A few weeks ago, I was catching up with a friend during a break in our acting class. He had missed a few classes because he had shot a Guest Star and of course it was a fantastic experience. I was happy for him. I mean, here’s a cat that has been working steadily as an Actor for the last twenty years and is a sought-after Acting Coach, and here he is in class, on a mission to get to the next level and beyond. This is a guy that I admire and I love seeing his work and process in class.
My friend asked me what I was up to and I told him that I was excited because a Casting Office that I had been trying to get into for years had started using me as a Reader. I told him that it was an eye-opening experience and that I was still reeling after reading with about 300 to 400 Actors.
His eyes lit up and he asked me what I had learned.
I started rambling for a few moments when we heard, “Going up!” – break time was over. And as I mozied on down to my seat, I felt disoriented – I had been unable to articulate clearly and specifically what I had gotten out of those casting sessions – I had a general feeling of optimism and a bunch of ahah moments but it was ethereal, nebulous at best. Not something specific and clear that I could work with.
This was an uncomfortable feeling not that much different than going up on your lines in the middle of a performance. So I decided to write this experience up and share it with my fellow Thespians to hopefully improve my auditioning in a strong, light and consistent way. Maybe by writing it up I could distill it down to a point where I could put it in my pocket and pull it out when needed. “It” being a mystery for the time being – time to boogey down and do some work.
How Did This Gig Fall Into My Lap?
It’s hard to say. I can say that I have been meditating and practicing mindfulness (paying attention – especially during rehearsals but also when brushing my teeth or other mundane tasks) daily. I found myself at Paramount for an audition with two-lines and I decided that I would change my mind about this audition. I would be grateful. I would embody appreciation. It did not matter if I booked the job or not. It mattered if I could maintain this inner state of grace before, during and after the audition as if it were a character choice – those two liners boy…
Afterwards, as I was walking towards the gate, looking around imagining what it would be like to work here every day and feeling really good inside, I saw a Casting Associate who has called me in a number of times where I booked twice. I yelled out his name because he’s a New Yorker also and that’s what we do when we see a friend. He waves me over and introduced me to his new boss, a Casting Director that I had been hoping to meet for a long time.Sorry, it’s better if I don’t mention any names but in actuality the names are irrelevant in the context of this story which is about what was learned.
Two days later I’m in their office reading Series Regular roles on a very promising Pilot – it helped that I spoke Spanish fluently for some of the roles. So to answer the above question, it feels to me like God threw me a bone because I had changed my modus operandi (i.e. meditating daily) by taking responsibility for how I felt, for how I was vibing, for the vibe I was putting out and will continue to do so as long as my insides are feeling good as opposed to how they have felt for years – sad, frustrated, resentful, angry, anxious, worried, resigned – because the acting career has not taken hold for years. Absolutely I will read as an Intern regardless of my age and resume – there is something to learn here. Something’s got to change and, truth be known, I had been talking to the Universe about how much I love working on set as an Actor.
There was a young guy who came in for a series regular pre-read. The energy in the room changed immediately as he entered – he walked in what seemed like three years of problems on his shoulders.
How many times had I done the same, walked into a room completely unaware of the funky energy that I was emanating? Too many to count. I found myself less concerned with why he came in like that and more interested in how these next few minutes were going to play out. And I made a rock-hard decision to never shoot myself in the foot like that again.
His eyes rarely met ours as we went through the short greeting and the slate for the camera. The sides for this role had three scenes but all the Actors were told that we would only be doing two – I was surprised to learn that this was a decision that Casting made so that they could see more people per role. Our friend was deep in thought and had to be prompted for an acknowledgement of the instruction. He said he understood and was ready.
As we began to read the first scene, it became clear that this Actor had made a strong choice – his character was in a huge funk; sullen, depressed, feeling sorry for himself, angry with life – this was the energy that he walked in with. It was also clear that he had prepared – all his lines were memorized and they flowed conversationally. Plus he was a really good listener.
The scene was with his ex-wife, another series regular, who was asking him for a big favor – babysit their child who lived with her. The Casting Associate gave him a note – she said something like “this is your wife, and even though you’re mad that she ended it you still love her and want to get back together.”
We read the scene again and it was much much better. There was something going on here, there was a sense of history – no longer was he trying to deliver emotion. Just before starting the second scene, she gave another note along the line of “she’s the love of your life – that’s why you started drinking – she’s gone – she’s what you think about when you’re drinking.”
This time was even better. Then she did something that i did not expect – she said something like “why don’t you read the third scene, and this time, make it difficult for her – change the bitter to hurt, tell her how much you love her with your eyes – I know that won’t be so easy with Roberto – but communicate hope, confidence, you know what that’s like. Make it hard for her.”
