I’ve had a lot of fun jobs in my life, including making and — much less frequently — acting in television commercials.
(I was going to drop “I’ve worked on both sides of the camera” on you, but there’s really no way to say that without sounding like a total asshole.)
A few years back, after spending 10 hours in a room watching 90 actors at callbacks for a national TV commercial, I pulled together these 10 tips for my actor friends. They still ring true.
Now, these are tips for normal working actors, not celebrities. Rules don’t really apply to celebrities.
And these tips are for commercial auditions — ads you see on TV; ads that may pay an actor’s bills for a few months and make sure he or she qualifies for heath insurance for the year. Movies are a different thing, and that audition process is different. But you know that.
Here we go.
1. Memorize the script.
Not kinda, sorta. Know it cold. It’s a callback for a national commercial, for heaven’s sake. Know how to pronounce all the words. If you’re not sure how to pronounce something, ask the casting agent.
During your audition, if you do mess up and flub a line, don’t panic. Roll with it without breaking character, and you’ll likely get another shot. Even though they want you to know the script, they’re actually more interested in your performance than getting it letter perfect. And it’s hard to get a sense of your performance if you’re still reading lines off a page.
2. Do what you did in the original audition.
That’s why you got called back. If the director wants something different, he or she will dial you up or dial you down.
3. Look the same.
Wear EXACTLY what you wore in the original audition. It was one of the reasons you were called back. Same with hair, accessories, makeup, etc. — wear it the same way. That’s who they want to see again.
The director will tell you what he or she wants. Do it. He or she knows you’re nervous and that it’s hard to listen when you’re nervous, but the ones that do it well show that they can take direction.
If you can’t take direction, you’re not going to book the job. They have to know that you can listen and pivot as needed BEFORE an incredibly expensive crew is standing around on a set, waiting for you to do your thing.
5. Less is more.
Almost everybody is too big with their first read. Act like you’d act in your close-up. Don’t move around and don’t gesticulate wildly. (Save the big acting for your next stage production.) That’s not the same as being too quiet or vanilla; it’s knowing how to act for the camera.
6. Cut the chit-chat.
Be friendly, but don’t pretend like you’re all best friends and start making jokes as soon as you walk in. Nervous actors who talk too much tend to say something that hurts their chances.
The director and agency isn’t casting a new best friend. They want to find “the guy” or “the woman” who is right for the spot. Yes, it’s “ACTING,” but it easier to cast you if you “are” that person they want.
7. Make sure you can do it to time.
Be sure you can read the spot in 30 seconds or 60 seconds or however long the spot is supposed to be. These aren’t movie scenes, people. The client isn’t going to buy extra ad time and run a 3-minute spot, no matter how amazing you are.
If you want to take a little more time with your read and go over 30 seconds, that’s fine. But when you’re preparing, make sure you do it several times under the time limit. Otherwise, you may be asked to speed it up, and if you haven’t prepared, it will feel weird.
And, of course, doing it to speed doesn’t mean that you should look like you’re rushing through it. The trick for commercials is making these truncated, sped-up moments feel natural.
8. Be ready to read for something else.
The director will often lean over to the agency creative and say, “Now that I’m seeing him again, I’d really like to see him do this other part.” That’s a good thing — it means they may not think you are right for the original role, but they like you enough that they want to see if they can find a spot for you.
Ask for some time to go out and get VERY familiar with the new script. Don’t come back in until you feel ready to do it well.
9. Be great.
The old cliché is true: everybody in the room really does want you to nail it. They are pulling for you. They’ve been in that room a lot longer than you have. They are tired, and they smell. They want to find somebody awesome so they can go home and shower and sleep.
10. Do your best and let it go.
When you are casting something, you see a ton of great people who aren’t going to book the job. It’s just the nature of the game.
There are a million factors that go into casting decisions that are out of your control. They may have somebody else in another spot that is already your type, or you may be just a little too young or too old, or too short or too tall, or any number of things. Everybody in the room may want to cast you…and the client may still choose somebody else. It’s a crazy process.
All you can control is your prep and your delivery, and then, whatever happens, happens.
Break a leg and go book that next one.
MORE: Want to know what happens in the room AFTER your callback audition? Here’s the scoop: 5 Things Every Actor Should Know About Commercial Auditions