SHOWING UP: a conversation about the audition

THE ACTORS

You go in the room and suddenly these cameras are on. There's a light on you. There's one person in the room. It feels completely low stakes. You've gotta do something in your brain to suddenly turn it into a real person, breathing and thinking and having these thoughts and it's not lines that you learned 30 minutes ago in the cab downtown. It's words you've been waiting to speak because you really need to be heard. I don't know what that thing is. It think it's magic.

Zoe Kazan Ruby Sparks, Broadway Productions of Come Back Little Sheba, The Seagull

There are times when you just want to say, “Here,” hand them a brochure and say, “This is what I'm like. Get back to me.”

Nathan Lane The Bird Cage, Tony Winner The Producers,
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

It's amazing how inspiration grows out of necessity. You don't have to work right now so you think, “Do you want to go do an episode of Saved by the Bell?” “Nah… just don't feel it today.” But if you were home eating Top Ramen out of a plastic cup and if your wife and kid were sharing one with you? And you guys were peddling around town in the back of your Scwhinn wondering how you were gonna pay your rent, you'd say, “Saved by the Bell? Love that show, can't wait. Send the sides over; actually I'll come get them. I'll be right over and pick them up.” So I have to be careful saying “I just don't feel it right now.” That's bullshit. Only because I have a lot of Top Ramen in my closet. So I am not worried.

Currie Graham NYPD Blue, Boston Legal, Raising the Bar

I'd like to think that the chances are great when you don't land that job that later on it will read as a dodged bullet. There's a good chance that you are never gonna hear anything again when you leave that room. And there's also a fair chance that it's all for the best. Got a good working experience there. Got your hand in, kept your muscles going, and it's all for the better you didn't get asked to do that one.

Bill Irwin Broadway Productions of Fool Moon, Largely New York (4 Tony Nominations) The Regard of Flight, Tony Winner Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

As actors we just want to play don't we? To be able to just get in there and play. If television directors knew that, there'd be so much more aliveness in the audition. If they played with you, they wouldn't be so bored or frustrated or fatigued. They'd get something from it too.

Andrea Martin SCTV, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Tony Winner My Favorite Year

In most professions you start out in your 20's and by the time you are grown up, you have some rights. You have some knowledge. You have status. But that's not so if you are an actor. You start at the beginning each time. You go back to GO every time. You finish your job and go back to GO.

Kristen Cloke Final Destination, Black Christmas

I prefer to audition… What are you supposed to do at a meeting? Are you supposed to be yourself or are you supposed to be who that character is… Or are you supposed to try to be the person that you know the person you're meeting with likes? I really don't want a meeting. I will sweat at a meeting. Let's have breakfast? Breakfast? Eat and have a meeting and do all that? I don't want to.

Margo Martindale Million Dollar Baby, The Riches, Tony Nominee Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Emmy Winner Justified

I'd been offered a roll on Broadway when I was asked to audition for, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown… I thought [the role was] Peppermint Patty which I didn't feel right for… but I thought; “why not?” The director said to me; “I know you have an offer but I have an idea and I can't tell you about it yet because it hasn't been Ok'd by Charles Schulz. But you need to trust me and take this job.” Now, you can either take the path of a sure job or you can take the risk. Everyone under the sun thought I was on crack. I got to write the part of Sally, with the help of Charles Shultz… That role changed my life… I listened to my heart.

Kristin Chenoweth Tony Winner You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, Tony Award nominee Wicked

I auditioned for Sanford Meisner and after my audition he looked at me and said, “Alright we'll take you. You'll get your $5 a week education. It'll take you about 20 years to become an actor.” And I thought, “Does he know who I am? Does he know I did 'Liliom' at the University of Texas?”

Eli Wallach The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Magnificent Seven, Tony Winner The Rose Tattoo

The image I have of the actor; he's got a trunk and he drags it from town to town and he puts on a hat and a mustache and wigs and he dresses as a man and a woman and he's a clown and a king. That image is I think something that helps when you're leaving that room and you feel like shit, and you think, “I'll just carry the trunk to the next spot.”

Chris Messina Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Julie and Julia, The Newsroom, The Mindy Project

I think that there should be a rule that if you make me audition for something more than 2 times after the 3rd audition, no matter what happens you have to send me a gift basket of really nice spa products or flowers. I think you'd feel better… You'd be like, “I didn't get it but look… free soap.”

