One of the great benefits we have enjoyed from working on the other side of the audition camera as readers and directors is watching countless actors with a wide range of experiences showcase their craft. We’ve watched veteran performers make simple mistakes and newer performers make incredibly brave and powerful choices. It’s always interesting and we’re always learning!
One thing we see a lot is an alarming number of scenes and performances that end, how shall we say this, ambiguously. As in, “huh?”
While most actors are able to figure out what their character desires or needs in a scene (goal), many seem to end it without a clear sense of whether or not that goal has been achieved (results). The resulting performance can often be flat and confusing. And that can make all the difference when it comes to getting the role, nailing the scene, or getting work in the future.
We suspect this comes from the actor’s (totally natural!) desire to be liked, to be “open” to a director’s suggestions and redirects, or perhaps more commonly, from focusing almost exclusively on memorizing the lines or not taking the time to discover what’s really going on in and behind the scene. Whatever the reason, all the casting director and director sees is an incomplete scene and an actor who probably isn’t “right” for the role.
On the other hand, we’ve also seen actors dig in and identify their character’s needs and results, then make acting choices that blow everyone away, choices that are sometimes even stronger than what the director originally envisioned. The actor knew what was happening in the story, they committed to a result from their character’s point of view, and they were able to make a specific acting choice, or respond quickly and effectively to a redirect when given. It all begins with knowing what your character needs in a particular scene and whether or not they got it.
Look at the script again: What does your character want or need in this scene? As the scene plays out, do they get what they want? What emotional note does that end the scene on? Where is your character’s head and heart at? How is all of this affecting their speech, their behaviour, their body language? Sometimes it’s obvious; other times, you’ve got to dig in a bit to discover these things. Either way, once you figure it out, we should see it in your performance.
Here’s a bonus tip: remember to stay in the moment once you have finished the scene. It is often tempting to feel an incredible amount of relief at the end and break scene in a (totally natural!) desire for approval from the casting director or director. Don’t do it. Don’t destroy the magic. Let the story and your performance linger a bit and sink in. Ensure you have a strong moment after. Show them you know this character even when all of the words and actions on the page run out.
This doesn’t mean extensive ad-libbing, but you should be able to stay in the scene completely until the casting director or director calls “Cut!” or “Scene!”
To download your free copy of “The Audition: A Working Actor’s Guide to Working in Acting”, click here.