Why a Perfect Audition Doesn’t Mean You’ll Nail the Part By Elyse Roth

Peter Golden
Television has changed a lot since Peter Golden began casting at CBS. Actors now have the opportunity to audition for a director on the other side of the globe, and priorities have shifted so that representation and authenticity are at the top of creators’ checklists. Now, in addition to holding the top casting post at the network, Golden is a representative for TV casting as the co-governor of the Television Academy’s casting peer group. In his position, he can raise the profile for casting directors and advocate for their recognition at events like the Emmy Awards, where CDs can win trophies for comedy, drama, limited series, and now reality casting. The industry is finally coming around to the importance of casting in the process of making TV, but Golden—along with his casting peers—will continue to prove why it’s an art form, not just a job.

What do you wish other people who make TV knew about casting? 
People in the industry are understanding it now; it’s more the audiences. I have friends who will say, “Wow, couldn’t you get someone better than that?” If they understood the process and how many people we went to before we cast someone, they might not say that. It’s educating. People idealize this industry and how easy it is because everybody knows actors and can say, “Hey, let’s put someone in this project,” but they can only do one series at a time, so they aren’t available for something else. It’s not something that you can sit back and say, “Oh, here’s a list of actors, let’s just put them in.”

How do you differentiate between good acting and a good casting job?
If you think of a casting director putting a cast together, they’re making a blueprint. And then a director and a lighting designer and everyone else builds the house. The casting director has the vision for the possibility. I remember a role that we brought in 200 brilliant character actors for and nobody was getting it. This one guy came in, and he found an approach to the character that was so unique that everybody was like, “There it is!” I remember watching dailies where he didn’t do the thing that got him the job. He said the director told him not to do what got him the part. He was fine, but it wasn’t to the next level. Great work is really a collaboration.

Why is it important that casting is represented at the Emmys? 
It’s a crucial part of the process and contribution. If you look through who the nominees and who the winners of the categories have been since Lynn Kressel won for “Lonesome Dove,” you realize the artistry of putting that group of people together.

How has your role in casting TV changed since you started? 
It has changed so dramatically. I started out in New York, and we would FedEx tapes to Los Angeles and, two days later, they’d have our auditions. Now, a minute later, they have our auditions. A director in Los Angeles can watch an audition in New York in real time and say, “Do it again, and then do it this way.” In a good way, it made the universal talent pool much smaller. We look at Australia, Morocco, Madrid, Mexico, Canada—all over the world. It’s as easy as the click of a link. The authenticity has grown tremendously. It has provided opportunities for people who didn’t have opportunities before. 

What are some common misconceptions about casting?
Really good casting directors have real artistic visions about more than just one actor being right for one role; it’s the look and feel of an entire ensemble, and every role is as important as the next. It’s like a puzzle. Casting is an incredibly difficult job, and it really is finding needles in haystacks. With the advent of streaming and short orders, actors’ time is valuable. Television casting directors, and particularly broadcast casting directors, are at a disadvantage in the number of actors available to them, because if I have a list of 100 actors and let’s say 50 of those actors are just not technically available timing-wise, there’s a whole other group that won’t do 22 episodes. Then there’s a whole other group that have very specific ideas of the kind of shows they want to do. If I’m an actor and I want to do a variety of different things, signing on to a broadcast series where I’m tied up for three-quarters of the year and I can’t do a Broadway show might not be an option.

Nothing but Proper Prep Work Will Ready You for the Audition Room’s Curve-balls BY MARCI LIROFF

One question I’m consistently asked as a casting director is “What is your biggest pet peeve with actors and auditions?” My answer is in line with most of my colleagues: lack of preparation. What exactly is preparation? What do casting directors and the filmmakers consider good, solid preparation? 

Let me break it down for you by telling you a story about a coaching client of mine. My client got a big break to go in and audition for a role in a television series that was being recast. He was so excited for the opportunity, only to be cut off at the knees because his manager let it slip that none of the producers wanted to see him for the role. The casting director strongly believed in him and made it her mission to give him the opportunity to at least read. The script was great—the kind where the dialogue just rolls off your tongue. You’ve just got to get out of your own way, know the material inside and out, and make some solid character choices. Since my client was not in Los Angeles, we worked on the scene using Skype for a solid week. 

We’d work for about two hours each day, discussing his character, the story, and how he fit into it. The scene was meaty, so there was a lot of good stuff to dig into. Throughout the week, we’d read through the entire script, even scenes he wasn’t in so that he could become immersed in that world. Audition day finally came, and he was pumped. He read on tape for the casting director, and she was truly impressed—then she brought out a second scene. My client gulped; his agent had only given him the one. “There are two scenes,” the CD clarified. “And the second one is even better! How about you take a look at it in the hallway and we’ll just try it anyway?” My client didn’t miss a beat. He didn’t even leave the room; he looked over the “new” second scene (which we had gone over at least a dozen times over the course of the week) and was ready. “Let’s do it.” He read the second scene in the room and wowed yet again. He walked out, head held high, and called his agent to chew him out for not adequately preparing him. Turned out it had been a miscommunication between offices. But then he called me. “Marci,” he said, “when she handed me the new scene, I started to panic, but then I remembered that we had gone over this so many times. I was totally ready for this.” 

