One of my biggest pet peeves as an agent was how clueless many actors were about auditions. Or specifically, that they had no idea about the kinds of roles they should or shouldn’t be auditioning for.
Actors would come in with a copy of the breakdown for a big studio film shooting in the area and point out a role they thought they were “perfect” for. Then would come fifty questions wondering if we had submitted them for the job, how could they get the casting director to meet with them (because of course if the casting director saw them in person they would KNOW that they were right for the role), and what sort of money they would get from the gig.
They had actually mentally cast themselves as a Hollywood star–but some of these actors hadn’t even booked a paid acting gig before!
I mean, it’s great to have big dreams and aspirations, but you need to have a realistic plan for getting there. Would you try out to be an NFL quarterback if you were a scrawny kid that had never even played football? Of course not! But for some reason, actors do this sort of thing all the time.
Of course, the vast majority of these actors end up very disappointed when they don’t get the role, or even an audition. Then they get frustrated about the constant rejection, and many end up leaving the business altogether.
What these actors don’t realize is that they have really done this to themselves. It’s not necessarily that they didn’t have the talent to take on these roles, but they were auditioning for the wrong role at the wrong stage of their career.
Want to know one of the biggest “secrets” of acting that most people get wrong?
You’re not going to be right for every role.
That seems like a simple concept, but it’s amazing how many people screw this up.
You can waste a lot of time auditioning for things that you’ll never get. Sure, you get the benefit of getting a little more experience auditioning, but you’re not doing your career any favors by putting yourself out there for casting directors and then blowing the audition because it was way out of your league. First impressions are everything, and it’s easy for a casting director to write off an actor as flaky or inexperienced if they keep seeing them audition for roles that they’ll never get.
The key to auditioning is doing your homework first. You can save yourself a lot of time and frustration by putting in a little bit of effort into figuring out exactly where you fit into the industry. This will help you avoid some of the pitfalls that most actors fall into when lookingg for auditions.
Here are the top reasons most actors lose the role before they even walk into the audition.
1. You auditioned for the wrong role
This is by far the #1 mistake I see people make as actors and actresses, especially starting out. The vast majority of actors have no clue when it comes to figuring out how they come off to casting directors, so they usually end up going for roles that they would never even be considered for.
The most important thing you can do for yourself as an actor starting out is to figure out your “type.”
You’ve probably heard this term thrown around before. Simply put, your type describes the sort of roles that most people would cast you in.
It’s a combination of your physical appearance, age, voice, personality, energy, first impression, and dozens of other things that go into how people view you. Some types can include leading man, ingenue, girl next door, hilarious sidekick, villain, or dozens of others.
Discovering your type is key because that is how casting directors will mentally “package” you when it comes to determining roles.
It can be very difficult, if not impossible, to convince a director that you are a certain type when they already think of you as something different (called “playing against type”).
So if you keep auditioning for ingenue roles, but every casting director sees you as the quirky co-worker, it’s not likely that you’re going to be very successful when it comes to getting those roles. Likewise, if you are auditioning for the romantic leading male roles but everyone sees you as the brooding villain, you’ll likely be disappointed in the roles that you’ll get.
We all place actors into types based on what we know about them, whether we like it or not. Christopher Walken has made a living playing quirky, mentally unbalanced villains. If a director says that a role calls for a “Christopher Walken type”, you know exactly what sort of character they’re describing. Now could you imagine Walken playing the action hero that women want and men want to be? Not likely!
Likewise, if you have a voice like Fran Drescher, it will be hard for anyone to take you seriously as a sweet ingenue type. I mean, could you actually imagine listening to this voice whispering sweet nothings into anyone’s ear during a two hour movie?
Does this mean that if you’re a Christopher Walken type or a Fran Drescher type there’s no place for you in the acting industry?
Of course not–there’s a place for everyone. Both of these actors figured out early on what their type was, and matched all of their branding, including what types of roles they audition for, to match that type.
