I haven’t had a theatrical agent for years, so I don’t have as many auditions or opportunities to work as an actor as I once did. I have a fantastic manager, though, who always gets me into quality auditions, where I have a real shot at booking the job.
My manager and I have an understanding that I’m primarily focused on writing at the moment, so he can put his time and energy into his other clients who are full-time actors, while keeping an eye out for parts like NUMB3RS, where I have a better than average shot to nail the audition. This arrangement has worked out really well for both of us.
Last week, he got me an audition for a wonderful role on [awesome show redacted]. I had less than a day to prepare it but I did my best, and when I got into the room . . . I sucked. Oh, man how I sucked. I think the stink of my reading is still sitting in that building, a week after I left. In fact, if you see hazmat teams in Studio City, now you know why.
Luckily for us, the casting director was willing to give good, honest, useful feedback on my audition. The bottom line? He felt like I was really “acting” when I was in there. My performance wasn’t organic, it wasn’t honest, it wasn’t real. In other words, it wasn’t very good.
When my manager relayed this to me, it was like Billy Zabka swept my leg. Getting caught acting was one of my worst fears realized. Good actors don’t get caught acting, bad actors get caught acting. Ergo . . . well, I’d rather not say it out loud.
For the next couple of days, I spent a lot of time thinking about how that happened, and I had to face an uncomfortable reality: maybe I was so out of practice, and so focused on writing (instead of acting), maybe I just don’t have what it takes to be a successful on-camera actor anymore.
I had a real crisis on my hands, but before I could call my manager and discuss it yesterday, he called me with another audition.
“Okay,” I thought, “I’ll just go on this audition, and after the holiday weekend, I’ll see if we can have lunch, and face this reality together.”
I prepared the audition, keenly aware of all the things I’d done wrong with the [awesome show redacted] audition. I went through all the things I’ve written about acting and auditioning, and listened to a lot of my own advice and experience. I decided that I’d get in, do my thing, and get out. I thought about a number of conversations I’ve recently had with a friend of mine who just booked a similar role on [very very very awesome show redacted], and applied some of his decision making to my own. I kept it simple, and I never thought, “Well, this is it. If this one doesn’t work, I’m hanging up my dance belt.” Instead, I just prepared my take on this character, made some deliberate-but-risky choices, and went to work.
When I was in the room, I didn’t think about the people there, I didn’t think about what was at stake (directly or indirectly) and I just focused on the person I was reading with. I didn’t do anything fancy, just gave them my simple-but-deliberate take on this guy.
I felt better than I felt after I sucked out loud last week. I didn’t know if I nailed it, but I’d made my deliberate-but-risky choices, and I’d committed to them entirely. Whether I got the job or not, at least I had that to take home with me and keep in a box on the shelf for the weekend.
A few hours after I got home, my manager called me.
“Well, I have some feedback,” he said.
“That was fast,” I said.
“Yeah, I guess they wanted you to know right away that you’re hired.”
“Really?!” I said. I always say that, even though I know that my manager is never going to call me up, tell me a got a job, and then say, “Ha! PSYKE!”
“Yes, really.” He said.
So I squeed, and he outlined the deal for me. I get guest-starring billing at the beginning of the show on my own card, I work for eight days, and — best of all — I’ll earn enough to qualify for SAG’s “good” health insurance for at least another year.
I can’t say anything about the role, because I don’t have permission from the producers and the network, but I think I can safely reveal that it’s for Criminal Minds on CBS, and it’s a part that I am going to love bringing to life.
There is a lesson here about not giving up. There’s a lesson here about learning from your mistakes and applying that knowledge, instead of wallowing in self-pity. I’m not pointing that out because I think anyone else needs to hear it; I’m pointing it out because I’m going to forget it sooner or later, and I want to remember it the next time I go searching through my writing for advice from myself.
One more thing: when I had the audition last week, I did my best, even though my best was crap. When I did my audition yesterday, I did my best, and it was much better than what “my best” was just a week ago. Someone once said to me that we should always do our best, and understand and accept that “our best” will vary from time to time. I’m glad I remembered that.
And now, footnotes:
 That may not make sense. Let me explain: pretty much every agent I ever had would submit me on as many projects as possible, whether I was really right for the role or not. I guess the logic here is that you get more chances to score when you take more shots, which makes a certain amount of sense, but in practice is pretty frustrating for actors who keep getting sent out for roles that they have no chance of booking. (I realize that, to actors who are struggling for any auditions, this seems like a wonderful problem to have, but it really isn’t.)
Years ago, I took an extensive and comprehensive marketing class, where I learned a whole bunch of stuff about how to market myself as an actor, and how to find breakout roles that are supported by five or six things that define my personality — my essences, in the language of this course. My manager looks for roles that match up with my essences, while a larger team of agents may just look for parts that call for a white male, 30-36.
This is one of the valuable things I learned while writing sketch comedy.
What? You don’t wear a dance belt to every audition?