Excerpt From THE SELF SUFFICIENT ACTOR
Auditions There are a million ways to break down a script. The most important thing to remember is that there is no correct way to play a scene. I once auditioned an actor who literally made the opposite choice for the character than I was looking for, and it was incredibly interesting. Did I kick her out of the room? No, I gave her direction and saw where she went with it. Your most important task when auditioning is to make the most interesting choice you can while sticking to the world of the scene. This is harder than it sounds. It is so easy to think of acting as good or bad but really, it’s only what is appropriate for the project you are working on. Much like adjusting your acting for wide takes or closeups, you must adjust to the genre and mood of the project. For example: If you gave the same style of performance for a kid’s show as you do for a crime procedural you will seem out of place. You want to be memorable, but also fit into the vibe of the show, particularly with procedurals. (CSI, SVU, ER, any show made of initials). Some brief questions to get started: Is the show a comedy? a drama? a sitcom? a kid’s show? In that genre, what is the size of the performance? (slapstick vs cerebral) (subtle vs melodrama) Are you the star, a main character, or a small role?
All of these questions matter, and it bears some explanation. Actors have a tendency to try to show that they are good actors over trying to be the character. This is a particularly noticeable problem with smaller roles. Instead of focusing on the details that flesh out a two line character and make them a real person, they try scene stealing hysterics to show their range and maybe try for a bigger part. But they only end up sabotaging the audition that they have already got. For example, if you have an audition like this:
The car has arrived sir.
Will there be anything else?
(STAR OF MOVIE)
No. No thank you, Jenkins.
Enjoy your evening.
Cedric stands up, the weight of the world on his shoulders, and heads toward the door.As he passes the waiting Jenkins, he stops and proffers his hand. Jenkins looks down, unsure. Cedric smiles, pats him on the shoulder instead, and walks out of the door.
Your job as Jenkins is NOT to start sobbing when Cedric leaves, nor to collapse on the ground. Do not do anything which takes away from the focus of the scene. Your job is to give Cedric someone to play to. The same is true for backstory. In this case it would be appropriate to make the choice that your character knows what is going on, or that he is scared for his job;but I would not make him the mastermind of Cedric's downfall unless the script or role description tells you that he is. In the scene above Jenkins is most likely a small role, he is definitely a servant, and as such would not break protocol unless the script directly mentions it. In my opinion Jenkins CAN: Be nervous, know what’s going on, take a weighted pause between the two sentences, like Cedric, dislike Cedric, be tired, have a headache, want a cigarette etc. He SHOULDN’T: Break down in tears, suddenly hug Cedric, slam the door. I would also avoid too much focus on backstory that does not serve the scene. He needs to get home to his wife who has a cold? Great! He’s screwing Cedric’s wife? He is secretly a Genius? He’s working for the mob? He’s a werewolf? Avoid any of these assumptions unless they are in the script or the character breakdown. Generally, you can do whatever you like with your character’s physical state (tired, hangnail, etc.) but most external actions will be decided by his place in society. Your character absolutely can and should have secrets, but they should add to what is already in the script, not rewrite it. If the script says that your character is eloping with someone, you can absolutely decide that your character is already pregnant. But a creating a secret backstory that is unrelated to anything written in the script is at best masturbatory, and at worst, will take you out of the moment during your scenes. If you do not get a full script or breakdown take your best guess as to what is going on and who you are in the context of the story. And then make the most intersting choices you can within that framework. I do have to admit that occasionally a risky choice that is not fed by the script (like a stutter, a limp, a good dialect) will pay off. But make sure that choice is not the entirety of the character. Now if you are auditioning for a show that is currently running, you should check it out in terms of the following: Genre. Mood. How characters talk in the world (generally TV has much faster dialogue than film unless it’s daytime drama). How people in the world dress. In addition, you should generally know who the leads are; but don’t become a fan. You are a coworker. Your character may have higher status than the lead of the show. If this is true, it is imperative that your performance shows this. (It should go without saying that you shouldn’t try to show your character’s status when the cameras aren’t rolling, don’t be a dick) Also, your character may not know all of the other character’s secrets (even if the audience does). You have to act in blissful ignorance. For example, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy unrelated to Batman, Dexter is just some police techie, you have no idea that the DA is sleeping with a mob boss. Treat them as your character knows them.