Julie White Lincoln, Michael Clayton, Transformers, Tony Winner The Little Dog Laughed

I go in and try to please myself. And if I don't, it's because I didn't practice enough before hand. If I do please myself, the outcome while it matters, isn't as important. I can walk out and go, “Well that was great.” It's not up to me if they give me the job or not but I did exactly what I wanted to do.

Denis O'Hare The Good Wife, True Blood, Michael Clayton, 21 Grams, Tony Winner Take Me Out

Once I got an overview, I didn't pay too much attention to the character description. I'm going to go in and do what I can do, what it seems to me instinctively is going to work for me as this character. And if they say, where's the Irish accent? Well it wasn't there, you want one? I can buy one if that's what you want. But I think what you want is really something at the center of the role in terms of the character's heart. That, I always felt I could deliver.

Philip Baker Hall Magnolia, The Insider

You get the pages and it says, “She bursts into tears.” And you're like, “Great.” I am not a crier. I don't cry on cue. I can bring myself there… but if you're sitting there and you wait for over an hour, it's very difficult. It's like saying the same word over and over again, it doesn't make sense to you anymore. So by the time you walk in you might be so fried in your brain because you've been running that scene and trying to stay in that emotional place… for like an hour. It's exhausting. And by the time you get in there, you don't have the moment. And you leave the room and have the moment in the elevator on the way down.

Missi Pyle The Artist, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish, Broadway Production of Boeing, Boeing

You've got to let care go. It's immensely difficult. It's almost impossible to do it consciously. But if you can just possibly relax enough to be yourself you will instantly be five times more interesting to whoever is giving you the audition. And I am sure it must be the same with life, in terms of one's attitude. If you are not worried about how you appear or what you say, it must be infinitely more attractive and offer you much more chance of being happy. Which at the end of the day, that's all there is.

Richard Griffiths Tony Winner The History Boys, Hugo, Harry Potter Films, Withnail and I

To me the best audition always sucks. I don't care how well it goes. It's still a hold up. It's still someone telling you what to do, or I won't let you go. Or I won't give you what you want. You could lose yourself in it creatively and go, “Wow that was kinda fun.” But not really. You still had to get dressed and go there. The resentment to me of being put through it, of getting my clothes on and going and taking the elevator, the train or the bus or the plane or the fuckin' whatever it is to get to these people so they can judge what you do for two minutes… I hate auditioning so much that I don't go in on anything.

John Slattery Flags of our Fathers, 4 time Emmy Nominee for Mad Men

I find it a little bit like a concentrated version of the performance itself. And so if you like doing the performance then why wouldn't you like the kind of red bull version you get from auditioning?

BD Wong Awake, Law and Order: SVU, Oz, Tony Winner M. Butterfly

When you come into a room and it's a group of faces around a long a table or in a horse shoe, as a rule it is not very friendly. This is not 100% because I have been in some where it's fun, and where they reach out. It depends so much on who it is I guess, but this profession alas does not often yield to the greatest exchange of respect in such a thing as an audition.

Lois Smith Five Easy Pieces, Dead Man Walking, Tony Nominee Buried Child and The Grapes of Wrath

A lot of actors will go in with a fuck you attitude, but that's not good, you don't want to go in there with a fuck you attitude. You want to go in there with a fuck IT attitude… meaning, I don't care if I get this job or not. I'm coming in here and I'm gonna show you what I do. This is my thing. This is how I'm gonna play the part. You want to give me some adjustments, some direction, that's great. I'll take it and I'll make the adjustment but this is what I do.

Sam Rockwell Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Galaxy Quest, The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I like it more than I admit… but I'm very reluctant. But that's sort of how I am in life… I don't want to get out of bed and then once I get out of bed, well it's not so bad…it's pretty great. That's the same thing with auditioning. I'd rather sit in a dark room alone but then once you go and you bring something to it, then you walk away and think oh, I actually kinda did something and it's good to exercise those muscles and face that fear of someone else's expectations and… that you'll be able to rise to the occasion and actually bring something to it.

Mary Lynn Rajskub 24, Punch Drunk Love

I have never been fearful or trepidatious about auditions or opening nights. There are many, many things that I am trepidatious about and have no confidence in myself about, but not that.

Pat Hingle Tony Nominee The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, The Grifters, Batman

You can't guess what they want. There's no point in spending any time trying to figure out what they want. What you have to figure out is what you want.

