10 Mistakes Actors Unwittingly Make

1.  Being Un(der)prepared

Some casting directors will tell you that you should always memorize the sides for an audition while others think memorization isn’t necessary. I say, err on the safe side and always memorize.  If you don’t have the time to memorize the sides for an audition, that probably means you don’t think the role is a priority, and if you don’t care that much, why should we cast you?  Preparation means more than just memorization, it means understanding the scene, knowing the intentions of the character, and making interesting choices.  It’s better to go on one well-prepared auditions than 5 half-baked ones.

2. Not having your headshot and résumé (stapled together)

This could fall under preparation, but I think it is so important that it needs its own rule.  It still shocks me that professional actors show up to an audition without a hard copy of their headshot and résumé.  I know it’s the digital age, but while you are auditioning for us, we are looking at your headshot, and your credits, and your training.  We may want to ask you questions about a director or company you’ve worked with, and we can’t do that unless we have that information in front of us.  Having your headshot on hand for every audition makes you look professional and allows us to remember you better.  When we are going through headshots and résumés after the audition, if yours isn’t there, you are more likely to be forgotten.  A special note to those with agents: do not assume that your agent emailed or faxed it over, in my experience they rarely do.  I also believe that every actor should have some form of their headshot on them at all times.  In this industry it is your business card, and no serious professional should ever be caught without his/her business card.

3.  Being rude, aloof, pushy, impatient, abrupt, unpleasant…

Most actors think this rule does not apply to them, and most of them would be wrong.  So many actors don’t realize how their actions come across.  A recent example: I was casting a segment for an upcoming cable comedy program, one of the actors came in and said:

“Where do I stand?”

Remember, it’s not always what you say, but how you say it.  When this actor came in and just said “Where do I stand?’ he came across as brusque and abrupt.   He seemed impatient, like he had somewhere better to be.  You should be happy to be there and have an opportunity to share your talent with us.  A better example would have been,

“Good afternoon. Where would you like me to stand?

This slight change makes all the difference. A simple, “Good Afternoon” goes a long way.  Smile, be relaxed and pleasant, and always greet everyone in the room (casting director, director, writer, reader, accompanist, etc), but don’t touch anyone unless they extend a hand to you (some people just don’t like to be touched).  You can put yourself and everyone else at ease with your pleasant and relaxed demeanor.

4. Rushing

It happens all the time, you get to an audition at your appointment time, but you still have to wait around forever to be seen.  The waiting can be nerve wracking, but it is much worse to arrive right on time and then be rushed into the room.  When you’re rushed, you are thrown off your game and it shows.  Countless times I have seen an actor come in the room juggling three bags and a coat and a fistful of papers, and then he starts tripping over himself and apologizing and his face is flushed and sweaty.  Before you’ve even started you’ve made an impression, a bad one.
Take the time to arrive early. Go to the restroom and look in the mirror.  If you can leave your belongings outside the room, do it, and enter the room relaxed, confident, and unencumbered.  If you arrive early, and by some miracle we are running ahead of schedule and the monitor asks you to go in right away, ask for a few moments to get ready, even though, as you now know, most of your preparation should take place before you arrive. Then, once you’re in front of us, don’t rush through your scene. Give the words the time and weight they deserve.  If you just want it to be over with, so will we.

5. Dishonesty

Dishonesty can be broken in to headings.

The first: lying on you résumé.

Just don’t do it.  You will get caught, eventually, and then you will be branded as a dishonest person.  Of course, you want to put your best foot forward, but describing “extra” work as a “supporting” or “featured” role is only going to come back to bite you.  If you lie about who you studied with and where, someone will know that program and ask you about it, so just don’t put yourself in that situation.  By all means, let us know about your experience, but just because a theatre is located on Broadway, that doesn’t make it a Broadway theatre.  If you don’t think you’re good enough on paper, seek out the experience you lack and fill in the gaps in your résumé.

The second: A headshot that doesn’t look like you

A headshot that does not resemble the way you look RIGHT NOW does you a disservice.  If you have long blonde hair in your headshot and now you have cut it short and dyed it red, get new headshots.  If you have gained or lost a significant amount of weight, or if it has been some years since your last photos were taken, get new headshots.  I know it’s expensive, but if your headshot looks like Mickey Rourke circa 1989 and you walk in looking like Mickey Rourke circa 2009, we are going to be disappointed.  Your headshots should show us what you look like, not how you used to look or how you wish you looked.

