Monday, 23 January 2012

A Story about Actors and Auditions...

Here's a little story about an actor who brought his own ideas to an audition...

I just had a fascinating weekend with Craig Hinde (Director) auditioning for the lead roles in my film HeartStoppers. Auditions are a very strange and unusual dynamic between human beings; potential stress and pressure for actors, and very difficult for us too. How can we ever be sure we got it right? Anyway, before we get to the story, here's a perspective on the events that should be interesting and useful to actors and writers alike. 

For me, the key thing I look for in an actor is that sparkle and life that will bring some ideas and creativity to the role; someone who will take it beyond my vision and explode the character into three dimensions in ways I couldn't have envisaged BUT... will limit their imagination and creativity to ideas that do not undermine the story or the director. If an actor thinks s/he has better ideas than those in the script and gets angry or goes all sulky if you won’t take on their suggestions then big problems can ensue in rehearsals, on set and in the overall vibe amongst the other actors and crew. This is a seriously difficult balance for an actor to strike - too much is not right and too little is not right - but if you can strike that balance, you'll get every role you apply for.

If you are going for an audition, I believe you need to show that you are outgoing and dynamic and will take ownership of the character, but at the same time you must reassure the director that you will also be happy to be ‘directed’ and can accept that your ideas might need to be changed or rejected for reasons you might not fully understand from the information you have.

So here's what happened. We had a good example of what I'm saying with one of the leading male auditions. The actor had some decent experience, but had got my lead character – ‘Max’ – a bit wrong. Max begins the story without confidence. He’s got a sort of magical knack for playing Cupid, but he's not partnering people up with flare and self-belief. He’s a slightly timid character who is bullied by his boss and even trampled by the customers he is helping. He has a gift, but it kinda happens to him – he doesn’t wield his capability with pride and swagger. This actor didn’t get that. He felt that the character was smooth and cool – like ‘Hitch’ in the film of the same name - helping losers to become suave, like him, to get what they want. He therefore delivered the character very differently from my vision during the script reading. This isn't 'wrong' - it's just his interpretation. His interpretation might be brilliant and there could be times when this might be exactly what's required (in other words, this is the kind of proactive approach to a role that I like to see from an actor). But not in this case, because the story relies upon Max growing from a starting point of timidity to a summit of confidence by the resolution, so he couldn’t start with the personality the actor was giving him. All wrong. Would the actor deflate and feel devastated – or take on board what I was saying? He explained how he viewed the character - revealing another misinterpretation. He thought the kiosk in which Max works was a burger bar. All wrong. The kiosk is a matchmaking business. Burger bar? Where did that come from? Just shows how we all interpret a text differently.

But here’s the thing. I explained to the actor that he couldn't change the character to his vision of him because it would fundamentally change the dynamics required for the story to work. We then asked the actor to do the reading again – this time re-creating his version of Max to match the character my story required. He turned around and nailed it with a whole new persona. He got the job. He brought ideas and creativity, and although it led to some slightly awkward conversations, he took on board immediately the points we were making that required him to adapt. He didn’t take it personally – he didn’t see our request for change as ‘criticism’ – he was talented enough to take it on, understand it, change and develop – and he turned himself into the Max the story needed there and then in front of my very eyes. Wonderful! His attitude made it very easy to discuss the role and the character – he even put me on the spot a bit concerning Max’s backstory. I felt sure he would bring ideas that would work, and would accept a negative response if his ideas would not work. Perfect.

And his wrongness might prove to be righter than my rightness - if that makes any sense at all. I think the kiosk possibly should be a Burger Bar! I'm working with the idea and I suspect this might just solve a couple of story issues I had and bring genuine improvements to the story!  

So here's what I think we need to take on board:

Be flexible to change. You want people to bring their ideas and creativity to your story. If you have written your story well, so that every event or character facet in that story is justified by a contribution to the bigger picture, you can assess a proposed 'improvement' or idea very accurately. If the publisher/producer/guru/actor - ANYBODY! - wants to make a change, you can say 'yes' if the change is a genuine improvement, or you can say 'no' with confidence because you know exactly what the impact on the story will be. And when you defend your story with knowledge and certainty even Mr Speilberg will back off, because it becomes so clear that you know your own story inside out. Many publishers and editors and producers suggest changes. The best thing ever - for them as well as you - is when you can say 'no', and mean it, and know exactly why the story has to stay as it is.

How to Pass Auditions:
Bring personality and vibrance to an audition and to a character. And yes, bring ideas and suggestions, but make sure the director knows you are perfectly happy for these ideas to be rejected and reassure him/her that, ultimately, you will accept direction. When you suggest an idea, say out loud: 'I'm not precious about it - just a suggestion. I understand if you think it doesn't work in the bigger picture.' They LOVE to hear suggestions, but couched in these ego-free terms. On the one hand, a director does not want to have to direct you so much he has to drag the acting out of you. On the other hand, he doesn't want to have to fight you back into line to deliver the part appropriately. He wants you to take responsibility for delivering the role and show dynamism... but listen and accept direction so he can guide your dynamism into perfect shape.

You are helping to deliver someone else's story. If you can add to the character or to the story's power, that will be welcome, but if you are going to be too insistent on your ideas being accepted, you'll either fail the audition or ruin the story!

Don't be too hard on yourself if you don't get a role. There are many, many reasons for rejection, very few of which are to do with your talent or ability.