And here’s why I’m using this story to illustrate what preparation can cover. Next, he said, “Here’s the thing: I’m in the best shape of my life right now; I’m on a daytime talk show; I’m in a Broadway show eight times a week. My brain will never be sharper than it is now. My body is engaged and worked out like an athlete because of all that I’m doing every day. I truly amazed myself at how easily I slipped into this second scene and didn’t freak out.” 

 Your work and your preparation is not just for a specific audition or job. It’s daily. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training months to get there, and it’s truly the same with acting. You need to be in acting class as your foundation and build from there. You can’t just take camera and audition classes. You’ve got to watch lots of movies and television so that you can study the work. Read, research, go to the gym. Most importantly, you must live a rich life so you can have something to draw from in your acting. My client didn’t get the job, but the producer and director fell in love with him and wrote him a recurring role in the series. They continue to work together to this day. Now that’s what I call preparation!

Craft Notes by Ed Hooks

Christopher Walken
Some place I read that the first thing actor Christopher Walken does when he commits to a new script is go through it and cross out all of the punctuation. He doesn’t want to be tempted to get into a line-reading situation that was suggested by the playwright.
Most really excellent directors will tell the actors at the first read to cross out those italicized stage directions that the playwright put in there. Words like “Lovingly” and “Tearfully” and “Excitedly” are eliminated.
I’ve directed maybe more than my share of plays and make it a point to instruct the assembled cast on the first day to eliminate blocking. Things like “She crosses to pour a drink.” Or “Sally gazes out the window”. Most often, those stage directions were put in there by the stage manager of the very first Broadway production. Amateur actors and directors can follow them if they want to, but it isn’t a requirement.
An exception to this is a playwright like David Mamet or Neil Simon, both of whom make a big deal about how they don’t want side directions taken out. If I’m not mistaken, Simon even has that in his movie contracts.
But let’s forget for a moment who the few exceptions are and focus on the averages. Most playwrights, once they get on a writing roll, will “see” the play unfolding in their heads and, if a character says something a particular way, will make a note of it. That doesn’t mean you have to say the words the way they heard it in their heads.
An actor has an obligation to say the words of dialogue as written. Period. There is no obligation to say them in any particular way, even if the script suggests that there is. Indeed, part of the fun of staging a play is making the character’s words your own.
Personally, my artistic respect for a director plummets if he or she does not instruct the cast to take out the italicized guidance at the first rehearsal or read through. I take that to mean that this particular director is going to be more like a traffic cop than a director. If the script says a line should be spoken “sadly”, this kind of director will make certain it is spoken sadly. Bah! Humbug! Don’t tell me to say a line sadly. The way I say the line will come out of the playing of the scene and depends a lot on what the other actors are doing.
By the same token, lines can be broken up to great advantage. Suppose a character has this line: “Jesus Christ, don’t you dare talk to me like that, mama!” Just because all of that is in one sentence doesn’t mean you have to run it all together. You might, for example, exclaim, “Jesus Christ!” out of exasperation, intending to say nothing more. Then the rest of the thought comes to you. “Don’t you dare talk to me like that, mama!” In other words, the actor might well make two lines out of one.
I have always advised my acting students that the best gift an actor can give his scene partner is to surprise her. Don’t be predictable. The two of you have rehearsed until you have a good idea what one another is going to do. Now, in the playing of it in front of an audience, forget about all of that. Reading a line of dialogue is not intended to be frozen. It comes out of the moment. I figure that, even if I have seen a play fifteen times, I should be surprised by the sixteenth production.
Writing about this takes me back thirty years to summer stock outside of New York. There was a young actress in the company whose idea of acting was to get your performance “right” and then never vary it at all. She said every line the precise same way every single time, and it was the most boring thing in the world to act with her. Sweet girl, though. I wonder whatever happened to her? She’d have made a great mom because her kids could count on her to be consistent.


The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer

Jenna Fischer's Hollywood journey began at the age of 22 when she moved to Los Angeles from her hometown of St. Louis. With a theater degree in hand, she was determined, she was confident, she was ready to work hard. So, what could go wrong?

Uh, basically everything.  The path to being a professional actor was so much more vast and competitive than she’d imagined.  It would be eight long years before she landed her iconic role on The Office, nearly a decade of frustration, struggle, rejection and doubt.

If only she’d had a handbook for the aspiring actor. Or, better yet, someone to show her the way—an established actor who could educate her about the business, manage her expectations, and reassure her in those moments of despair.

Jenna wants to be that person for you. 

With amusing candor and wit, Fischer spells out the nuts and bolts of getting established in the profession, based on her own memorable and hilarious experiences.  She tells you how to get the right headshot, what to look for in representation, and the importance of joining forces with other like-minded artists and creating your own work—invaluable advice personally acquired from her many years of struggle.  She provides helpful hints on how to be gutsy and take risks, the tricks to good auditioning and callbacks, and how not to fall for certain scams (auditions in a guy’s apartment are probably not legit—or at least not for the kind of part you’re looking for!).

Her inspiring, helpful guidance feels like a trusted friend who’s made the journey, and has now returned to walk beside you, pointing out the pitfalls as you blaze your own path towards the life of a professional actor.