Nick McGinley has been casting director on Irish features Kisses, The Other Side of Sleep, Dollhouse, Life’s a Breeze and Brendan Muldowney’s latest feature, Love Eternal, and has done Irish casting for UK and US co-productions (71, Brand New U, Calvary, The Guard, War Horse, Wrath of the Titans).
Nick’s 2009 comedy book 100 Reasons to Vote Yes to Lisbon II reached number 8 in the Hodges Figgis chart and in 2008 he performed in the award-winning comedy double act Hoarse Throat Soothers. Nick has been a radio essayist for Spectrum and Frequencies on RTE Radio 1 and has written radio plays, TV scripts and screenplays. He is currently finishing a collection of short stories and will embark on a live storytelling tour in early 2014.
As he comes to the end of 7 years of casting in order to write full-time, Nick gives Film Ireland his casting advice for actors, as he says “before I forget this stuff.” According to Nick, “A lot of my points will seem blindingly obvious to most professional actors – but it’s remembering and enacting the obvious that will get you the part.”
Am I an actor?
Since the only way to get parts is to have talent and then be professional in deploying that talent, it’s up to each aspirant actor to really interrogate themselves as to whether they’re any damn good.
Have that difficult argument with yourself – it could save you years of heartache.
E-mail your CV and photo and have your name in the title of the document. Basically, make it very easy for people to save your details and find you the next time. Posting glossy pictures is probably a waste of money these days. At least it wasn’t really relevant to me – I put them in a box and only pulled them out on rare occasions of desperation.
Just because you’re in it, don’t automatically put it on your showreel. It needs to be good. The person watching will only watch it once and will switch off at the first poor scene. Don’t put a musical montage on at the start. Ever. If the person hates the song you’ve put on, they may not watch further and also we’ve just sat through the scenes with no dialogue and now we have to sit through them again? Don’t do it.
You need to be on Fishpond and you need to be on Spotlight, but there’s no point in being on either really without a showreel.
If you have the number of the casting person, don’t call them – e-mail is fine – pestering people with phone calls will only irritate. By all means invite people to your screenings, shows or showcase – but don’t demand – asking once with a reminder is sane, 5 times is totally mental – you are asking for someone’s time and when I was casting, I had none.
Never ring up and ask for feedback after an audition – casting people or directors are not running acting classes. Don’t even ring up the ones who do run acting classes. It’s inappropriate and will thus lose you work.
As the one thing you can exert control over is your own mood and energy and because it’s extremely important in the doing of the job as well as in auditions, most of what I have to say is about mood regulation.
Sleep, no drink
To prepare for an audition, do the things that put you in the best possible mood to act. Get a good night’s sleep, even if it means not sharing a bed with that special someone. Don’t drink at all the night before. I’ve had actors, especially Irish ones, boast about how fucked up they got the night before. Oh and on that note, try not to curse – you’re at work. I have never seen anyone do a good audition hungover and I have never cast anyone who was. The only question you’re raising is not what a fun hellraiser you are, but will you turn up to set on time and what state will you be in?
Exercise (or not)
On the morning of the audition, take exercise or don’t – it gives some people energy, it takes too much energy away from other people. For most people though, it’ll wake you up and give you energy.
Eat a decent breakfast – slow release energy foods like porridge and bananas rather than chocolate cereal are better – anything that helps you concentrate. Don’t drink too much coffee, as it tends to muck up the clarity of your voice.
Voice / Persona warm-up
Don’t let the person in the audition room be the first person you’ve spoken to all day. I always feel we re-boot our personas each morning – that it’s not just your voices that need to warm up, but your social skills. And do warm up your voice with whichever vocal exercises don’t scare too many old ladies in the street. With bluetooth ear-pieces, actors learning their lines on the street don’t quite seem as much like crazy people as they used to.
Have something planned that’ll be enjoyable for directly afterwards – meeting a friend for lunch or going for a pint. Try to think about that and all the other highlights of your week before you go in the door, so that the audition is just another part of your day – no more important, no less important. It’ll help tamp down the nerves.
