Heather Gault, actress and an Access to Agents student, I first met in 2009 online (No, no lewd digital exchange which would cause our pets hairball-despair. And shame on you for going there… wait I just did. Next!). She wrote to me in the spring of ’09 about a pair of producers in Florida whose business practices were as attractive as Everglades’ swamp gas. [Problem Producers]
Like myself, Heather is a contributor to Back Stage. I invited the talented actress-author to guest blog this week. And I’m glad I did… her guidance below made me laugh out loud while in the parking lot of Wendy’s in Newark, NJ.
Newark ain’t very funny.
Thank you Heather.
Flesh, Blood, and Binders: How Not to Get the Job
Sometimes leaving a weird first impression isn’t always a bad thing.
When I interviewed to intern in script development at 20th Century Fox back in college, I thought I blew it. I borrowed somebody’s car to drive to the interview (I had never driven in LA before), and of course totally underestimated the traffic. I was very late. Plus, it happened to be one of those rare days when Los Angeles experiences a torrential downpour, so that when I finally arrived at the Fox parking garage, the map of the lot that security gave me disintegrated in the rain. I got totally lost running around in my 4” heels, frantically trying to distinguish one semi-wide trailer from another. When I finally found the correct building for my interview, without realizing it I sliced open my hand as I closed my umbrella. Nobody noticed, in fact, until the handsome executive interviewing me extended his arm for a handshake— we realized I was dripping blood all over the office floor.
Needless to say the interview was crap. It’s not easy to focus on work-related questions while you’re clutching a bloody wad of tissues!
I tried to shake the whole experience off as a bad day. Except that evening the executive called. I couldn’t believe it! Had they really looked past all that insanity?
“Security found your driver’s license on the floor of the parking garage,” he said. “They asked me to get in touch with you so you can come retrieve it.” With my tail between my legs, I returned in the borrowed car to the parking garage, certain to never see the inside of a movie studio again.
A day later the executive called back. “When can you start?” he asked. I was stunned. There had to be some mistake. “You do know it’s me, right? The girl who was an hour late and bled all over your office?” He laughed. “Yes, we know it’s you. You have a great sense of humor. We’d like to give you the job.”
So began one of the best non-acting job experiences of my life. And it’s true—sometimes having a sense of humor or being a little off-beat can help you stand out. Barbara Streisand lore says she was discovered the day she pretended to chew gum in an audition and “stuck it” under the bottom of her chair.
But on the whole, being a bit of a whackjob doesn’t usually help you get an acting role.
Here is a list of mistakes I’ve learned from in my own audition experience. Some silly, some sensible. And yes, I have done each of these things, personally.
Please Don’t Do Any of The Following. Trust me.
-Don’t make lice jokes at a hair modeling call.
-Don’t explain to the producers of a tour that before you have coffee in the morning your roommate calls you “The Bunny that Got Hit by a Truck.”
-Don’t expect that just because you’re auditioning for two wildly different shows that the people behind the table will want to choose which one you sing for first.
-Even if you’re trying out for the role of a hooker, that small regional theater in Wisconsin doesn’t want you to show up to the audition looking like one.
-Winter brings static electricity to polyester. Don’t wear polyester to auditions unless you can deal with static electricity in a more graceful manner than, say, Lucille Ball.
-“Tuna” is a code word for “men in drag.” If you can’t pull off looking like a man in drag, don’t show up.
-Don’t wear flesh-colored fabrics (even pretty ones!) unless you’re okay with people telling you that you must have some kind of body fetish. (Okay, I may not have been the weird one in this instance, but why invite the commentary?)
-Don’t say that you can’t think of any questions about the project unless you really feel that way. You might end up missing something that could have helped you. Conversely, don’t ask a question that was plainly stated in the breakdown or script for the sake of asking a question.
-If you wear a strappy dress, don’t go anywhere without a sewing kit. Nobody wants to pull a Janet Jackson in the middle of Eliza Doolittle, trust me.
-There will always be Chipotle after you’ve danced.
-If you have multiple binders for sheet music, don’t make them all the same color. You will bring the wrong one with you.
-Similarly, don’t accidentally take someone else’s music binder home with you. It doesn’t make you look good when you have to bring it back to her at her callback.
-Sticking with the binder theme, don’t forget your music binder in the audition room when you leave. They won’t think it’s cute that you were so nervous.
-Don’t leave your binder on the train.
-Don’t leave your binder in the car before you get on the train.
-Don’t leave anywhere without your binder, ever.
-Don’t pursue a profession that requires you to hold on to a binder! (Okay, this one’s just for me.)
-Don’t wear a leotard you’ve never sweated in before . . . you don’t want to be surprised what suddenly becomes visible mid-audition.
-Don’t mistake porn for Shakespeare. Just don’t. (Those of you who read my Back Stage column last June know what I’m talking about. . .) [Sex, Lies and Shakespeare]
-If they ask you about something you’re good at (“How are you with modern dance?”), don’t tell them about something you aren’t (“Way better than I am a tap! Man do I suck at tap!”). Especially if tap wasn’t even in the equation.
-Don’t get into the “hey we know this person in common” game with someone you’re trying to impress if the only stories you can tell of this person are about how they dumped you.
-Conversely, if someone you’re trying to impress gets excited about a name on your resume and says “I love this person, how are they?” don’t stammer and say, “Oh, I don’t know I haven’t seen her for four years.”
-Don’t staple your resume upside-down to your headshot.
-Scientific studies show that only 3% of women going into an audition room do not have a wedgie. 3% of women going into an audition room aren’t wearing underwear. Don’t pick your wedgie!
-Don’t tell a pedophile joke when they ask you to tell a joke to camera, even if it’s the only joke you can think of at the time.
-And last but not least, don’t lose heart! We all do stupid things when we’re nervous. Each audition is a new chance. And luckily for screw-ups like me, this is the time of year with the most chances.
Sure, casting directors hire us not to be crazy people but to play crazy people. But if I can blunder my way into a career and I’ve made that many screw-ups?— I get the feeling that we’re all going to be okay. Take heed, that you may learn from my idiocy. Come to think of it, it’s a miracle anyone’s ever hired me at all. Thank you, former employers! Please. . . don’t tell your friends.
Heather Gault is an actress based out of New York City. When she’s not singing and dancing for her meal ticket, Heather enjoys dabbling in writing and producing. She currently writes a seasonal column for Back Stage about the ups and downs of being an actor. Her play, Stroller Wars, has been featured as part of the Strawberry One Act Festival and workshopped at the Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, NJ. Next up, Heather will be appearing in the independent feature-length musical film In the Night. To learn more about Heather and her upcoming projects, check out www.HeatherGault.com.
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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