The guest star audition is a special animal. We usually graduate to it after we’ve cut our teeth as co-stars and proven to casting directors, directors, and show runners that we’re ready to take on the greater challenge that attaches to a larger role. And while those one-or-two line auditions present particular difficulties, so too do the larger roles where you bear the responsibility of not only filling in a necessary plot point in a realistic way, but of bringing an emotional depth that will help drive the inner life of the story.
Here are my tips for bringing authenticity, the hallmark of any good performance, to those opportunities…
- Know what just happened. Most scenes these days start in the middle. Modern audiences these days are sophisticated, and they expect the story to cut to the chase. In the old days of Perry Mason, courtroom testimony would begin with the witness being called to the stand. Now, more often than not, your character’s scene will start in the middle of your lawyer’s questioning. Screenwriters are getting rid of any sort of preamble because audiences have seen enough of these scenes that they don’t need them. Because of this, the more you have a firm picture of what was just said and how your energy should be pitched, the more vibrant and alive your performance will be.
- Know what you’re thinking. Too often we assume that what the character is saying is what the character is thinking. But unless the scene involves a pivotal moment in your character’s life, your thoughts are probably elsewhere. And just because the moment may be important to another character (i.e. a series regular) doesn’t mean it’s important to you. You may be thrilled to have a co-star or guest star role, but your character is just going about his or her day. That’s not to say that your stakes should be low. But the stakes should be those of your character.
- Don’t always mean what you say. When you read a script, don’t assume that everything your character says is the truth. Look for clues to ulterior motives and hidden meanings.
- Beware the interesting choice. Too often actors make the mistake of choosing interesting over truthful. Particularly in auditioning for co-star and guest star roles, it’s crucial to remember that the show runner has a story to tell, and it might not be the story of your character. So be sure to watch the show and become familiar with the tone. Read every word of every page of the sides that are sent to you by your agent. Glean as much information as you can about the story. When the casting director asks you, as they invariably do, if you have any questions, ask them. The more you know about the story being told, the more you can tune your choices and make sure that they serve that story. If you’re interesting on top of that, kudos.
- Need and objective rule the day, so watch out for unnecessary emotion. Too many actors focus on what their character is feeling, and that’s what they work on when they’re in the room. But that’s not how we move through the day “irl,” as my teenaged daughter would say. We spend our time trying to get what we want, and that’s what our characters should do. Emotion tags along for the ride. If you focus on your need and your objective in the scene, you’ll find that you’re feeling what the character needs to feel without working at it. And it will be that much more authentic because it is growing out of your action, rather that being manufactured.
To learn more about Matthew and his work, check out his ongoing online classes at matthewarkinstudio.com!