You Must Go There

I’m in the middle of the casting process for a dramatic feature film based on a true story. It’s a pretty heart-wrenching tale and the lead characters have quite an emotional journey. Throughout prereads last week, we saw actors who “went there” and actors who did not. Upon reflection, I noticed it was consistently actors reading for one character in particular who managed to not go there. Why?

I can only imagine that the choice to not “go there,” emotionally, comes from actors’ reluctance to fall apart, should they happen to get swept up in the emotions that surely would exist in the world of the character. But isn’t that precisely why we love watching actors work? As consumers of movies, TV shows, and stage plays that move us, don’t we enjoy going on the ride with the characters? Actors have a responsibility to the material, and when the material is especially emotional, that means actors run the risk of being personally impacted by the emotions. You, as an actor, understand that of course and you are probably willing to do all manner of “going there” once you’ve booked the role.

But do you need to go there during the audition process? Often, yes. Imagine you are on my side of the table during auditions. Let’s say I’m seeing 25 actors per role for prereads and five of them go there, emotionally. They really perform the role — during prereads — as if they have already won the gig. Who will I want to bring to callbacks? The actors of the right type who may or may note be able to get to the emotional levels we need for such a demanding role or the actors who absolutely showed us they get this character, from the very beginning? You know the answer, of course.

What if you don’t want to make that level of emotional investment, as an actor, until you are farther along in the process? Well, I hate to tell you, but that very choice might just keep you from being invited to advance through the process. We want to see performance-level work, most of the time. So much of casting is knowing we’re seeing the actor who can get the job done with the least amount of tweaking, once on the set. That makes the choice to “go there” that much more important during the audition process. Leaving us with no question that you’re the one only helps us keep you on that short list, through every round of cuts.

So, how do you, as an actor, balance connecting with the material in a meaningful way early enough in the process and being able to disengage from the material so that you can let go of what happens after your audition? That’s probably one of the most difficult challenges you’ll face, as an auditioning actor.

Let me hear from you! What tactics have you found useful, in balancing the ability to “go there” and the ability to disengage from the process? Certainly, the usual “let it all go” advice applies, but what do you do when the material is especially emotional? In a field such as acting (where so very little is as simple as to be controlled by an on/off switch), can you balance both of these elements? And if so, how have you done it? Share your toys, everyone! I’ll write about your tips in a follow-up column.

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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