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 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…

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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.

“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.

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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.

Got a Case of the Rep Sweats?

On this week’s episode of the fantastic podcast Code Switch, hosts Gene Demby and Kat Chow delved into the complexity of getting a case of the rep sweats. The rep sweats are a condition common to people of color and some women, especially those of us invested in entertainment, pop culture, and identity politics. We know that opportunities for people who look like us don’t come along every day, so when a new project comes out that features our people, we feel pressure to support it by watching and/ or buying tickets.

Rep sweaters are also hesitant to publicly criticize projects from, by, and about our people for fear that a lack of a united front could damage the possibility of future projects about us (listen to the episode to learn more about Margaret Cho’s sitcom All American Girl and why it took 20 years to get another Asian family sitcom on network TV).  The fear is legitimate, and a failure for one of us can be viewed as a failure for all of us. One misstep can be referenced again and again as the rule and not the exception. We don’t make things any harder for people who look like us so we support and hold our tongues.

I’ve written about similar issues on the blog before, but I’m interested to know how others feel on this topic. I know that if I dislike a play, movie, or film by and about black people, I am more likely to keep that information to myself. I don’t tend to watch TV shows out of obligation, but I have been known to buy a ticket during the opening weekend of a black movie just to give it my dollars so there might be more opportunities for black filmmakers in the future.

Is there something you do to show support for people of color in entertainment? Do you make a point of seeing films by women directors? Are you hesitant to criticize these works because of the potential backlash? Sound off in the comments.

Friday Netflix Festival: Black Film Canon

If you’ve been hiding under a rock, you may not have heard about the Black Film Canon a compilation of essential films from black directors compiled by the folks at Slate. There are some real gems on this list as well as a handful of films I haven’t seen. The earliest film is from 1921 and the latest is from 2016 so there is a lot to explore.

For this Friday’s Netflix Festival, here are a few canonical films that are streaming on Netflix right now.

Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

This film from Barry Jenkins chronicles the intersection of two black indie people in a gentrifying San Francisco.

 

Pariah (2011)

A tough and touching coming-of-age story about a teenage lesbian and her first sexual experiences. Directed by Dee Rees and beautifully photographer by Bradford Young, this film stars Adepero Oduye in fine form.

 

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Ryan Coogler’s first feature chronicles the last day in the life of Oscar Grant who was killed by police. Michael B. Jordan turns in a star-making performance.

Ashes & Embers (1982)

A little know (until now) film about a black man returning from Vietnam. I haven’t seen it yet, and didn’t know it existed until the Black Film Canon was released, so I’m looking forward to catching up with it this weekend.

Ashes-and-Embers

 

Shot Callers Podcast

Some of you may know that I have the pleasure of serving on the board of New York Women in Film & Television, a fantastic organization that supports women in our industry.

In conjunction with NYWIFT, I have just started the Shot Callers Podcast that explores the lives and careers of women working today. Please have a listen and subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. Listen here!