Tamara Tunie The Devil's Advocate, The Caveman's Valentine, Tony Award Winning Producer Spring Awakening

It's such a small sliver of what we are capable of. I think some sort of magic has to happen in the director's mind. It's not necessarily connected with what you do in an audition; it must be some sort of chemical thing that happens. A light goes off in their brains and they say, “That's the person I want,” because sometimes you can do a pretty mediocre audition, feel pretty horrible about it and yet you'll get the job. Conversely, you'll do a bang up audition, feel you put across exactly what you intended to do, be very satisfied with yourself, and that will yield absolutely nothing.

Jefferson Mays Tony Winner, I am My Own Wife

I felt like I completely threw my audition away for Final Destination 3. It was one of those “Hi, thanks for coming in, bye,” kind of things. So many of the roles I've gotten, started out that way. It's funny the things you think you'll get because they were so interested in you in the room or they were so chatty with you and so often they're not that way, they're completely quiet with you and don't say a word.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead Death Proof, Live Free or Die Hard, Final Destination 3, Spirit Award Nominee for Smashed

Something you don't see in the papers everyday… “Wanted; short, bald, middle aged men to pretend to be other people”.

Ethan Phillips The Island, Star Trek: Voyager

I enjoy auditioning and I think that's a big advantage and … it's the most consistent satisfaction that I get out of my career. Because I get to be the director, I get to work at it. I get a day where I have three scenes to do and I'm the star of the scene… I feel like a kid who's done his homework and can't wait to show it.

Nick Chinlund Training Day, Chronicles of Riddick

When you're auditioning, that moment shouldn't be that different from sitting down having the read through or having gotten the job. All of it should feel like one because it is kind of all one. It's just our own perceptions; putting up this labyrinth of walls that we have to navigate. And really maybe there's no navigation involved.

Laila Robins The Good Shepherd, True Crime

I don't mind a bad reader. What I don't like is when they lose their place on the fucking page. “You're just reading a fucking page! How do I know this, and you don't?” They're lost on the page, and you're like, “Dude, you're killing me here! You're killing me here.” Or when it looks like the reader is the one who's actually auditioning for the part. That's kind of scary. “Wow, man, you've got enough acting there for 10 people …maybe you want to turn it down a little”.

Yul Vazquez American Gangster, Traffic, Tony Nominee The Motherf**er With the Hat

When you're a lawyer, you don't have to take the bar exam, every time you go to trial. When you're a dentist you don't have to take the dental exam every time you do oral surgery. When you're a performer, when you're an actor, you do have to kind of prove yourself every time.

Julie Halston Broadway Production of Gypsy, Sex and the City

I think if it works it's because you opened up and exposed yourself in a way that most people never really have to do. And if they do, it's with people they're close to. These are people you don't know, yet you have to reveal something deep about yourself to them. And it has to touch them or you don't get the job. So it's not an easy process.

Ernie Hudson Ghostbusters, The Crow, Oz

At Julliard, I saw kids come in dressed in capes; they were just as desperate to get into Julliard as anyone to get a job. I saw them crawl into the room because they thought it was going to get them noticed. I was the person bringing them in, introducing them to the teachers… and seeing them crawl into the room and thinking “Oh, no!” it's all wrong; it's just not going to be good for them.

Melissa Bowen Broadway Productions of Amy's View and Betrayal

Basically, the only thing that cuts you away from the rest of the pack is you. And either they want what you are in your own original, unique way, or they don't. When you have the ability to reveal that, when you have the ability to let people see your soul, your point of view, your mind, you look different from anybody else in the room and it starts to have nothing to do with what type you are.

Walter Bobbie Broadway Production Guys and Dolls, Tony Winner-Best Direction for Chicago

People say that everyone in LA is so dismissive and not nice, but NY is so much more cut-throat than LA. There is a smaller pool of people who have a ton of training, competing for fewer jobs.

Whitney Allen Oz

You have to be able to roll, you have to be able to accept, you have to be able to accept yourself, accept the circumstances, accept everything that's thrown at you.

Chris Meloni Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Oz

[At my first audition] I was so nervous that I stood behind the piano and grabbed a hold of one of the moving handles in the back. For the entire song, I held on to that thing singing the song, because I thought it was the only way I wasn't going to shake while singing.

Len Cariou Tony Winner Sweeney Todd

I keep thinking of life, that we're all of us auditioning at the side of the road, juggling for the King, who comes by in the carriage and says; you, come here. You know, and you get a job. It's true of directors it's true of everybody. We've got this moment to make contact.

