Friday, March 18, 2011

Marrying Your Choices

Had an audition today that reminded me of the importance of NOT marrying your choices for a character. As actors, we're often given scripts with very little to go on as far as who our character is and what is expected of us in our performance...especially when they are audition sides.

You have to prepare...and depending on how many auditions you are preparing for and how much time you have before the read (a cold read being the most severe constraint on time), you will basically have time to prepare the read one way. The caution is that you can't marry that choice. You have to be flexible.

When you walk into that room, you may have NAILED what the director wanted or you may have dazzled him with an original performance that changes the way even he looked at the character. You could also have been so far off, that he instantly knows you are "wrong for the role" or, more commonly, he will give you "direction". Amazing huh? This is a great test for you. You have to be able to DO what the DIRECTOR wants you to do. If you're Brad Pitt, by all means argue, but if you're on my level, your job is to find the director's vision and work within it.

For example, today, the first thing I was asked by the CD, with the director in the room, was to push my hat back on my head so she could see my face in the camera (in the email we got we were told to wear a certain style of shirt and hat...thank God for Goodwill...wardrobe for the audition $6). So, I pushed my hat back. She said that was refreshing because a lot of guys would argue with her. What? You have a few minutes to impress and your idea is to show you can't take simple direction? Bad call.

Next up, I gave my read. Good, but too slow. They wanted :30 and I gave them a minute. So I sped it up. Then, the director asked me to change my read from trying to compel someone to just sharing facts with some buddies. THAT is a totally different read, let me tell you. I'm not sure I nailed it, but I gave it a shot. You have to work FOR the director or you won't work at all.

One of my worst auditions (on my part) early on was an audition for a commercial in which I would play a cashier and Santa Clause comes through my checkout line. The email said we should play it big and funny. I prepped it that way. I walked into the room and was immediately told to play it like it was no big deal. Santa comes here all the time. I sucked. Worst audition ever. I was married to my choices.

Even now, with films like "Humans Vs. Zombies", the director sent me the script and I gave it a quick once over and since we are friends I sent him notes on what I thought the character should be like. Nearly everything I suggested was wrong being that it didn't fit for his vision of the film and when I read through it again and in the performance he was certainly right! I would have ruined the character. Also, had we not been friends, a lengthy email with "suggestions" to your new boss without a careful read of the script could seriously burn some bridges and make for an uncomfortable work environment. Did I mention he WROTE the script? Yep, I'm an idiot sometimes.

My advice, you HAVE to make a choice and prep it that way, but you need to learn to change things up on a dime. With limited time you won't be able to prepare a read 15 different ways, so a great way to practice is take some sides (you'll collect them quickly...I have dozens on my computer) and practice taking the lines under different possible circumstances. It will help you be flexible and be able to look at the same read in different ways.

A couple final stories on this note deals with the choices you make. In a workshop with the late Shari Rhodes, I was handed sides for a worker at a train station. The US Marshals was telling us there was a murderer they needed to transport on one of my trains. I watched 3-5 people all do the scene as if the supervisor was shocked and somewhat frightened of the idea. The lines could have certainly supported such a choice and most of the readers saw it that way in our workshop, however, I found a different approach.

I played the role as if these morons were coming in and interrupting my flow. I took the lines as if I were annoyed and even somewhat nonbelieving, but in the end cooperative. Shari stopped the class and said that she would have booked me on that read because it was innovative. It was certainly memorable.

I was auditioning for the role of a skinhead for the film "Line Watch" with Cuba Gooding Jr. In the audition, the character is supposed to speak Spanish, but the dialogue is given in English. Our job to figure it out. Now all the Spanish I learned was in gym class from a Puerto Rican kid who used to get his ass kicked with me all the time...needless to say, it wasn't "conversational" (and when I spoke Spanish in gym class, it didn't matter that they couldn't understand me...whatever it was obviously should earn me an ass-whooping or I would have said it in English).

I got with a friend of my wife's who was fluent and she translated the dialogue. I intentionally didn't learn it phonetically. This guy is a skinhead. He hates Mexicans. Why would he respect their language. I butchered it with a southern accent and it got me a callback. The director was impressed with my read too. If only, the incredibly talented Chris Browning hadn't been my competition. You've seen him in "3:10 to Yuma", "Dark Country", "Terminator: Salvation" and the upcoming "Cowboys and Aliens". An AMAZING talent.

So go in, be interesting, be different and most of all stay loose and flexible.

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