How I learned to stop worrying and love the audition
(Lies! I still get really nervous before auditions. But here’s how I’ve gotten better.)
When I first started out as an actor, I was actually about to graduate from business school. And not just any business school, but one of the most prestigious ones in the country. I was ambitious, hard working, and eager to prove myself. My general approach to everything was to concentrate 150% of my time and attention on it until it gave up from sheer exhaustion and bent to my will. Everything was a nail, and I was a hammerhead shark holding lots of other hammers in my fins (and tail and teeth). (And had a school of baby hammerhead sharks also holding hammers following me).
(I’m just letting you know there were a lot of hammers).
Even my approach to meditation was, “Well, I’ve been told to start off with a minute or two in the morning, and build up to longer periods of stillness over months/years/probably infinity. That sounds incredibly inefficient. Why not increase the frequency and duration of sessions and cut the learning curve down to a fraction of what they’re telling me it will be?”
I made a schedule for the month, downloaded an app with guided meditations (which I would obviously take three at a time), scheduled two 25-minute slots a day, and GOT. TO. WORK. ON. ME! DI! TA! TION!
I had the same approach to auditions. One would come in, I’d immediately drop everything I was doing, memorize the sides up, down, left, right, inside out and in Bulgarian just in case. I’d pick the perfect outfit. I’d write out pages and pages of character back story. I’d plan out my route to the audition with an extra 20% time buffer just in case somebody on the subway wasn’t feeling well and I had to… I don’t know! Walk them to the hospital! Who knows! It’s the TTC! Anything was possible! And when I (inevitably) got to the audition 30 minutes early, I would walk around the neighbourhood for 15 minutes so I could go sit in the waiting room only 15 minutes early (which is perfect. If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re 30+ minutes early, you’re a maniac, stop it, do more laps around the block).
And I also spent time reading articles on how to be a better actor.
My god, there are a lot of articles.
“How to get rid of audition nerves!”
“How to be more photogenic for headshots!”
“How to slate better!”
“What you’re doing wrong in the audition room!”
“What to wear for an audition!”
“What casting directors hate!”
“What your agent hates!”
“Are you guilty of these self-tape mistakes?”
It was an overwhelming barrage of things that you were doing wrong that were COSTING. YOU. JOBS! (And also probably making everyone hate you and making you infertile and unlikely to be reborn in the next life as anything but a sea creature). (The kind that lives in the bottom of the ocean, not like a cute dolphin. A WEIRD SEA CREATURE. FROM THE OCEAN).
It took me a few years to figure out that this approach to becoming a better actor wasn’t for me. I’m already neurotic and needy, I already put a lot of pressure on myself to be “right” and “perfect.” Reading dozens of articles that reaffirmed the idea that I had a very long way to go to being perfect was not helping me. I was also taking an acting class at the time that made me feel there was an immense pressure on being “good” and making “good” choices. I didn’t want to take any risks because what if they didn’t work out? Then I’d have lost my shot at being good (and I’d be reincarnated as an ocean creature)!
It wasn’t until I started my own company and took some pressure off the acting thing that I realized my strategy of over-preparing hadn’t been working for me at all. I stopped reading those kinds of articles. I’ll still occasionally read Backstage, or blogs from casting directors, etc. But now I’m not following a treasure map with an X on it, looking for the secret magic path to success, to eliminate each mistake one by one.
What was best for me was to chill the fuck out.
Stop spending hours on memorizing my lines. Stop trying on 18 different combinations of pants/shirt. Stop hyperventilating about what if I’m only 2 minutes early instead of 20! Stop staring into the casting director’s eyes (soul), wondering what they’re expecting from me and whether they love me/hate me/really hate me.
I started taking a Meisner class that’s hugely embracing of mistakes. I signed up for a casting director coaching session because I thought it would be fun, a great way to learn, and a good way to get extra time with a casting director I really like. Not because I thought this is what actors do and if you want to be a good actor this is what you should do twice a week, without missing any opportunities to network, and what do you mean you’re not signing up, don’t you care about your career????
The last film that I booked, I showed up a few minutes late to the audition, had no makeup on, was wearing a black shirt tucked into red pants (not cute), and was 0% off book. As in I had to borrow their sides to read from because I didn’t even have a copy on me. Sure, that’s not ideally how I’d like to roll into any audition in the future, but it gave me a taste of what it’s like to not give a fuck.
Which meant I could actually talk to the people in the room like they were people, and we could play around with the scene. Have fun, experiment. Try some shit! I was so far from perfect in my preparation for that audition that it didn’t even enter my head that I should try and do the scene perfectly. BAM! The freedom and confidence I’d been looking for.
And the reason I wanted to share is because I know there are more of you out there. Actors who have a long, long list of things they’re trying to fix and improve and make better. So they can do the perfect audition and land the perfect role and catapult their career to MOTHAFUCKIN’ NEPTUNE!
Sure, the answer for some people will be more prep. More classes. Better headshots. A new agent. But I know that for some of you, the answer is to just CHILL! THE! FUCK! OUT! AND! STOP! TRYING! SO! HARD!
And that doesn’t make you a bad actor.
But it might make you a better one.