Jack O'Brien 3 x Tony Winner Best Direction The Coast of Utopia pt 1, 2 and 3, Henry IV, Hairspray

I prefer to offer an actor a role because I've seen him in four different plays than audition him.

Terrence McNally Tony Winning PlaywrightMaster Class, Love! Valour! Compassion!

It doesn't take a great deal of skill to envision how a scene could work. A lot of actors can do that. The defining characteristic I think between actors whose work you might enjoy more than others is that they're the ones that know how to liberate themselves and make it happen.

Michael O'Keefe Academy Award Nominee The Great Santini, Michael Clayton

You've got to have, as an actor, a thick skin to get through that kind of experience. But in the middle of it, if you sit down to read or audition, you've got to have a thin skin to give out what you think you can offer. And so it's a constant confusion about what time are you thick and what time are you thin.

Tom Lacy The Royal Tenenbaums, Original Broadway Production Two Shakespearean Actors

I think that confidence reads as talent in a room. Because sometimes you see someone that got a job and you think, Goodness, I know so many people that could do that. I know so many people who could sing like that or act like that or be up there doing that… I think a lot of talented people don't feel worthy enough to be up there…and they should.

Jonathan Groff Glee, Boss, Tony Award Nominee Spring Awakening

In school you learn, ‘the harder I work, the more I will be rewarded. If I'm the best at what I do, then I will get the job. Because I went to Program X or School Y, that will serve me.’ This is the kind of thinking that pervades people to straight to school because in most other occupations, that is how it works.

But you can be a wonderful actor and you might never get a job. When you realize that… For many people, it happens right before they graduate. It can paralyze you because you then realize that you have to reexamine your entire mechanism for approaching how you achieve things.

Joel de la Fuente Law and Order SVU

I went in for one of my first film auditions and it was going to be on tape. The guy that was working the camera was going to put in a new tape and the casting director said, “you want to read through it once with me while he's getting that?” …and we did the scene. As we were doing the scene he seemed dubious about what was happening and I certainly felt that. When we were finished he said, “thanks for coming in John.” And then the camera guy said, “oh no we weren't recording that one.” And the casting director responded, “That's o.k.” That was one of those moments where I thought hmm… I may not be able to do this. I'm not even sure how to get out of this room right now.

John Ellison Conlee Tony Award Nominee The Full Monty

When you walk into those rooms, you're really, really in tune, you're very sensitized; so, you can hear when the producer says to the casting director a completely innocuous remark like, “do those curtains need to be closed?” You can hear the producer actually saying, “Why did you call this actor in?” And I've walked into rooms where you can hear it. They say something and you know immediately that it's over, the audition is already over.

Stephen Spinnella Lincoln, Two Time Tony Award Winner Angels in America

I was auditioning for the role of the surgeon on a TV show. I would have had a mask on my face and goggles on. My own mother wouldn't have known me in the scene. The lines were “suture, forceps, clamp, sponge, another sponge.” There were no connective adjectives or verbs, just a series of medical nouns. When I finished the director sat back, scratched his head, rubbed his eyes and said, “Uh Don, could you take it again? And have fun with it,” to which I just burst out laughing. He said, “it's not funny; they have a good time in the E.R.”

Don Amendolia Broadway productions of My One and Only, Stepping Out, 33 Variations

They very often want to know how you're going to be to be around for 3 months on a film set or backstage. Or, can you listen to what I say? And that skill I learned early on and it's absolutely still true about auditioning. They want to see what you're going to be like.

Margaret Colin Independence Day, The Devil's Own, Now and Again, Gossip Girl

I am often startled when I am going in, particularly for a movie or television, and you look at the familiar faces that you have been inspired by in some cases, sitting there with the material. And you think, “It doesn't end.” We're on this treadmill that goes on and on and on.

Edward Hibbert Frasier, Broadway Productions of Noises Off, Curtains, The Drowsy Chaperone

I've been around the block a lot and I've been extraordinarily lucky in my life. But I think this may have been because I always regarded it as my life, not my career.

Brian Murray 3 x Tony Nominee The Crucible, The Little Foxes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

I just have fun when I go in on an audition. I make it a day. I don’t take it too seriously, because I look at it this way; everybody's going to get a shot. And your time's going to come.

Deezer D E.R.

I think part of working as an actor is gaining some kind of knowledge of what you do; what you personally do well. What is it that you do or that I do that is unique to us?

David Dean Bottrell Boston Legal