Don’t talk too much with the actors waiting with you – be friendly, but save your energy for inside the room, not outside – a lot of people in audition queues boast about how much experience they have or that they have some insider knowledge or contact – don’t listen to them – if they’re sitting there, they don’t and it’ll do them no good anyway – you’ve got just as much chance as they do – just smile and keep your focus.
If you’re a young attractive performer (or not!), don’t wear extremely tight, low-cut, or provocative clothing, it will only make people uncomfortable or make you seem vain. Neither is good. Comments like ‘look who’s been shopping in the children’s section again’ should not follow you out the door.
Wear comfortable clothes that you can easily move in – wear exactly what you would on a normal Saturday morning – don’t get all dressed up for an audition – it’ll make you feel self-conscious and awkward.
Although if you’ve time to source the clothes and get it right, it’s no harm to come dressed as the character would – even just a hint of it – making an effort is never a bad thing. If you’re not sure though, leave it and come dressed as you really look (not how you’d like to look).
Learn your lines
Learn your lines. Unless it’s been ridiculously short notice, in which case you’re doing the casting director a favour by coming in cold, have the lines down. It will leave you free to take direction and give you utter confidence.
Make your choices on how it should be played, but don’t lock yourself into these choices, because even if you’re right, they’ll want to see if you’ll take direction and enact it before their eyes. The ability to take direction is the whole thing. Instead of telling them you understand the material, show them.
It’s perhaps best to show how subtle you can play things first, rather than going big – most of the work is done by the lines, your voice and what you look like anyway – you have to do very little. It’s also more likely then you’ll be asked to do a second take. And then they’ll have both versions.
Take your time
If you’re given direction, think about it, before you rush headlong into it. Don’t let anyone rush you – everyone hates being rushed, so they’ll understand. But we are talking 30 seconds here, not minutes – if you’re muttering to yourself in the corner of the room with your hand over your face, it doesn’t prepare them for greatness.
Play everything with conviction. To the nth degree. Don’t let embarrassment creep in. Never comment ironically on your own performance in your performance. Never break scene until someone stops you. Give people the benefit of the doubt – don’t let yourself get annoyed if they seem not to be paying attention – they may be, or may not, but if they’re unprofessional, you need to be more so.
How do you walk in a room? Confident, but not arrogant. Alert, but relaxed. You’re never going to be totally relaxed, so just listen and try and respond as best you can. The suave performers with the apparent ease that you covet are probably afraid of not being taken seriously for the more difficult parts you’d be seen for. Everyone has it tough in some area, no matter who they are.
The best actors I know aren’t working, while many of the people who are, are talentless, but it’s all so subjective – performers I liked, maybe another casting person doesn’t. So if you’re bitter about how your career has gone, hide it. Or change the way you feel about it, because if you come in with a passive-aggressive vibe of entitlement and rage, you won’t get the job, because people won’t want to be around you. They prefer to cast people they like.
Don’t come in with aggression – to overcome or combat the people in the room, to show how well you can portray an alpha – they want you (even the arseholes) to do well, so that they can go home. You being cold or impatient won’t make them think you’re doing them a favour by being there and therefore are the right person for the part.
If you’re playing a dangerous gangster, don’t stare the men down throughout the audition, you’ll only get into a fight. It’s pretend. Make believe. They don’t care where you’re from, they don’t care how tough you are. If you’re a prick in the room, you’ll be a prick on the set and nobody wants that. The ‘Name your Personal Favourite Hollywood Asshole Here’ career option is a lot shorter and terminal in a country this size.
If you’re doing some bullshit audition for idiots for a bullshit job, don’t be there. If you do decide to attend, do so with grace: it’ll pay off.
And no one director, producer or casting person owes you a job. A few of my best friends who were actors before I started this and will be when imminently, I’m no longer doing it, have never been auditioned by me. And I rate them. There just hasn’t been a suitable part for them. I only brought people in if I thought they were right for it and after that, it was down to their skill and if there’s any rapport between them and the director or sometimes the producer. So far, so totally subjective.
