Actors and the Actor

When I am acting, I make a point not to judge any of the abilities of other actors. Generally, I can connect with anyone regardless of how good he or she might be. There is no scientific gauge to assess an actor’s craftsmanship, so it boils down to subjectivity in the end. Although I would say most people know when somebody is absolutely atrocious. We have all seen movie stars turn in multi-million dollar performances and thought, “What the hell is this person even doing?” But when you are a trained actor, you have an eye for rookie mistakes that might not register in the eyes and ears of a casual audience member. But if you are a good actor that shouldn’t matter. You simply have to make it work. And while I personally have a very critical eye when I am watching something that I paid for, I don’t have any kind of critical eye when I am getting paid as a professional.

And of course different actors have different strengths. Some are great at memorizing lines and making it their own. Some are great at improvisation. Some are great at drama. Some are great in comedy. Some can do all of the above. Some know how to use the space of a stage properly. Some know how to hit their marks perfectly in the highly technical world of filmed entertainment. Some are simply incredibly easy on the eye. Truth is, even the weakest actors can still have an amazing charisma that carries them through.

In the world of commercial acting, auditions usually involve working with other actors (theatrical auditions tend to be just you and the casting director or producers, no other actors in the room.) And quite often you can get stuck working with actors who haven’t trained or just plain haven’t figured out how to do it well. (And people can always have off days, I’m guilty of that myself.) When you are in a room with an actor who is making a mighty mess of things, your work gets lost. You are lumped in with the bad audition, even if you weren’t so bad yourself. This can be true with movies and television as well, if you are a good performer in a smaller role but the leads are lousy and the project is lousy, then you are associated with the negativity. You see what I’m saying? You could be perfect for a part in a commercial, but if you are in the room with a stilted actor who trips all over the lines, you aren’t going to be remembered. And although according to the Screen Actors Guild it is against the rules for casting directors and producers to ask you to improvise in an audition (a lot of actors have come up with lines in auditions that were used in commercials even though they weren’t hired to work on the commercials,) improvisation is a huge part of commercial auditions. It’s actually pretty rare when you hear someone say, “Please stick to what’s written.” You usually hear, “Make it your own,” or “Play around with the dialogue,” which is casting director code for “Improvise!” (Casting directors have a lot of codes in order to keep from getting sued. For example, “Make it more urban,” is something an African-American actor might hear if they want a stereotyped performance. “Make it more fun,” means “Act more stereotypically gay.” And there are the different codes to let you know you did a bad job like “nice work” or “great job” or “thanks for coming in.” Recently I heard a new one, “It was great to reconnect with you,” which I’m pretty sure means, “I remember when I used to bring you in a lot when you were young but now you are all old and quite frankly I don’t understand why you haven’t quit by now.”)

If you have to improvise in an audition, it really helps to have someone who can improvise as well. In my category, or “type,” I wind up improvising with a lot of funny character guys so it’s usually pretty fun. But sometimes I still get stuck with someone who has never auditioned before and it is hard to “yes, and” somebody if they are just staring blankly at you. Currently I go out for dad characters, almost exclusively actually. I wind up working with a lot of children. I don’t expect children to be great actors, but I would suggest to all the stage moms and dads out there that if you are pushing your kid to be in commercials (and yes, I know a few kids really want to do it, but in general when stage parents say that is their reason for carting their kids around to auditions it is complete bullshit, they just want more money or don’t want to have to come up with college tuition money themselves) then enroll your small child in some classes. They have acting classes for kids. It should be fun and not a highly pressurized environment for learning skills that will help you “make it” but  if you have a little professional, then dammit get them some tools. I had an audition this week, a call-back in front of producers, agency people, and the director, and I was paired with this little girl, cute as a button. She had red hair as I do, and that’s why we were put together as father and daughter. (Smartly, I never mention the scientific realities of recessive genes in the audition room.) They hadn’t written any dialogue, but the entire audition was dependent on the little girl doing all the talking. I was there to react. So when she just stood there and stared at me, her cute little seven-year-old face mostly blank except for the panicked terror in her eyes, I suddenly became the acting babysitter. The audition became about getting from one end to the other as professionally as possible, because there was no way I was going to get the part if the girl they paired me with couldn’t improvise.

Of course I harbor no ill-will toward this sweet little girl. And even if she had been an adult, I still would have politely said goodbye and good job and all that because I learned long ago that there is no point in telling someone how he or she just screwed me over because he or she came to the world of acting completely unprepared. (I think, despite all that everyone knows about how tough show business is, a lot of actors get into it because they think they are “special” and require no education whatsoever to be so damn special.) But here in blog world I can say, “I JUST SPENT NINETY MINUTES IN TRAFFIC AND SAT IN A WAITING ROOM FOR AN HOUR FOR NO DISCERNIBLE REASON BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING.” In the case of the little girl, it really isn’t fair to ask such a young child to improvise given that is a skill that takes years to develop properly, so despite all the wasted time I don’t blame her. But I will blame her mother for not taking her to some classes. Because you know what? I SPENT NINETY MINUTES IN TRAFFIC AND SAT IN A WAITING ROOM FOR NO DISCERNIBLE REASON BECAUSE SOME STRANGER WITH A CUTE DAUGHTER HAS NO PROBLEM PUSHING HER KID INTO A ROOM COMPLETELY BLIND TO HOW THINGS ARE DONE AND NOW THERE IS NO WAY I’LL GET THIS JOB THAT I DESPERATELY NEED IN ORDER TO SUPPORT MY OWN FAMILY!

There. Now at least I feel a little better.


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