4 Tips for Making the Winning Audition Choice By Joseph Pearlman
Most “experts” who talk about actors “making choices” haven’t a clue what a “choice” actually is, nor how to properly compose and execute one. This is true both in the audition room and on set. Casting directors and film/TV directors will often tell actors to “make a stronger choice” not really knowing what exactly they mean by that. Essentially they’re saying, “Show me something I like better.” I often see this in instructions for actors for submitting a taped audition. It’s one of those hot button terms—“making a choice”—but ask that “expert” to demonstrate what the hell they’re talking about, and watch most them start to squirm and filibuster their way through an answer.
Rule #1 Is Always the Same
Don’t guess what they are looking for! Assume you are who they’re looking for, and bring yourself to the role with a brave, fun, and impactful choice. This means it is your right and responsibility to always do “your version” of the character—how you see it. It means relentlessly looking for ways to find what being this character means to you. This does not mean that you’re playing yourself! It means that your winning performance—once all work has been absorbed into your bloodstream—should feel as easy and loose as if you were playing yourself.
Winning Choices Are Not Found Within the Text
Proper textual analysis must be done with the same specificity and expertise that a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic would prepare Mahler’s Third. The text must ultimately serve as a springboard for your deeply imaginative and improvisational process of connecting what it all means to you.
Margot Robbie on how she won the role in “The Wolf of Wall Street”:
“So I walk up really close to his face and then I’m like, ‘Maybe I should kiss him. When else am I ever going to get a chance to kiss Leo DiCaprio, ever?’ But another part of my brain clicks and I just go, ‘Whack!’ I hit him in the face. And then I scream, ‘F— you!’ And that’s not in the script at all. The room just went dead silent and I froze.”
Doing this kind of stuff is scary. It’s risky. Robbie instantly thought they were going to call the cops on her or sue her for hitting one of the most bankable stars on the planet. She was wrong: They offered her the part, and the rest is history. And hell, isn’t this why you became an actor? To scare people, scare yourself, and to take risks? Did you really leave your hometown and everything you knew to go into rooms, play it safe, and show the casting and producing team a slightly different version of the same boring character they’ve seen all day? How has that been working for you?
Stop Obeying Character Descriptions
Most actors make the rookie mistake—especially in auditions—of thinking they must obey and act all character descriptions and stage directions. Be assured that this will be what every other actor does, as it represents the obvious choice—its goal is to please the casting director. Show the producing team that you understand the character and the entire project well enough to invent a gesture or movement that is not in the script but which demonstrates that you get it, and that you’re confident enough to create something more nuanced right before their very eyes.
Remember, the casting directors are not the ones who call the final shots. Some of my readership are often surprised to learn that the final casting decisions are made by the directors, producers, or writers, and not the casting directors.
Winning Choices Must Be Visually Obvious Choices
If a director, writer, producer, or casting director cannot check a box that says “visually obvious choice made,” then you haven’t made a choice that works—or at least not one that will win the role or get you that nomination. Actors forget that their choices need to read on camera, even if the sound is off. Their performance should be able to be watched with the mute button on, and still read as driven and emotionally loaded. Unlike on-set work, auditions are when you must achieve this immediately to be successful—often within the first 10 seconds.
Using a strong hook to launch you into your scene can trigger that visually obvious choice—the kind of choice Robbie made.