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Careers Clinic: How do I nail a top-level casting?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I helped a friend shoot a showreel scene recently. A few weeks later, I received an email from her agent to say he would also like to discuss signing me. I suspect my friend may have had a hand in this as we’re fairly contrasting types and there is no competition between us.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I jumped at the chance of a meeting. It went well and the agent signed me up on a six-month trial basis. You’re probably expecting me to tell you about ‘my problem’ at this point, but actually, it is sort of the opposite.

After just a few weeks on her books, the agent has got me a casting for the new season of one of the top international series around at the moment. Of course I’m delighted, but I’m also very aware that I have never done a casting at this level before, and I don’t want to let my friend, my new agent and, most of all, myself down. How should I approach it?

Before the casting meeting, find as many clips as you can of well-known actors auditioning for iconic roles. There are lots of these clips all over the internet. I’m not asking you to watch so you can copy a particular star’s approach or because you might be able to learn something from watching ‘the greats’ in action.

In most cases, even when the auditions are relatively recent, you’ll also see that, contrary to how the finished movie or TV show turned out, not every audition tape presents a polished performance with glossy lighting and flawless line delivery. That’s the same ‘imperfect’ environment you will be working in for your audition, so don’t equate it in your head with a performance on set where it would be a reasonable expectation for you to be line perfect and immaculately turned out.

When auditioning for a popular show or to work with actors you may be slightly in awe of, remember that those actors and that show probably started off via much more low-tech read-throughs, where potential rather than polish was the goal. None of this means you shouldn’t prepare well and even be a little nervous before the casting.

If you have been asked to learn sides or deliver in a certain accent it is definitely a good idea to demonstrate that you have read the brief properly by doing what you were asked to.

As for nerves, when managed properly they can spur you on to do better, and will certainly get you much further in the audition room than overconfidence. As in any situation when we are nervous, one piece of advice I always give is to avoid being so caught up in what you are doing that you miss signals (or even direct instructions) as to how the people you are auditioning for would like you to do it.

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A very common mistake actors make, particularly with shows they already ‘know’, is to try to be what they think the producers want them to be, rather than themselves. No matter how well you know the show as a viewer, the people behind it may have something different in mind, either for your character, or possibly even for the series or movie episode you are being seen for. That’s how great series stay fresh.

As a more general tip, try to develop an attitude where you do your best with any casting you are given, not just the high-profile ones. Once you have done your best, be ready to let go and start prepping your next job. Not only will managing your energy in this way help you nail more of your smaller castings, it will keep you out of panic mode for the next big one.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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