How to deal with audition curveballs

curveball

1 delivery in which the pitcher causes the ball to deviate from a straight path by imparting spin.

1.1 North American informal Something which is unexpected, surprising, or disruptive.

You’ve been in this situation. You have meticulously prepared for an audition. You’ve worked on the character’s arc, maybe you’ve even practiced an accent, but when you get in the room, the director or casting director throws you a curveball: throw it all out. It happens, they ask you to read for a different character or they tell you the whole character has changed and throw a new scene at you cold. What do you do? It’s tough and it sucks because you have to forget everything you just worked on, but don’t see this as a negative. Everyone else who came in has been thrown this same curveball, and the way you handle it can help you get the job. Here are some tips for being quick on your feet.

Go big or go home

If you find out the shy quiet babysitter is now a maniacal serial killer, go with it BIG TIME. A curveball gives you the opportunity to make bold choices so do it. If what you thought was a tense drama is now a raucous comedy, make it funny (really funny). Don’t let what you previously worked on control your new choices.

Don’t second guess yourself

Acting is like dating: confidence is attractive and indecisiveness is not. When you get thrown a curveball, just go with it and make the best of it. Be decisive and be yourself and don’t worry about saying and doing the wrong thing. They know you haven’t had the chance to prepare so don’t worry about it being perfect. If you make a mistake, just keep going.

Have a positive attitude

You may be thinking, “I can’t believe these fools just asked me to do something entirely different.” But the reason we probably asked is because we realized the sides weren’t working or because we think you might be better for another role. We’re not trying to trip you or ruin your day. Even if you feel frustrated, just smile and dive in. Being flexible is a great quality for an actor; we all know that no project goes exactly to plan.

Let it go

Please. Please. Please. Don’t keep bringing up what you prepared and how much time, energy, and thought you spent preparing. We know and we’re sorry but things have changed now. Pointing out the fact that you didn’t have time to prepare this new material is unnecessary. We know! Just do the best you can, and let go of what happened before you entered the room.

 

 

 

 

How to Make the Most of a Small Role

While some actors jump straight into lead roles, most actors start out their careers with small parts. You’ve all heard the phrase “There are no small parts, only small actors.” I agree, and I believe that a small part done well, can launch or re-start a career. Let’s look at a few examples from this year’s Oscar race.

 

Moonlight, the achingly beautiful narrative about a young man growing up in Miami, features two supporting nominees. Mahershala Ali plays Juan, a father figure for the lead, who takes the young boy under his wing. Although Ali only appears in the first third of the film, his absence looms in the last two segments. That is in part because Ali makes the most of his few scenes by delivering an honest and detailed performance that captures the complexity of a man who sells drugs while taking care of a boy whose mother is addicted to those same drugs.

moonlight-paula

Playing that mother, Naomie Harris, another Oscar nominee, makes an indelible impression on the film. Her performance provides the throughline of the film as three actors portray her son at different ages. Her performances covers 20 years but Harris had just three days to to tell Paula’s story. She met actor Trevante Rhodes for the first time just minutes before their emotional third act scene. Harris relied on her training to create her performance with minimal prep time. In just a few days on set, she put in a performance that captured a flawed woman’s relationship with her son over two decades.

1250762_nocturnal-animals_michael-shannon

Michael Shannon is no stranger to small but vital roles, he was previously nominated in this category for his work in Revolutionary Road. As a Texas detective prepared to break the rules when justice is denied. Shannon’s performance is the highlight of Nocturnal Animals. He doesn’t appear until much later in the film as a part of the story within a story at the heart of Nocturnal Animals, but Shannon’s performance provides an askew moral compass for Jake Gyllenhaal’s lead.

Small parts are vital and provide the backbone of a great film. Make the most of them.

Why ‘Hidden Figures’ is the most important movie of the year

Spoilers ahead… proceed at your own risk.

Hidden Figures, the story of three black women working at NASA in the 1960s is the most important movie of the year. The acting is strong, and the storytelling is well-constructed, but that’s not what makes this a vital film for 2016 (and 2017 and beyond). What makes Hidden Figures essential viewing is what it has to say about America then and now, and the lessons it teaches us for how to make the most of our future.

A quick overview: Hidden Figures tells the story of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan: three brilliant black women working at NASA who had to battle both sexism and racism in the 1960s. Each faces a battle: Johnson fights to be taken seriously as a mathematician while dealing with segregated bathrooms and bigoted colleagues, Jackson has the skills to be an engineer but can only get the credentials by attending classes at a whites only school, and Vaughan, who is doing the work of a supervisor without the appropriate bump in pay, works to get equal pay and recognition while learning to use the new technology that will quickly make her and her fellow number crunchers obsolete. Each woman’s story has a lesson for modern America.

thumbnail_24795

Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson.