6. Being too chatty

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that you saw Martin Scorsese on the street today and the weather is always fascinating as is your particular subway journey (and your pets), but tell your friends about it and leave it out of the audition room.  I think it’s nervousness that makes some actors start chatting up a storm the moment they walk in the room, but if you’re not auditioning for the sequel to Punchline leave the stand up comedy at home.  I have seen actors chat themselves out of a callback.  If you’re chatting, you’re not listening, and we want to work with someone who knows how to listen.   If you’re asked a question answer it in a friendly and concise manner (steer clear of anything that can be described as TMI) and then for pity’s sake shut up.  Let your acting do the talking.

7. Being dumb

It’s funny how incredibly intelligent people can be terribly dumb at times.  The best actors are very, very smart.  Smart people want to work with other smart people so don’t slip into dumb mistakes.  If a copy of the play or screenplay exists, read it, all of it.  You bring more shading and color to the sides when you understand how the scene fits into the whole text.  Follow directions: if the audition notice asks you to sing from the show you’re auditioning for, then sing from that show.  If it asks for an up tempo rock song, don’t sing from Carousel.  When asked for a one minute monologue, don’t bring in a three minute one.  Read your sides carefully including any stage directions, and the character information contained in the breakdowns can be extremely valuable.  Learn the industry terminology.  Pleading ignorance is isn’t going to get you anywhere.

8. Making Excuses

“I just got these sides.”

“My computer isn’t working.”
“I’m getting over a cold.”

“I didn’t have time to….”

Excuses, excuses, excuses.  Actors who come in and prepare us for a bad audition are not doing themselves any favors.  We can tell if you have a cold.  We also know when the sides were posted, and where the closest Kinko’s is.  Making excuses just makes you look irresponsible and unprepared.  It’s like you’re trying to justify a bad performance before it’s been given.  If you aren’t feeling well, act through it.  Come in confident and do your best.

9. Desperation

In many ways, auditioning is like dating, and people who seem desperate are not attractive. It’s important to find the balance between wanting the job and needing the job.  If your accounts are not in order, and you need the job for financial reasons, begging or making jokes about your dire straits is not going to help your chances.  No one wants to be guilted into giving you a job.  I especially see this with a small sect of union actors, who will beg for work in order to get their health insurance coverage.  Sometimes they will go into explicit detail about their (or their spouse’s) ailments.  Although we want to be sympathetic, our job is to find the right actor for the job and trying to play on our sympathies is only going to hurt your chances.   Also, right after your audition, don’t ask if you’re getting a callback.  I’ve had actors ask in the audition room if they were getting a callback, or sometimes they ask when I pop out into the waiting room.  It’s unprofessional.  Wait, and allow the team to make decisions and consider your performance.

10.    Not Taking Direction

The easiest way to tank an audition is to ignore a director or casting director’s direction.  An adjustment is given to help you; it is not (necessarily) a criticism of your interpretive choice.  If we want to see more from you that’s a good thing, so take the direction and do it full out.  More than anything, we want to see if you can take direction.  When you give the exact same reading after being given an adjustment, you’re telling us that you don’t listen, you’re not flexible, and you’re not going to be easy to work with.  So just do it, even if you think it’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard.

Now, because I like to look at the bright side., let’s rephrase all of theses statements into a positive.

1.    Be Prepared
2.    Always have your headshot and résumé
3.    Be kind, courteous, gracious, relaxed, patient, and pleasant
4.    Take your time, be on time, in fact be early
5.    Honesty is the best policy when it comes to your credentials and your headshot
6.    Let your acting speak for itself
7.    Be smart and follow directions
8.    Be confident and ready
9.    Do your best and be content with that
10. Always take direction

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2 thoughts on “10 Mistakes Actors Unwittingly Make

  1. Aspiring Actress says:

    I agree with every point. Aspiring actors should be aware of these commonly mistakes if they want to be successful. Patience is a virtue as what people say and believe me the patience and the hard work is totally worth it. Good luck!

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