Actors are intense people. This is no secret to anyone who has ever been an actor. Or known an actor. Or watched an actor. It just comes with the territory. In order to be the type of person who enjoys inhabiting fictional characters (and doing so with the goal of making those characters as real to viewers as possible), you sort of have to be a little special. And by “special,” I mean “intense.”

Something I’ve enjoyed observing, since “lowering my personal level of intensity” (read: retiring from acting and becoming a casting director) is the way non-actors perceive actors. Especially the intensely intense ones.

News bulletin: MOST OF THE MYSTICAL, CREATIVE, PRECIOUS, INTENSE HOO-HAH THAT ACTORS MUST DO IN ORDER TO BRING CHARACTERS REALISTICALLY TO LIFE SCARES THE BEJEEBUS OUT OF NON-ACTORS. This is not to say that the intensity is not valued. It is. It just isn’t always understood. And that’s reason enough to minimize the amount of “actor prep” you reveal to non-actors. Think of it like a sausage factory. You may like the tasty breakfast meat, but you sure as heck don’t want to visit the factory for a “how it’s made” tour with every bite.

Last week, I moderated a casting director panel discussion at the Hollywood Black Film Festival. CSA President Chemin Bernard commented on “preparation” (an element we had all agreed was supremely valuable in an actor’s audition experience) by demonstrating what we don’t mean, by “preparing” for an audition. “Don’t come into the room, spin around, and do your breathing exercises,” she said, acting out an example of such behavior. It was a hoot, and it brought lots of laughter, but the point is very important: All anyone is thinking, while you’re doing “actor prep” in the audition room, is, “How do I get this nut out of here?”

I had a heavy-on-the-in-room-actor-prep actor come to prereads for a role in one of the feature films I cast last year. We did the usual, “Do you have any questions?” “No, thank you.” “Okay. Begin when you’re ready,” exchange and then the actor said, “Great. I just need 47 seconds to myself,” turned around, and did some sort of “actor prep” facing away from us (the camera operator, our reader, me, the director, and two producers). We looked at each other in bewilderment and waited our assigned 47 seconds. I noted this odd request on the actor’s resumé and wondered why the actor couldn’t have used 47 seconds during the time spent in the waiting room to have done this prep work. Later, the crew asked me what that behavior was about.

“I don’t know,” I answered. And I really don’t. I mean, I understand that you need to shift gears from your “chitchat space” to your “character space,” but I think, if you looked at the experience from the producers’ point-of-view, you’d understand how frightening such choices appear. Producers are in this industry to make money. And, only slightly less important than the “make money” goal is the “don’t lose any money” goal. When you do pretentious-looking “actor crap,” producers are envisioning money flowing down the drain, while a crew of a hundred waits for you, in your trailer, doing your prep work instead of hitting your mark, delivering your lines, and moving on to the next shot.

Bob Clendenin put it very well in Acting Qs when he said:

What we learn… is that we’re blank slates. We take on these characters, we do this research, we start to develop these characters. Producers in LA are terrified of actors. They don’t understand the process of acting and they don’t want to be reminded that they’re looking at an actor. What they want is to see the real deal. That gives them comfort that, if they hire you, you’re not going to be a headache. View it from the other side. Know that the most important thing to them is that they’ve got a checklist of a hundred things that they need to accomplish. Don’t be the one that’s going to be a problem. Once you start thinking of it in those terms, it can start to inform how you enter the audition room, what you present to the people when you walk in, and how you can help them achieve that goal.

Sometimes it’s as simple as the perception-of-personality issue. An in-character actor is a wildcard. There are filmmakers who want to spend time on set with people they enjoy and get along with. All things being equal, when we have several fine actors to choose from for one role, directors will often ask themselves, “Whose personality clicked with mine?” An actor who arrives at the audition in character may really sell the character (and that’s great), but when the filmmaker considers who he wants to work with for weeks at a time, that in-character actor who never revealed himself is somehow considered “too risky.” This is especially obvious when that “in-character” actor is compared with the actor who had a pleasant actor-filmmaker conversation (not about character motivation, but about some technical aspect of the shoot or even a non-industry related topic).

Look, I get that every actor has his own process. And I know what works for one actor isn’t going to work for every actor. But I also know that I’ve seen some of my favorite, most brilliantly-talented actor friends not get cast for one reason only: We never saw the actor. We only saw the character. People want to work with people. Not characters. That’s what makes this show business… not live-action role-play.

If you’re one of those actors who can’t handle the “in room chitchat” before your read (because the character’s emotional intensity is so high that you need to be in a very non-chitchat headspace before you enter the room), ask the casting assistant to inform the folks in the room that you’d like to do your chitchat after your read. That’s not a horribly unusual request, although I have seen some filmmakers bristle at being told how the session is going to go down, during that particular actor’s read. Far better for you to cultivate a system for getting to that emotional place quickly so that you can enter the room, say your hellos, take a moment (and I do mean A. MOMENT.), and blow us away with your acting.

As always, you should be looking for the path of least resistance between you and the role you’re hoping to book. Don’t create obstacles for yourself. It’s difficult enough to get cast as it is! Be professional in the room and intense in private. We like to see the brilliant magic trick! We don’t so much love knowing the mechanics of the sleight of hand.

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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