We did the third scene and this guy was fantastic compared to the first scene. The Actor left the room feeling good, still a little bit in his head (who wouldn’t be?) but we got to see him – the fog had lifted some and there he was – an Actor with dignity who took his work and his craft very seriously. Someone who prepared for this opportunity. It looked like he was thinking on the way out, “how did I miss those obvious ingredients?”
After he cleared the room, I remarked on the wonderful journey that her notes had helped him to take. I considered not saying anything because I didn’t want to come across as an ass-kisser but I ultimately I didn’t care – that was smoking. And I’ll never forget her matter-of-fact response.
“He’s a good actor. There’s just no wow there.”
I felt like I just got punched in the stomach. “What do you mean by ‘wow’?”
“Would you want to watch him for five years? That’s how network execs think. Come on Roberto, we have a lot of people to see today.”
Well, the first thing I learned was no chit-chat during a session. First of all, reading 15-20 actors an hour is no picnic while the whole time keeping the paperwork in order. Secondly, there’s a lot of work to be done when the session is over. Two hours plus of video needs to be transferred to the computer. There’s a ton of email and a bunch of messages waiting for attention. Inevitably in the emails are some self-submissions usually from actors who are out of town.
The “selects” have to be made, i.e. which auditions are being forwarded to the producers, and notes attached to each audition including marking which actors were Casting’s favorites. Plus setting up the next session(s) by reviewing submissions and setting appointments, and booking Actors from the previous sessions. I was really impressed by the volume of work, information and communications that goes on in a casting office. I vowed that I would work as hard on my audition preparations as they work on setting up and processing a session.
Back to the WOW.
Where was my Wow? Did I have a Wow? I know that I must have walked into countless auditions, both commercial but especially theatrical, without my Wow. Why was that? “Why would I do that?” I thought to myself as I walked out to the lobby to get the next Actor. The next Actor was reading for a series regular role. Could it be that?
I rarely read for series regular roles. The last time I read for a network series regular role was over a year ago and I was invited to test at ABC Studios. That could have been a hair-raising experience if not for attending a few casting workshops where I specifically asked questions about the testing experience and received some really good information and insight that allowed me to deliver my work and not choke from self-created pressure and stress, and not be intimidated by signing the six figure contract before going in to test.
For that matter, I hardly go in for Guest Star auditions. After 20 or so co-star bookings, my agent and I agreed (that took some doing on my part) to only be submitted on Guest Stars and above. We went about a year without any theatrical auditions whatsoever, until we started submitting on co-stars again.
Maybe that year was a bad decision. Maybe that resentment built up. Maybe that shit took a hold inside of me and was emanating a stink that I was not aware of, or that I was used to as “normal.” Looking back, that’s when I stopped going to the gym and put on some pounds. Maybe I resented “them” for not hiring me, so to the hell with the gym. Maybe I wasn’t thinking so smart back then. Maybe I wasn’t thinking at all. But that’s not true, I was thinking a lot about how I wasn’t working – another day, week, month, year without work. No, I was not thinking right and definitely not smelling right – no where near Wow.
Yes, we are going to clean up that shitty resentment feeling. Most of my work, whether in class or on stage, has had significantly more lines and more time than a few lines on a co-star role. But a few lines on a co-star now and then and my bills are covered. That’s awesome. Work begets work. Certainly a reason to be grateful rather than bitter, Certainly a more winning attitude than a losing attitude.
I’m going to use this opportunity to turn my career around, to appreciate each Actor that I read with for letting me see them – their gifts and their flaws, so that I could see my gifts and my flaws, and playfully make my adjustments. And who cares if I don’t work any more – I’m tired of being pissed off because I am not doing what I love to do at a level that pays my bills. Who cares why? No more pissed off and “justified” in being in such a place. I’m going to change starting now – later on I will write this up so I can scoop all the gravy off my plate of observations. No judgement, no comparisons, no critiques – just GIVE the kind of readings that I would love to receive in my auditions.
The next Actor does his slate. We are the same height but I got 30 or 40 pounds on him. Oh shit. Do not start down that road. He looks great. He deserves to look great – he obviously works on his physique, on his instrument. And it’s just not the weight and fitness – the absence of fat let’s us see more of him, his essence – his Wow – he has nothing to hide.
Thank you Brother. I’m going to tackle this weight thing. But I can work at this weight that I’m at for sure.
So far – I’ve smelled like resentment for far too long. I’ve been over my fighting weight for far too long. It doesn’t matter why. It’s time to prepare for a new role. Good. What else?
I am optimistic however because prior to writing this up and still not crystal clear on my friend’s original question, “what did I learn?” I booked a Co-Star on “Criminal Minds”, a Guest Star on “Better Things” – a new Louis CK show on FX and a nice role on a new media web series all within a few weeks. So there is hope here.