At first, Johnson’s colleagues are more concerned with where she pees and which coffee pot she uses than with safely getting the Mercury 7 astronauts in and out of space. They allow their deep seated racism and sexism to blind them to the fact that Johnson is a brilliant mathematician who is able to not only contribute to their efforts but lead them. In today’s America, we often spend so much time trying to keep women, people of color, and immigrants down that we lose out on the unique contributions that people can make when they are supported rather than denigrated.

1dca6670-2f29-4874-9a0c-f4d0ec0eab98

Janelle Monae as Mary jackson.

Jackson wants to be an engineer, but she is blocked in her quest by the fact that the classes she needs to take to enter the training program are only offered at an all white school. For those who know their history, the supreme court invalidated school segregation in 1954, but gave the states time to adjust to the new practice. Apparently 7 years was insufficient for Virginia. She wants to improve her employment prospects and further her education, but Jackson has to petition the court just for the opportunity to take the classes to become an engineer. In this case a judge rules in her favor and the rest is history; she became an engineer and worked over many years to bring more people of color and women into the fold at NASA. Here, once again, the country allowed its bigotry to blind it to the talents of an intelligent black woman, and it was only through a legal battle that she was able to secure her basic rights. Imagine what she could have down without these ridiculous, arbitrary road blocks constantly thrown in her path.

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-2-27-26-pm

Octavia Spencer, as Dorothy Vaughan, leads her to team to take over the IBM.

Finally, Dorothy Vaughan has the clearest message for 2016 and beyond. With the arrival of an IBM machine at NASA, the jobs of the women who work in computation are under threat. Does Vaughan demand that NASA keep employing her and her colleagues in the same jobs despite technological advances? No, she learns how to use the IBM (with the help of a book on Fortran that she has to take from the library because she can’t check out books from the whites only section… seriously people upholding racist institutions is so exhausting). Once she teaches herself how to use the new monstrosity of a machine (it takes up an entire large room) She then teaches her entire section of about 20 women (that she is still not officially the supervisor of) to work the IBM as well. So that, when the time comes, she and her team know the new technology better than the techs from IBM. Through education and innovation, Vaughan made herself indispensable and she taught others so they could improve their employment prospects as well. The lesson is clear; today we need to evolve. Rather than trying to bring back the jobs of the past, we need to train the workforce for the jobs of the future.

When a movie like Hidden Figures comes out, people usually will say that it is essential viewing for young girls, and in particular young black girls. That is true and I hope they flock to the film, but I really hope that boys and men find their way to this film. I hope that they will see that when we support racist and sexist institutions, we all lose.

How to Stand Out in a Sea of Talent

 

There are so many actors out there that it might seem like casting is really easy. I mean, all you have to do is walk down the street in New York and you’ll probably run into an actor. But the fact is that while the talent pool is vast, it’s not necessarily as deep as you might think. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that New York actors aren’t skilled and talented and well trained, they are, very much so. I’m saying that it can be hard to find talented actors who don’t… look like actors.

In a sea of headshots, does your stand out or blend in? Here are ways to separate yourself from the crowd.

Do something, anything, different with your hair.

This specifically applies to women but is also valid for men as well. Everyone has the same three hairstyles, and while it may be true that if I’m looking for an edgy girl with piercings and tattoos, we can achieve that effect through hair and make up, if your headshot makes you look like a soccer mom, it will be harder for the team to imagine you in the role. Don’t be afraid to do something different; try an asymmetrical haircut or a fun color. Even just short hair on a woman can be a strong choice or just wear your hair natural. You may not get called in for soccer moms anymore but you will get called in for every single hipster role.

madelinelevineheadshot

Actress Madeline Kelsey then…

img_5505_webready-e1430065885685

And now…

Madeline landed a campaign of online and subway ads for Smile Direct Club. Her choice of an edgy look helps her stand out.

 

Have a sense of style

I understand that actors want to be blank slates that can be transformed into anything, but sometimes a blank slate is just that, empty. Make bold style choices that give us a sense of who you are. Embrace your personal style and be consistent whether going to auditions are going to lunch. Have fun! Be bold! Dare to be different!

Get new skills

Learn a language. Take a tap dancing class. Buy a unicycle. Learn a new sport. You would be surprised at the many different skills I am asked to cast and how small those talent pools become when suddenly an actor needs to speak a foreign language or do trapeze.

It’s 2016: Get a Reel

I love working with actors even when they drive me crazy. I’m an optimist and I believe in the beauty of their talent and the power of performance. When it comes to their careers, however, a lot of actors are still clueless about some of the basics. For example, always send your resume as a PDF and go to a  professional headshot photographer. You would think everyone would know these things, but I see tons of unprofessional headshots and I often get word docs and resumes with dubious extensions.

