for hours- watching great and not-so-great actors alike go from nervous to hopeful to despondent in less time than it takes to cook a TV dinner. The faces and performances blur and you hope the brief notes you’ve been taking are enough to help you remember what everyone was like. At the end of the day you have to decide who to call back for another round and with all the names and faces and notes and headshots you try your best to remember and choose and bend your incomplete vision of the film and its characters and the understandably nervous and rushed but talented individuals you saw together. You produce a shortlist for callbacks. You know you’ve missed someone. You know you’ve written the wrong name somewhere along the line. You hope that somewhere in this list is your leading lady, your hero, your antagonist and your character player. Because there has to be. You’re not getting this chance again. You soon find yourself leaving the venue, walking past the other panellists, with the crushing feeling that you might have missed something and replaying everything you did in that room on mental loop on the tube ride home. And then you have to lie and pretend to be positive when your producer/AD/goldfish asks how it went.



  1. Very well-written piece and very true!

  2. Reblogged this on David W. Potter Films [Take Two].

  3. […] script you have/have been given to read. In both cases, it’s technically a job interview. As I mentioned before, auditions and interviews are prolonged and generally painful experiences for everyone involved, […]

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