The most important step in determining your own type is to honestly evaluate yourself. Are you ripped and muscly, or scrawny and weak-looking? Do you have the face that launched a thousand ships, or a face made for radio? When you walk into a room, do you come across as sweet and innocent or blunt and aggressive?
These are all important questions. Get some help–enlist some friends and family who will be completely honest with you and ask them how they see you.
Videotape yourself reading for various roles, then play it back and try to evaluate it as someone watching an actor on camera for the very first time. If you’re really daring, post your acting reel or some video clips into an acting forum or Facebook group and ask for feedback from people that don’t know you.
What you learn may surprise you. You may find out that people view you in a way you would have never expected, one that could potentially open you up to even more types of auditions that you would’ve thought otherwise.
But whatever you do, don’t try to delude yourself into thinking that you’re a type that you’re not. Or thinking that your acting is so good that it will overcome people’s impressions of you–in most cases, it won’t.
Remember, a casting director doesn’t care that you think you can pull off a role–they only care what an audience will believe.
2. You’re not at the “tier” that the role requires
I remember this story from when I worked at the talent agency. We met a young man during one of our open calls–no previous acting or modeling experience, but very handsome, personable, guy in his early 20’s with a good build and a great smile.
We threw him on camera for a cold read and looked great. He clearly needed a lot of work, but was pretty comfortable on camera, and definitely someone with potential.
We sat down with him and offered him a contract for representation, went through the major contract points, and then sent him on his way to look over the contract before signing. He seemed excited, and we felt good about bringing him on.
Two days later he swings by the agency to go over some questions about the contract–it was perfect timing because we had two different commercial shoots that we could submit him for right off the bat.
But when he came back into the agency this time, it was like a completely different person had taken over his body.
He was very short and curt. Our contract was all wrong–why should we get such a high percentage of money he made? Shouldn’t the agency be paying for all of his headshots and marketing materials? Why did all of his film & TV work have to go through the agency?
He wanted to be working in Hollywood on major studio film & TV gigs–couldn’t we pay to have him move out there for pilot season? (no joke!) And the best (and yes, this is actually what he said)– “If I get called to be in a Spielberg film, how can I get out of my contract with you guys so I can get a better deal with another agency?”
Are you f&*$ing kidding me?!?!
This guy had absolutely no clue of where he lived in the food chain. After one promising initial conversation with a talent agency, this beginning actor who had NO EXPERIENCE WHATSOEVER had himself convinced that he was on his way to becoming the next big star. He wanted us to make all these concessions and changes to cater to his self-delusions.
Needless to say, we nicely told him to shove it. I’m not sure if he got picked up by another agency, but I’ve yet to see him starring in that Spielberg film.
There’s nothing wrong with having big dreams and aspirations. You want to star in a Spielberg film? That’s great! But don’t START there.
Start by getting in front of the camera for the first few auditions. Because trust me, you’ll suck. Even if you’re really good, you’ll still suck compared to how you’ll be in a year, or two years, or ten years.
Because just like everything else worthwhile in life, you’re not born an amazing actor. You get there by hard work and experience.
I see a lot of actors wasting their time chasing auditions for things that they just don’t have the chops for yet. They won’t get these roles because they’re not at the right tier–meaning they don’t have the experience, the resume, the contacts, or the reputation to get the role.
Put yourself in the shoes of the film producer–if you need to make back $20 million on a film (which is an incredibly small budget for a major studio film), would you entrust one of the lead roles to an actor who was out on his first job? Of course not! You’d be crazy to do that, and you’ll probably lose your investors.
It doesn’t matter how good you are. You have to keep in mind that acting is a real business, with real money, and producers need to see a real return on that money. That’s why you see the same players over and over again in films–it’s not necessarily because they’re the best, it’s that you know what you’re getting when you hire them.
