Film and TV auditions can make actors nervous because the stakes seem incredibly high. The potential rewards are great, so people put themselves under insane amounts of pressure to succeed. Unfortunately, that pressure almost always prevents them from doing their best work. Instead of psyching yourself out, remember this: if you have an upcoming audition for a film or TV project, you're already succeeding. Some projects receive thousands of submissions from interested actors, but most only end up bringing in 10-20 people to read for each role. If the casting director wants to see your work, you're already ahead of the game. You can afford to relax a little—and relaxation is critical when you want to nail an on-camera audition.
Let's be clear: when I talk about how to nail an on-camera audition, I don't mean that I'm going to tell you how to get the part. You can't control that, and the harder you try the more you'll hurt your chances. It's one of the many paradoxes of acting. What you can control is the way you prepare for your audition, and the attitude you bring into the room. You have no way of knowing exactly what the director will want, but you can make sure that you're showing them the very best you have to offer. Doing your best work makes them more likely to remember you in the future, even if you aren't right for this particular role. Moreover, if you do happen to be the type they're looking for, it ensures that you won't be passed over because of an audition that could have been better.
Below are a few simple steps I take whenever I want to do my best work in an on-camera audition. Some of them come from my time at The New School for Drama, one of the top 5 acting schools in the US (and the place where I earned my MFA). Others are personal strategies that I've developed over the years, and which have facilitated some of my best audition experiences to date. I won't pretend that I get every part I'm called in for, and I won't pretend that this advice will work for everybody. However, I firmly believe that it has helped me become a more consistent, compelling, and natural actor—and I hope that it can help you do the same.
How to Act on Camera Without Getting In Your Own Way:
1. Read the Sides Carefully
There's an incredible amount of information contained in your sides, so you need to make sure you're absorbing as much as possible. Don't just look at the lines—and especially don't just look at your own! Be sure to read all of the action in addition to the dialogue, including that which takes place before and after your scene. The more context you have, the more you'll understand about the world your character inhabits and the forces that drive them. That information will help your choices in the room remain motivated.
As a rule, I also make sure to memorize my sides before every audition. Learning how to act on camera confidently and naturally is all about getting rid of the things that stand between you and your best work. Most of those things are psychological, but pages are definitely physical, and you don't want them obscuring your beautiful face during a taped session. The exception would be a case where the pressure to memorize your material prevents or distracts you from turning in a good performance. Try to know the lines cold, but as Michael Kostroff at Backstage says: "An audition isn’t meant to be a test of memorization skills. Casting people are far more interested in what you’re doing with a role."
2. Resist the Urge to Plan All Your Choices
I can't stress this one enough. It's so tempting to look at each line of your sides and decide exactly what you're going to do with it. Maybe you already know just how you're going to react when Character A says that your dog has been stolen, or you've practiced the specific way you'll grimace when telling Character B to return Rover so that nobody gets hurt. Here's the thing, though: pre-conceived choices don't make for natural performances. More often, they just make your work look forced.
That's not to say you shouldn't experiment with different choices when you're preparing the material, but you can't afford to feel shackled to them. If you want to make exciting choices on the day of your audition, you have to make them right there in the room. Don't try to repeat a choice you made while you were running lines in your kitchen the previous day. Stay open to all the promise and danger of the moment. Since you've already read the sides carefully, you can afford to trust your impulses.
3. Keep Your Focus in the Waiting Room
We've all been there: the foyer with 10 other hopeful actors who look almost exactly like us, all waiting to read for the same role. It can be a tense situation, but it doesn't have to be. Will you be tempted to size up your "competition"? Absolutely. Does that mean you should spend those precious few minutes before your audition judging the outfit of the person next to you? Absolutely not.
You have to remember that the other actors reading for the role aren't really your competition. Everybody interprets the material differently, so your goal isn't to do it better than the next person. Your goal is to make sure that nothing gets in the way of your interpretation, which means you can't afford to distract yourself. I don't analyze the other people waiting because it takes me away from the needs of my character. I also don't make small talk, look at my phone, or think about exactly what I'm going to do during my two minutes in the room. I try to stay relaxed, and not think about what's going to happen next. After all, my character doesn't know either. Both of us (character and actor) are in situations where we need to stay in the moment.
4. Let "Mistakes" Help You
A lot of actors are completely thrown off when something unexpected happens during an audition. That's because they've planned out exactly how they want their scene to go, which means anything outside of that plan becomes a problem. They normally spend the rest of the audition trying to get "back on track", instead of acknowledging the incident and making it part of the scene. It immediately shows that they aren't listening.
Don't think of an unforeseen event as a mistake—think of it as a surprise. A surprise shouldn't derail you; it should make your work more vital and exciting. If you've resisted the urge to plan all your choices ahead of time, you'll be on your toes and ready to respond naturally to any unexpected event. Actors who let themselves be surprised in this way often make choices that surprise everyone else in the room. Their auditions are generally stronger than anything they could have planned in advance.
Bonus: Self Tape Audition Tips
Occasionally, my agent Lisa at King Talent Management will ask me to submit a self-tape for an upcoming project. In many ways, making a self-tape is easier than going to an audition. You won't have a waiting room full of other people to distract you, and you'll be able to do the scene as many times as you want. However, there are some unique pitfalls that actors can fall into when making self-tapes, so here are a few quick self-tape audition tips:
1. Make it Look Professional
Just because you're shooting the tape in your bedroom, that doesn't mean it should look that way. Make sure you shoot against a neutral backdrop without blemishes or other distracting features, and that you take steps to eliminate background noise. Close the windows, and ask your roommates to be quiet for a few minutes. Then set up a tight medium shot that captures you from the chest up, and make sure that you stay inside the frame all times during the scene.
2. Avoid Directing Yourself
Self-tapes allow you to do the scene as many times as it takes for you to be totally satisfied. If you're anything like me though, that can result in a lot of anxiety. Sometimes that anxiety can distract from your priorities. Try not to ignore the essence of your work as an actor because of things that would normally be a director's responsibility. For example, don't be so intent on capturing a specific angle or wrestling a wayward hair into place that you forget your objective and the circumstances of the scene entirely. Presentation matters, but it exists to highlight good acting. It's not a substitute for it.
There is no guaranteed universal method that will teach you how to act on camera flawlessly and book every audition. Acting isn't about perfection. It's about discovery—and discovery is usually a messy process. It helps to go in with as much information as possible, but you also have to be willing to let go of your ideas and embrace the moment. Hopefully, the steps listed above will help you reach a state where you can make those discoveries easily and unselfconsciously. Consider those strategies, remember my self-tape audition tips, and see if they help you nail your next on-camera audition. If you have questions about anything here or want to tell me how your last audition went, leave a comment or contact me directly using the links below.