“What’s your biggest pet peeve?”
I’ve been asked this question HUNDREDS of times. Every Casting Director you meet will likely have a unique answer. For me, the worst thing an actor can do is come in unprepared.
Let me clarify:
I’m not speaking to your memorization skills. Do I want you to be off-book so we can really play? Absolutely. But being prepared goes far deeper than that:
1. If you received a full script, did you read it? Scripts are rarely distributed these days, since everything tends to end up on the internet. If we are lucky enough to send you a script we expect you to read it. A full script gives you total context; it’s a literal gift. But often, actors feel too rushed to read/skim a script AND learn their lines. Do your best. It will help you IMMENSELY.
2. If there are words or names in your sides that you are unfamiliar with, did you look them up? (How to pronounce them as well as what they mean in that context?) If you don’t know what you’re saying, how will we believe that you are that character? If you’re supposed to be an expert medical examiner and you mispronounce “carotid”, it will quickly take us out of the moment and remind us that you are an actor. Could we just correct you and have you do it again? Sure. But we’d rather you do your homework, because if we correct an actor in the audition room, it often makes them freeze up a bit and inevitably, they’ll mispronounce the word again anyway.
- Side Story: We once cast a pilot where we needed a “techie.” The sides these women had to read included the phrase “coax cable”. Inevitably, half the women pronounced it “coax” (as in “persuade”,) as opposed to “co-ax” (as in “coaxial cable,” which is a tool that a “techie” might use.) If they missed that one line, it immediately took us out of the moment.
3. Did you look to see who was involved in the project? When you receive your appt. information, you usually receive the breakdown as well. The top portion of the breakdown holds a WEALTH of information. Such as:
- What type of project is it? (Pilot, Feature, 1/2 hour, sitcom, single-cam, etc.)
- Who are the prods, director and casting team?
- Is anyone already cast?
- Which studio/network is it for?
- A brief synopsis of the story
If you don’t know who someone is, look them up! Do a search for the project in the trades to learn a little more about its evolution. Would you go in to interview at Google without looking to see with whom you were meeting, what kind of resume they had and what you could bring to their team? The breakdown header could help you understand the tone of the project, as well as being aware of for whom you might be reading.
- Side Story: We once cast a pilot with a VERY well-known director who liked to be in the room for auditions. For some reason, perhaps because they were so focused on learning the material, many actors didn’t realize he would be in the room, (despite his name being on the breakdown/in the trades and us putting a sign in the lobby, saying who they would be reading for.) We’d walk the actors in to the audition room and they’d freeze when they saw the director – not exactly a wonderful way to buck the audition nerves. Eventually, he ended up sitting out of auditions and just watching everything on tape because he was concerned about how distracting his presence was.
4. Did you look to see if we’re ONLY reading certain scenes? Oftentimes, we will give out more scenes than we know we want to read, mostly because it provides context. If we know ahead of time that we only want to read specific scenes/pages, we will tell you every way we can:
- We’ll write it on the sides
- We’ll put it in the audition notification
- We’ll put a sign in the lobby
- We’ll tell you when you walk in the room
I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve reminded an actor that we’re ONLY doing scenes 1 and 3, and they look at me like I’ve run over their dog, or they give me the, “oh really? But scene 2 is so great! I’d love to try it anyway…” (The answer to that is almost always no. Save your energy.) Pay attention to that stuff so that you aren’t wasting time rehearsing a scene that we aren’t going to run.
We realize that sometimes we do this to you at the last minute – we’re not trying to torture you by taking away a scene right as you walk in the door. There’s always a good reason for it, so try to not let it frustrate you.
So by all means, study your sides, but also arm yourself with knowledge about the project and creative team involved. It is the quickest way to up your confidence before you walk in the door.