If you’re not living in a major city and working with an agency that regularly gets their talent cast on major studio films and TV shows, don’t waste your time going after those roles. You need to move up the food chain first, both in your own experience, and also with your reputation and representation.
When you’re first starting, do as much legit paid work as you can. Get connected with a SAG-AFTRA franchised agency so you can get access to the best auditions and bookings in your area. When you have enough material for a reel, try to expand your network–have your agency recommend you to an agency in a little larger market, that gets you access to a little better auditions. Keep doing good work, and keep pushing to get better jobs, but in a way that makes sense.
You don’t go from working in no budget indie films to starring in Hollywood productions overnight. Stretch yourself by auditioning for jobs one or two tiers above where you are now. Once you break in there, it’s easier to stay in that tier and get more experience. Then you try to get auditions one or two tiers above that, and repeat the process.
It’s definitely possible to make the climb, but make sure you’re on a realistic path to get you to the top.
3. You looked better on paper
When a casting director calls you in for an audition, or a client wants to book you for a job, they want YOU. Meaning, they want the YOU that you’ve been selling in your headshots and resume, and you damn well better be the YOU they think you are.
This is not a blind industry–looks count. And there’s a place for everyone. But you better make sure that everything you put out there–headshots, resume, personal branding–represent the real you.
So many roles are ultra-specific. Ad agencies, marketing films, and even larger production companies spend a lot of time and a lot of money on things like psychological profiling customers, focus groups, and data mining all to better reach their consumer base. They frequently spend a lot of time crafting very specific messages and are looking for very specific looks for the spokespeople to represent their product. So that means if they’re looking to book a 20’s caucasian blonde “girl next door” type, you better not show up to the audition with twenty piercings and black hair with pink streaks.
You HAVE to look like your headshots. If you’re putting out photos that don’t look like you, it’s as bad as putting out moldy bread in place of an ice cream cake–it’s false advertising.
If you decide you want to change up your look, or if you put on some weight, lose some weight, or otherwise don’t look like your headshots anymore–no problem, just shoot new ones. But don’t keep using the old ones if they don’t look like you anymore.
If you do need to change your look slightly for a booking (maybe you have a new haircut), make sure that anyone calling you in for auditions or a booking gets recent snapshots of you BEFORE you confirm anything. You may end up losing a job if they really wanted the specific look in your headshots, but they’ll appreciate that you were responsible enough to let them know before booking you.
If you’re working with an agency, make sure they always have updated snapshots of you as well. Changing your look without letting anyone know is a great way to really piss off your agent, too. I learned the hard way before. Once I got an actress booked on a nice commercial gig based on her headshots alone, without even auditioning. The day of the shoot I got a call from a very irate client–the actress showed up with a haircut and a spray on tan, and looked nothing like her headshots. The were livid, and rightfully so! We ended up getting a last minute replacement for the shoot, but you better believe that was the last time we booked that actress on anything.
The same thing goes with your resume. Don’t make stuff up. People will find out, I promise. It’s really not that big of an industry, and everyone talks–especially about flakes and liars.
It’s just like a regular employment resume–don’t put any gig on your resume that isn’t 100% verifiably true. Hopefully you’re also getting copies of all of your materials for your reel as well, but at the very least make sure you’re getting the correct information for your resume, things like the production company, director, and title of the spot.
And for the love of all that is holy, don’t put any special skills on your resume that you can’t actually do! You have no idea how frequently clients want to throw a little something extra into a spot at the last minute, and casting directors are frantically flipping through the ‘Special Skills’ section of resumes to find someone that fits the bill. 90% of the time, we’re taking your word that you can actually pull off that skill. So don’t put down “fire breathing” down as a special skill if you can’t walk on to a set with an hour’s notice and breathe fire without burning your face off.
Every piece of marketing you put out there for yourself should be carefully curated to show your best work, but most importantly, it needs to show YOU. Not the “you” that you think clients want, but the “you” that is going to show up on set.
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