It’s an unfortunate reality of the process of casting, that actors usually don’t get the full script to read before auditioning for roles. That said, I’d like to draw attention to this situation from the perspective of how actors may be able to better advocate for their audition process in light of it. And I’d like to do so using a classic example of one of the biggest problems in which actors find themselves and a potential solution for solving it. The problem? Getting a bad set of sides to read. OR……having to come up with something yourself which is unfortunately, happening to actors more and more….Let’s deal with getting sides from the CD first.
When choosing sides for the characters to read for auditions, a casting director will typically look for the largest continuous scene(s) the actor plays where they have a lot of dialogue. This makes sense on the face of it. But merely following that formula alone can cause problems. Back when Francis Ford Coppola was casting the pivotal role of Michael Corleone in the epic film, “The Godfather,” he faced significant resistance from the Paramount brass in getting them to agree to casting Al Pacino for the role. As a matter of fact, they didn’t much like anyone else who auditioned for the role, either and almost EVERY young actor in the business ended up reading for it! I maintain that the primary reason they had such trouble casting the part, had primarily to do with the audition materials not giving the actors, a good chance to display their abilities. Everyone auditioned for the part having to read sides that merely told a story in which the character telling it has literally no transitions or changes in his character to actually play. The scene they had the actors read for the part, was the scene at Connie and Carlo’s wedding in which Kay asks Michael about how he knew Johnny Fontaine. The hyperbolic story Michael tells ends with the famous line, “Lucca Brazzi held a gun to the bandleader’s head and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.” Michael’s character dispassionately tells the story as if he’s done so a several times before and it’s well-worn territory for him. No discoveries or transitions available for his character to play. The REAL transitions in the scene are actually all Kay’s! She has almost no lines in the scene but her reaction is one of complete astonishment that this family does business this way! You can see the circumstances under which Pacino and others auditioned for the part, highlighted in a documentary clip Here. And you can see the final scene in the film, Here. It should be noted that Pacino’s retaining the role of Michael was even tenuous through the start of filming as Coppola had to fight to keep him in the film almost every day! It’s was only after the Paramount heads saw the dailies of Pacino’s character killing Solozzo and McClusky at Louie’s diner that they finally OK’d him for the role with no further options being discussed to come in and reshoot earlier scenes already in the can. During THAT scene, Michael has absolutely no dialogue but the adrenaline and nerves piling up on his psyche is distinctly palatable to the audience due to Pacino’s subtle but vivid display of the character’s turbulent inner landscape! No wonder they OK’d him for the film after seeing it. On a personal sidenote, it was a profound pleasure to sing on the soundtrack of this great film when I was a boy…..
What would have been the solution to this problem? Using a scene much more suited to highlighting an actor’s strengths or weaknesses and showing some changes in the character rather than one that just has them telling a story. As a casting director, I would have used the scene in which Michael comes up with the plan to kill Solozzo and McClusky. He begins the scene as Sonny’s kid-brother, Mikey with Sonny chiding him patronizingly about the foolishness of his plan and saying to Tom that Mikey is “taking this very personally!” As Michael starts to clarify his plan and lists the benefits and wisdom of it, be begins the transformation from Mikey to Michael as he calmly and rationally tells his brother, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” And Mikey is never seen again. You can see the scene Here.
So if you get a set of sides that just tells a story or doesn’t give you much of anything to do for the scene like Michael’s audition scene from “The Godfather,” see if your agent can ask the casting person if it’s possible to select a different scene that allows the character more transitions. Even if it’s one that requires a few other parts as many can be skipped or can all be read by the same reader reading with you. They may be able to get you a better scene to read EVEN if it has fewer pages or words! The volume of words isn’t always equated with the value or impact of the scene. In many cases, there’s only one scene for the character and it doesn’t do much more than advance the story. Then, it’s appropriate to read only that scene and you try to make it look as realistic as possible and resist the temptation to make it more than it SHOULD be! Sure you’ll stick out and be memorable. But for all the wrong reasons.
Now, let’s address the second problem with audition sides that you may have to choose yourself. These days, many inexperienced people casting projects, are actually asking actors for theater monologues for auditions!! It’s easy to assail this process as totally illogical but that’s another blog posting you can read Here. Suffice it to say, actors are going to be increasingly asked for monologues or given sides that will handcuff their reads for the roles they’re trying to get. First, I’d like to advise you to avoid the obvious pitfalls of picking something so different from the character that it lacks a comparable point of reference for the casting people to have to hurdle. If you’re auditioning for a warm-hearted “dad” role, don’t pick some sides for a serial murderer savagely displaying their viciousness simply because the piece happens to be “compelling!” It’s not helpful in imagining your for the role at hand yet actors like to make an “impression” with such drastic pieces and choices.
Next and most obviously, avoid choosing a piece that is likely to have already been seen by the people for whom you’re auditioning because it’s either already famous with another actor or it’s such well-trod turf that you have a harder time claiming the characterization from the preceding ones, already so plentifully available in the public domain. In general, you want to claim and display your own unique artistry within the context of the role at hand, as much as you possibly can which I think suffices as the formula best served in your auditions.
I hope these ideas have been helpful to you and want to with you, Good Luck!