Like in performance, let them come to you, don’t impose your personality on the room, don’t try to ramp up the Charm Monster to warp speed 9 – it’s irritating. If it’s a sexy romantic lead, don’t feel the need to flirt with everyone in the room. (And don’t assume because the casting director is male, he’s gay – he may not be.) A number of young male actors tend to stand too close to everyone, as if to say ‘I am a polysexual being, equally adept at playing straight, gay or bi’, where I’d just say ‘stay over there, will you?’ Don’t invade the space, just inhabit it. Filmmakers are like kids, they like you better if you remain self-contained and don’t really care whether they like you or not. It’s a hard balance to strike. But as I’ve already said: don’t come in with attitude – rude is rude. If an actor directed the answers only to the director whenever I asked a question, then I wasn’t going to fight for them when they’d left – people will only respond to you if you treat them with respect. Now that only happened to me once, but it’s illustrative. It goes both ways. People are only human after all.
Don’t intellectualise or theorise before you do the scenes as the skill they’re looking for from you isn’t that one. They want to see if you can inhabit it, not rationalise it. There is nothing as disappointing as having someone demonstrate how intelligent they are and then straight away, demonstrate that they can’t act to save their lives.
Convincingly being a character is a totally different and frequently clashing skill than to be able to write a cogent psychological treatise on the subject matter. Also if you’re a talented writer, don’t give away all your points about how to improve the script – even if you’re right, you may offend the director who could be the writer or co-writer and he or she will just take your ideas anyway and not cast you. If you get the job, dependent on the level of collaboration, you might get your changes. Don’t give gold to people for free, when they may already be learning from your interpretation of the part. Your only job is to make that interpretation so good, they can’t afford not to have you around.
Don’t talk yourself out of a job
Don’t talk yourself out of a role after you’ve done the scenes – it’s like social networking – people needlessly give themselves away. Stick to the point – do the scenes – if you’re getting good feedback and absolutely think you have an original point to make about the subject, make it and leave, don’t water down the impact of your own audition, by waffle, after the fact.
If you think you messed up an audition, don’t apologise. You have no idea what they noticed or didn’t notice – chances are you did a lot better than you thought. And remember 90% of an audition is just a chance to meet you and see what you’re like. Just thank your torturers and leave, but don’t race out as if you can’t wait to leave the room.
No hoop-jumping for creeps
If you’re not comfortable in an audition – either because you don’t like the people there or the questions they’re asking you, or what you’re being asked to do, leave. Thank them for their time and walk out the door. Trust your instincts – life’s too short to jump through hoops for creeps.
You never know how you come across to people, so stop worrying about it. You’ll never know what a director or casting person is looking for, so don’t waste time trying to figure that out. You know how you are looked on by your family and friends and no one else matters. If the casting people are good enough at their jobs to be able to match your talent with a role then, great. If not, no bother. All your best qualities will only be noticed about a tenth of the time and then only by your closest friends. ‘I didn’t know you could do that!’ If you’re good, you’ll be hearing that all your life…
If a casting person asks you to read in at an audition for free and you haven’t met them yet, do it! But only once for free, after that, you’re providing a service, so charge them a small fee.
As soon as an audition is done, put it out of your mind and forget about it. A lot of things you mightn’t hear about, but nine times out of ten, you know if you nailed it or not, and if you didn’t nail it, move directly on. No post-mortems. Any glaring errors you made, chances are, you won’t make them again.
Even if you’re totally Machiavellian about it, you don’t know who your allies are in the room, you can’t possibly predict the myriad competing requirements each stakeholder has as to whom they want for the part and why, so you can let yourself off the hook, as you’ll never be able to anticipate all the angles – just be polite, be prepared and blow them out of their seats.
Always walk into the room expecting to be loved.
Acting is all about hiding emotion, about concealment. Think about a character’s innermost fears and try and hide them. It’s more about this, than what you’re willing to reveal.