So today I want to talk about reels. As most actors know, it is extremely important to have footage. Over the years I’ve gone from being impressed to get a dvd reel in the snail mail to being dismissive of anyone without an easily clickable vimeo or youtube reel. It’s the nature of the business. You need to keep up. Please, please, please put a reel together. Even if it just one clip, that is better than nothing. The only exception is if the acting in said clip is bad or the video quality is terrible. If the acting and the video quality are okay, post it. Ask a friend to help you or follow online tutorials on video editing and uploading to youtube or vimeo.

If you have a theatre background and haven’t done any film yet, get a friend to record you doing a short monologue or get some friends together and shoot a quick scene at your kitchen table or on your stoop. Footage is key and you are a bigger risk to bring in if a casting director has never seen you acting. The fact is that other actors have footage and when you don’t it puts you at a disadvantage. Of course, I prefer to see a reel full of beautiful professional clips from films and TV shows, but when you’re starting out you need to make your own footage and take initiative.

“Hands of Stone” and the White Gaze

 

I’d like to preface this piece by stating that I think Édgar Ramírez is one of the greatest actors working today. He is an actor with so many layers and skills that it constantly frustrates me that the projects he gets offered never take advantage of his talent (Joy, Zero Dark Thirty). (If you are unfamiliar with Ramírez’s genius, stop reading, go to Netflix and watch Carlos now! The man can act in 5 languages!!!) There was a time when Robert De Niro was my favorite working actor. Now, that time seems long ago as he continues to play a parody of a parody of his old characters, but I went into Hands of Stone thinking that maybe this combination of Ramírez, De Niro, and the life story of enigmatic boxer Roberto Durán could be the breakout/ comeback film I had hoped it would be when I first heard about it two years ago.

Unfortunately, Hands of Stone is not that film. There are many things that don’t work in the film, but the most egregious issue is that Durán as played by the always luminous Ramírez, is not the center of the film. That space is taken up by the character Ray Arcel, Durán’s American trainer, played by De Niro. Once again, even though there is a Latino star and a Latino director behind this film, the story revolves around the white character. This is Durán’s story through Arcel’s eyes and because it’s clear that Arcel never really understood Durán nor his motivations, the film doesn’t understand Durán either. Ramírez breathes life into this walking contradiction of a man, but the filmmaker seems uninterested in understanding Durán himself and instead relies on Arcel to provide oppressive voice over and in a painful press conference scene, to try to explain Durán’s motivation behind his most well-known moment. It’s not a spoiler to say that especially in the US, Roberto Durán is best known for quitting in the middle of a fight against “Sugar” Ray Leonard, and uttering the now famous words “No mas.” Durán, an icon in Panama, deserves a better film, and Édgar Ramírez deserves stronger material.

13687179_1189967434397891_259263406_n-750x400

Now, I hear over and over that it is difficult to finance a story unless there is a white guy at the center. (See Matt Damon wandering into 10th century China in the The Great Wall). Jonathan Jakubowicz, the filmmaker behind Hands of Stone even wrote a piece recently about the need for more Latino movie stars. I just wish Jakubowicz had made a better film and trusted that his star could be the true lead rather than centralizing the white character and making the story revolve around Arcel’s interpretation of Durán rather than Durán himself.  I still have hope though. I am waiting for some talented writer of any background to create a star vehicle for Édgar Ramírez where he actually gets to be the lead. This guy is a knockout.

Just Be Yourself

Remember that advice that you got on the first day of school “Just be yourself.” Well, it still rings true, especially for actors. The Daniel Day-Lewises of the world are the exceptions that prove the rule. Most actors will play characters that have similar traits to themselves, and there is nothing wrong with that.

A while back, I was casting a film where we needed an actor late 30s to mid 40s to play a European film director with a flair for the dramatic and a bit of a temper. The character was seductive and manipulative at once. It was a solid role. The creative team decided the character could be from any European country and we saw actors from France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Russia. Sweden, and a few more. What I found ironic was that after living in the US for a number of years, several of the actors we saw had worked hard to reduce their accents and they struggled to speak in their original accent. They struggled to tap into their original language. They had done so much work to “fit in” in the US that they forgot what made them stand out in the first place.

My advice: Just be yourself. Of course actors can stretch and play different parts and no one wants to be locked into playing stereotypes, but don’t forgot what makes you special and differentiates you from the other actors out there. Sometimes, the hardest types to find can be “real New Yorkers.” There are plenty of “real New Yorkers” roaming the streets, but a real actor who still has an authentic born and raised edge is a diamond in the rough, that is why the talented actors who have maintained that edge work all the time.

Separate yourself from the crowd with your thing. If you’re from Georgia, don’t lose the accent, just learn to modulate it for different roles. Hang on to what makes you special and it will serve you down the road.