The truth is that some people can be great actors but terrible at auditions. There’s the pressure, the nerves, and the last minute notice that can sometimes eat away at a person to the extent that they completely flub their audition. This can happen over and over again to talented actors, who have a hard time booking any roles, or even getting callbacks because they were so nervous and uptight on the day of their audition. Some big name actors even used to struggle with their audition process, to the point that they took years before they even started booking gigs regularly. Aaron Eckhart is one of them — he said that it took years before he started getting called back from auditions because he was so bad at them. He said that it took his friend casting him in a short film before he was really able to overcome his nerves and anxieties in the audition room. And he’s gone on to build a hugely successful career in Hollywood, so there’s still hope for you yet!
So how do you overcome this? How do you adequately prepare for your audition in a way that gives you the best chance to succeed once you get in the audition room?
Here are 5 things you should do to make sure that you’re not a nervous-wreck and can begin to get yourself prepared when you find out about an upcoming audition:
Memorize your lines, but don’t over memorize your performance: During an audition, it’s easy for actors to become stiff and calculated because they are so afraid of screwing up that they have the entire performance of the scene mapped out in their head. This leads to a lack of flexibility in the scene, openness to discover new things about the scene and your character, as well as dropping out of the scene because you’re completely in your own head instead of being present in the moment. That’s why you should make sure your lines are memorized, but act out the scene in a variety of different ways so that you can continually keep surprising yourself with your performance. That way the scene is constantly evolving and changing. The scene should never be the same each time. You need to move and speak in a way that feels the most authentic in that particular moment. Also, you want to be adaptable so if the casting director asks you to perform the scene a second time, but this time in a completely different way than before, you’re comfortable and ready for it.
Understand your character and the circumstances they’re in: The lines that you speak are important, but what’s even more important than that is the character you’re supposed to be playing and the particular circumstance they’re in. Once you begin to get a grasp on your character and the obstacles they’re facing (IE. what’s driving the scene and what’s your character’s motive?) then you’ll be much more comfortable playing with the lines once you get into the actual audition. You can start to play with the type of voice they use, the little nuances in which they deliver particular words, and unique mannerisms they may possess. Then the actual lines you’re speaking will take on more layers and be delivered with much more power and authenticity. Also, by having a handle on the deeper issues surrounding your scene, the more relaxed you’ll be, the more you’ll listen to what the person reading with you is saying, and the less focused you’ll be on the actual words that you’re supposed to deliver and the more focused you’ll be on the emotion behind the words.
Choose the appropriate wardrobe: This should go without saying, but don’t dress in a suit if you’re going to read for a role of a college student, or a slacker, or a stoner. On the flip side, don’t wear shrubby clothes if your character is supposed to be a Wall Street trader. If you’re given sides beforehand, there should be a breakdown of the character you’re playing at the top, or on a different page altogether. It’s absolutely essential that you read through that carefully and understand the type of person you’re going to be playing. Also, what you wear to your audition is going to show the casting director how you interpreted that particular character. It will show that you read through all the information you were given, took the time and prepared, as well as brought in your own ideas and interpreted the character in your own way. That’s exactly what they want. They want to see what your interpretation of this character is. They want to see something different than they’ve seen hundreds of times already today.
Don’t over-prepare: What’s interesting is that a lot of actors will tell you that they ended up booking big roles from auditions they thought went terribly. They only got the sides last minute, or didn’t have time to prepare, and so they went into the audition expecting nothing to come from it. And then, boom! They end up booking their biggest role yet. This is because they didn’t over-prepare. They allowed themselves to play around and be loose in the moment. They didn’t put that extra pressure on themselves to book the role because they knew they had a scapegoat to blame: they didn’t have enough time to practice! They were more relaxed than usual, and just allowed the result of the scene to be discovered within that performance. Meryl Streep has a famous quote:
“Sometimes under-preparation is very good because it instills fear and fear is galvanizing. It makes you break out of yourself. If you’re prepared, then you think you’re ready, and if you think you’re ready, then you’re not ready.”
We’re by no means advising you to forget about your preparation altogether, because it’s definitely important that you prepare, but there’s something to be said for not being so rehearsed that there’s no room for spontaneity.
Be ready to jump and forget your preparation when the scene starts: You can rehearse and practice all you want, but when that scene starts, you’re going to forget about everything you did to prepare for it. It’s just going to be about being present in that moment. This again, goes back to the point about understanding your character and the circumstances (obstacles) they’re facing. If you know those deeper facets of the scene and the script then you’ll have a better chance of staying in the moment and driving the scene in the direction that you’re expected to. Sure it’s going to be a little nerve-wracking, your heart is going to flutter like a butterfly, and your palms are going to turn into little pools of sweat, but that’s what acting is all about. You want to be excited, a little nervous, and be able to deliver an exciting and enthralling performance. You just have to trust your instincts, go for it, and don’t expect the perfect performance every single time.
Like with anything, often the lead up is the most nerve-wracking part. You build it all up in your head, play out worst-case scenarios and catastrophic results, until you’re exhausted and freaked out. You have to find a way to relax, and put the appropriate work in, but most importantly, understand that it’s not going to go perfectly every time. There’s times you’re not going to feel good about your audition but you can always take pride in the fact that you did your best to prepare your A-Game for audition day. Who knows, the auditions you didn’t think went very well will probably be the ones you end up booking anyways.