At a recent speaking engagement, I was asked: “What do you look for in an actor?” (Note: This is probably my least favorite question.) Because actors so frequently ask this almost totally irrelevant question, I finally came up with a good answer for it. And my answer has more to do with what I think actors can legitimately work on than it actually answers the question (because the answer to the question is something like, “It depends,” “The IT Factor,” or “I know it when I see it”).
Since the actual question is something like, “What can I do to make myself more castable, once I’m in front of you?” I’ve gotten in the habit of answering, “What do you look for in an actor?” with what I call The Three C’s. That’s Character, Choice, and Commitment. Since you, as an actor, can’t control the zillions of variables that affect what, specifically, we look for at any given time, by focusing on The Three C’s, you can at least bring your best to the audition.
Character is what got you called in for an audition in the first place. Your type matched the character description enough that you were asked to audition. This does not mean that you need to have headshots taken “in character” or that you need to specialize in certain kinds of roles in order to get the call. It just means that, when we review the submissions for a particular role, we see something in your headshot that makes us believe you could nail a portrayal of this character.
One of the things I find myself saying to myself when deciding to include an actor as I filter through headshots submitted for a particular role is, “I buy it.” It’s like I have a question for each headshot (and this takes place in a nanosecond, so there can’t be much room for “close enough”). That question is, “Can you be this guy?” If I find myself saying, “Yeah. I buy it. You could be this guy,” you end up on the short list. If I say, “I don’t buy it. He’s not you,” you’re going to end up out of the mix and not called in for an audition.
So, if the first thing I look for in deciding who gets an audition is whether the actor could play the part, the best thing you can do is submit a headshot that aligns your type with the character’s type. Don’t make it difficult for me to imagine that you could stretch to play this role. Don’t talk me out of it by submitting the wrong headshot. If you have a great scumbag headshot and you’re submitting for the princess, that’s not gonna work. Similarly, once you come in for that audition, be sure you’re dressed in such a way as to suggest the character. Don’t go over the top with character-dressing, but at least show up looking like you could, indeed, be this guy.
You hear a lot about “making choices” in acting. In watching actors audition, many times we’ll say, “She was married to her choices,” or, “He didn’t make a choice.” Both are sins and both are avoidable. You want to make specific, committed choices about your character, the scene, and the world in which your character lives before you enter the room. Once, I asked an actor a question about his character: “Did he go to college?” The actor looked at me, blankly, then looked down at the sides, then back up at me, and timidly said, “Um, I don’t know.” “Of course you do!” I replied. “I mean, I didn’t see that in the script,” he countered. “Dude! Just decide. You’re playing this character very vanilla, very middle-of-the-road. This whole scene means something different if this kid is college-educated. There’s no wrong choice. Just MAKE ONE and do the scene again,” I instructed. I sent him out and 20 minutes later he came back in, having made some really great choices about this guy. “Didn’t that feel better?” “Yeah. Much,” the actor answered. Of course it did. It’s the difference between knowing why a character does or says a certain thing and wondering what it is that makes the character tick.
Absolutely, you need to be flexible enough to handle a redirect, but honestly, if you’re not showing us that you’ve made choices from the beginning, we may not even have interest in having you do the read again with our direction. And think about it: Who better than you to make a choice about who this character is at this moment? At the time you’re in the room, auditioning, that role is YOURS and no one else’s. So, own it. Show us how it should be done. We’ll give you direction if you’re way off-base about something that matters (or, we’ll love what you’ve chosen so much that we’ll consider making THAT choice a part of the script). Be specific, be confident, and show us how you see this character. When it’s done right, we may not even notice that you made choices at all. What we’ll see is a character coming to life right in front of us (And that’s what you want, right?) and we’ll not ever know WHY we loved your take on the character best. Cool. It doesn’t matter WHY. If you made choices that came together in such a way as to make us believe we were seeing that character go from the page to the living-and-breathing, you did your job well.
Commitment is my favorite C because it relates not only to your individual auditions but to your career as a whole. You’re either in or you’re out. Think about watching an ice skater leading into a triple toe-loop, then falling during the landing. When the announcers go back and review the footage in slow-motion, they’ll say things like, “Oh! You can see on her face as she’s headed into that jump that she knows she’s not going to land it. She’s lacking confidence before she even starts. She really didn’t commit and that’s why she fell.” I see auditions in the same way. We LOVE watching actors come in, commit, approach the jump, and nail it. We don’t so much love watching actors TRY.
Beyond auditions, if you’re not committed to your career, it will look exactly like that, “Uh-oh, I’m not going to land this jump,” face the skater makes. And since people love to back winners, your confidence is an important element to success. A key ingredient to being a “winner” at any of this showbiz stuff is committing to your jumps. You know that feeling of not-quite-committing to it. It’s like the way you drive your car the first time out after having been in an accident. It’s timid. It’s dangerous. So, when you have that “maybe I’m not quite committed” feeling, stop. Shake it off. And start again, committed.
As screenwriter Josh Friedman said at his blog, “If you’re gonna do it, do it. Don’t creep right up close to it, think about doing it, and then back off just a bit and try to convince yourself you’re still doing it. You’re not. It’s binary. You either have faith or you don’t. You’re either doing it, or you’re not.”
Confidence is a big part of commitment. So is charisma. When you are committed to a performance, a career, a lifestyle, you exude confidence and charisma (two very attractive things). Many times I have heard casting compared to dating. We don’t like the desperate candidates and we find ourselves attracted to the people we want to spend time with. This doesn’t mean we have a sexual attraction to actors! It’s the same way you feel when you meet a new friend and can’t wait to see each other again because you just have so much fun together. There is something attractive about people who are confident, committed, and in their element. And the thing is, this isn’t stuff you can easily fake! So, if this scares you (because you see yourself as naturally under-confident) start by being committed to your choices. You will eventually build confidence in your performances (auditions are just short performances, y’know) and that will extend to confidence in yourself.
So, if I’m forced to put it into words, that’s what I look for in an actor. The actor needs to be the right character type to get called in, make strong choices about the character and the material, and commit to those choices (as well as to the very pursuit of acting) with confidence. All of that, together, is a recipe for being a memorable, charismatic actor that we will invite back into the room again and again. And, in the end, that’s what you’re hoping for, right?
How do you control the C’s that you control? And are there any I’ve missed, above? Let’s jam, below, fine folks! I look forward to hearing from you! 😀
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000448.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.