Today I have an audition. It’s for a television series called Salem. I auditioned for the same show awhile back, but didn’t get it. The truth is, since I acquired an agent here in New Orleans, which was several years ago, I haven’t got much. The last thing I booked was an episode of the HBO series Treme, in the first season. I played a homeless guy who wandered into a party thrown by Davis, the character played by Steve Zahn. I had one line, and I nailed it. Or maybe I didn’t, who knows? The scene was cut from the episode, so my family and friends and I never got to see the four seconds of my television debut.
I made a nice chunk of cash though. I got to join SAG, the screen actors union, and I got residual checks for a few years. Most of them were very small towards the end. If you’ve ever seen Treme, season 1, episode 10 in a rerun, I contributed like 17 cents worth of value to that baby. I don’t really look at it that way, but you can if you want.
For someone who spends a lot more time and energy these days pursuing the craft of photography than he does the craft of acting, I get a fair number of auditions. It concerns me sometimes, that my agent might drop me at some point if I don’t start making him money. It’s not that I don’t put in effort, or that I don’t care; I prepare well for the live auditions, and put in a lot of time taping self-submissions (more on this in a minute). But I’m just not as desperate about it as I used to be. Which could be the problem. Or maybe it’s because I fall into a difficult type category, since I’m too young-looking to play a typical old guy and too old to be a strapping thirty-something; I’m too chunky for the emaciated sleaze balls my agent likes to jump on, but not fat enough for the jolly elder fat roles that I sometimes, inexplicably, get to read for. It could also be the fact that most of my experience is onstage, not behind a camera.
These are all good self-rationalizations that I can fall back on when I keep not booking roles. Lately, though, I’ve started to wonder if maybe I just suck.
At some point, I have to allow for the possibility.
Not that I totally suck, as an actor. I’ve had enough training and done enough work to know that I’ve had at least reasonable success. Not in everything I’ve ever done, of course, but I’ve gotten some good reception, some good notices. I don’t think every actor nails every role every time. Unless you’re Daniel Day Lewis. But there’s already a Daniel Day Lewis. Fuck that guy.
No, the thing I’m talking about is the audition itself. I think I might suck at that, especially the ones for film and television work. It’s just, the whole structure of it is something I find very hard to get a grip on, and I’m mostly talking about the ones where I’m reading for a live casting director. Let me explain a little about all this, for anyone who hasn’t the slightest clue how this business works.
Once my agent submits my name and materials for a role, the casting director for the project decides whether they want to see me. If they do, they notify my agent, who then notifies me. With in-person C.D. auditions—that is, the ones where I’m reading in front of a live casting director—it’s usually a couple days in advance, and my agent sends me sides to look at and memorize.
With taped ones, there’s a deadline to turn in digital files to the agent, who then evaluates it and sends it on. Most of the time, taped auditions are for projects that are being cast out of town, from places like Atlanta, or Wilmington, or even L.A. These self-submissions are becoming more and more common, and I have mixed feeling about them. On the positive side, I can control the ultimate product—I can do as many takes as I like, and then only submit the best one. Also, I get to be seen for stuff being shot everywhere. The bad thing is, it’s really time consuming, I’ve got to find someone to help me shoot it, and it’s a lot of work for what is probably a long shot and sometimes a role that I just don’t feel I’m right for. (In these instances, my agent insists I should trust him, and I do, but it’s hard to get enthusiastic about your chances when the script is calling for a “decrepit old man in his 60’s”) All in all, I still prefer the face to face, personal audition.
My audition today is the live, walk-in kind. It’s for a C.D. that calls me in a lot. She’s the one who cast me in Treme, and I kind of feel like I have her in my corner. But she’s got a hell of a poker face. I never know how well or how badly I did. Very businesslike. And here’s the thing about all these auditions, and the reason why I think I kind of suck at them: you’re delivering the scene in front of a camera, with a reader who is giving you nothing in the way of emotions or energy. This is difficult for someone who was raised onstage and relies on the circulation of energy from performer to performer to audience and back again. It’s performing a self-contained scene, sometimes with 2 or 3 characters, all alone in a vacuum.
Anyway, it sounds like I’m complaining, and that’s not the case. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to do the work that I spent so much of my adult life preparing and training for. And I basically try and treat the audition as the gig, so if I walk out of there feeling like I nailed it, it’s out of my hands.
Oh, and I always say that the payoff is going to come when I physically grow into my “old man” persona. Just wait ’til I’m 60! I’m gonna be a stahhhhh!