How Star Actors Surprisingly Get Work

How do stars and well-known actors get work? The answer isn’t what you may imagine.

Paul Russell
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How do stars and well-known actors get work? The answer isn’t what you may imagine.

In casting I’ve arranged meetings and auditions with talent that include: Matthew Broderick, Nadia Dajani, Will Farrell, Faith Prince, Eric McCormick, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jon Stewart, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Paul Rudd, Jay Morh, Christopher Durang, Luke WIlson, Victor Garber… if I recalled every ‘name actor’ I’ve encountered in my casting history the lengthy list would make the 41 producers for The Butler seem like a cozy coffee klatsch.

I continue to encounter ‘name actors’ in the audition room.

Casting of Les Miserables for the Barter Theatre involved last-minute replacement casting for the role of Jean Valjean and the role’s cover.

Of the 90 men scheduled to audition an omission was on my schedule: A highly visible, industry name. An actor who captivated Broadway and international audiences with over two-thousand lyrical singings of “Bring Him Home.” Mention the actor’s name to industry and awed eyes widen. He’d never come in for a regional production, I thought. Never.

After my contacting his agent I received an immediate e-mail reply. A pass? The well-known actor had previously contacted his agent and…asked to be seen!

That doesn’t happen in casting for a regional production of a trodden title. When an actor has played the role on Broadway and famed stages abroad, the agent and/or the actor often reply, “Offer only” to restagings; even if the director and/or other creatives involved in the title’s current casting have never seen the actor’s work or don’t know the performer. It just doesn’t happen…often.

The actor auditioned. His “Bring Him Home” and “Sweet Jesus” soliloquy was a wondrous gift unwrapped for us by him.

Unlike…an arrogant, younger ‘unknown’ actor who came into the audition without music from the show demanding he only be considered for Jean Valjean and not the cover position. He wouldn’t begin his audition until we gave him answer. I won’t be calling him in again.

As recounted in ACTING: Make It Your Business, multiple EMMY and Golden Globe award-winning actress Sharon Gless (Cagney & Lacey, Queer As Folk fame) auditioned for me, and my director of a one-act in a dilapidated-closet-turned-office at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. This was after her winning awards and acclaim.

On a recent casting project I called-in to audition an actress of high industry-visibility. She previously volunteered her artistry at a prior reading of the current project. Despite her having donated her talents to the un-rehearsed reading, the director needed to explore—via an audition—the Broadway actress’ skill set. I wasn’t comfortable scheduling her; I believed this situation awkward. But in credit to her marvelous sense of teamwork and generosity, the actress contacted me; yes…contacted me…and asked to audition for the role she’d read in the reading! She sat among her competition in a cramped hovel holding area. Entering the audition studio she warmly greeted us and auditioned.

An actor, star or not, having to audition is a necessary evil of the casting process. The actor who responds to an offer of an audition with, “I’ll only audition if considered for…” or the actor who passes on an audition stating, “Don’t they know who I am?” need to look to the prior examples of professionalism as the paradigm of an actor’s actor.

And here’s the kicker folks. Neither Ms. Gless or the actor who played Jean Valjean for audiences world-wide got the gigs for which they auditioned before me. They certainly had the talent. They certainly were right for the roles. But…this business is excruciatingly subjective with many uncontrollable variables. Ego-less actors understand such.

And the well-known Broadway actress who auditioned for the project in which she earlier donated an evening of reading? She got an offer after her audition. The creative team discovered what they hadn’t seen earlier in the reading.

No one is guaranteed any future advances in life because of their history.

A2A_AnmSIDE NOTE: 5 actors just got representation this week thanks to Access to Agents. For details on taking control of your career visit: Access to Agents – How to Agent as An Actor & Improve Audition; Get Jobs!

My Best,

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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 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

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