Starting Over

I don’t watch American Idol. I think I watched about a third of an episode during the Justin-and-Kelly season back in 2002 when I was subbing in at the casting editor’s desk at Back Stage West and all anyone could talk about in the break room was that show and Michael Jackson’s latest nosejob. Eh. Decent. Interesting. Not a season pass on my TiVo.

But these days, I learn a lot about what’s going on in Simon-land by watching Best Week Ever and (the far superior) The Soup each week. And that’s how I noticed that a current (or former, at this point — I believe she’s been ousted) candidate committed a big audition sin: she started over.

See, what’s going on during American Idol, as much as it might feel like a performance at the moment, is an audition. And during an audition, the act of starting and then stopping — and asking if you can restart — is about the worst idea ever. Why? Well, because once you’ve stopped, you’ve already stopped. And the answer to, “May I start again” is almost always going to be, “No, thanks. We’ve seen everything we need to see.”

Sure, there will be moments during which an actor (or, as American Idol‘s Brooke White proved, a singer too) can ask to restart and be given that opportunity, but the far more likely experience — and beginning actors need to be braced for this — is the reply of, “No, thanks. That was plenty. Well done. NEXT!”

But that’s not necessarily bad news! You have to remember that about a zillion things are going on during your audition. And perhaps there have been many new developments happening even before you showed up. There’s been a rewrite. Maybe you’re no longer the right type for this role, but there has been no time to cancel the day’s sessions… and maybe you’re right for something else but only if you have a certain special skill. And no one is going to bother briefing you on all of that ’til they’re sure you’re actually talented and that comes from watching your audition — for any role. (That’s not because they don’t respect you or your time. It’s because there’s really just no time to get you — and every other auditioning actor — up to speed on everything and still “make the day,” so you’ll audition and the casting crew will note your “rightness” for this or any other role on any other project. It’s not a waste of energy. I promise!

But if your ego is tied up in getting to finish your read, you’ll want to avoid that dangerous, “May I start again?” question. Since, by virtue of its very nature (that it interrupts your read), you’ve already stopped your audition and the only choice now will be up to the casting director, who may be interested in you enough to see more, from the start (again), or may be sure you’re not right for this role today, so please just go.

And because you may not know all of that “stuff” that went on prior to your arrival, which makes you no longer the right fit for the role or whatever, you’ll leave there thinking you were asked to leave not because you aren’t the right actor for this role now, but instead because you asked to start again. You’ll kick yourself for having gone off-track. Don’t do that. Everyone goes off-track. It’s all about how we handle it that makes us long-term success stories. Or not.

Whenever I see DVD extras like bloopers and outtakes, I laugh like crazy at the moments wherein the stars look straight into the camera and say, “I effed up. Dammit! Let’s start that over.” They’ll usually say something clever and witty and foul. They’ll usually make it hilarious that they stopped. If there’s a studio audience, there will be tons of laughter and even the director will chuckle. And everyone who watches the footage will think, “Oh, that’s what actors do on set. Aren’t they silly?!?” But I can guarantee you that any day player or costar who shows up as a guest on a set and behaves that way may be fired before the next take. Or, they’ll get their instant gratification of a laugh, there will be enough usable footage for the finished product, the casting department will be put on notice of the cost to the production due to that actor’s bravado, and that actor will not be asked back to that set again. Point is: It takes reaching a certain level of “status” in order to have the act of calling “cut” before the director does (by breaking character, by looking into the camera, by making a joke to the audience) result in laughter, rather than a pink slip.

So, on set, or in an audition, remember that everyone wants to see your best work. We’re hoping to see you nail the read. And even if you’re off-kilter somehow, we’re hoping to see you committed and passionate and talented. That’s enough to show us that you’re right for some other role if not this one. And if you’re on the set already, it’s enough to let you keep the job.

Part of being committed and passionate and talented includes sticking with it when it goes a little wrong. So, you forget the lines! You’re in the moment and you’re connected to the character. That means you can come up with something that works. At least somewhat. And if you’re sodangclose, you’ll be asked to start again and be given a chance to look at the sides again first, so you’re clear on the exact lines. But seriously, only some producers (mostly episodic TV folks) are so dang married to you doing the words exactly as written that you should worry too much about that.

Trust that the CD will ask you to read again if you’re just barely off the mark. Trust that if they don’t want to see more, it’s due to the fact that you’re just not right for this role at this time and that it has nothing to do with your stop-and-start experience. Barrel through. It’s like sports. We like seeing people go for it. Take a risk. And, yes, if you really feel you must, start again. Just know that confidence is way more castable than being exactly right.

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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