How to get on TV… sometimes
So, quick update: this past week I have been working on a TV commercial, which will be airing soon on Australian TV. I had so much fun working with a very funny script and lovely team on this one, and I’m excited to show you all!
Something I am always asked when people talk about acting, is “how do you get into it?” or “how did you get to be in that show?”
I try to kind of give a general kind of vague answer about having a good agent and stuff, but the real answer is much more long-winded – perfect for a blog post! So here we are.
I’ve been working in the film/ TV world since I could talk. I had an agent by the age of 3, and I think I remember having my 6th or 7th birthday on the set of the movie Babe. Unfortunately this means I’m not the best person to give advice regarding securing an agent, particularly when I get asked by teenagers and adults who are just starting out. My journey was very different and I had the benefit of being an extremely precocious child with very supportive parents and having it work for me!
Having been slogging away in the industry for this long however, means I have auditioned hundreds, if not thousands, of times! So skipping the agent-finding part (another blog post for another time!) Let’s talk about the process of getting the job, or not. It is a process I am very very familiar with.
This will come as a shock to some of you, but no, you don’t get to decide what job you get. Sadly I can’t call my agent and say “Hey I really like such-and-such-a-show, can you get me on that?” because that is not how it works. I wish it was, but it’s not. You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t, I don’t know you) how many people will say to me “You haven’t done much acting lately, why don’t you just go on Home and Away?”
. . .
I never know how to react. Are people expecting me to slap myself on the forehead and exclaim “Oh my god thank you! Why didn’t I think of that!!!!???? I’ll just go on Home and Away!”? Come on, guys.
Another one I get a lot is “What about that new girl on Home and Away (yesssss people love to talk to me about how I’m not on Home and Away) why didn’t you audition for that role?” Well that’s a tactless thing to say because chances are, I DID audition for that role. Along with the all of the thousands of actresses in Australia who all didn’t get to give themselves the job.
So, if I can’t ask for a role on my favourite show (which is not Home and Away btw, that’s just the show that always gets brought up by old friends from high school when I bump into them at the shops) then how DOES it work?
OK buckle in!
Your agent (along with allll the agents) will receive a brief about a role being cast. It might say that its female, the age range, sometimes a physical description, and a bit about what the character is like. Then the agent submits anyone on their books who they think fits the bill. (9.9 times out 10 you can not have a hope of auditioning for a network TV show or film without having an agent to submit you, people who think acting might be cool and who want to ‘give it a go’ can not just rock up to these auditions – might sound obvious but I have been asked about that before!)
The Casting Director then looks through alllll the submissions from alllll the agencies, and shortlists (from looking at your resume and photo, or if time is limited just your photo.) the people they want to see for the audition. Many times, your shot at being in the production ends there. They didn’t like something about your photo or you’re too tall or simply not what they had in mind, and you don’t make it into the audition room! There are just too many of us hopefuls for these poor Casting Directors to give everyone a go, there just isn’t time. So they need to cull people before the auditions have even started.
Usually you don’t even hear about these missed opportunities, as your agent is working away submitting you for as many jobs as they can. When they do call you, it’s because they have got you in the room for something. And then the fun begins!
Depending on the project, anything from a select handful of people to literal hundreds of people will audition for one role. It totally depends on the needs and scale of the production but these days with the internet making everything so fast, people are able to record and send video auditions from all around the world, making the chances of you getting the role EVEN SMALLER than they were before!
Sometimes you will walk in to a waiting room with 10 other girls who look exactly like you, yep that’s disconcerting. Other times they are open to all looks and types and everyone is bringing their own unique flavour to the character.
Once you are in the room, you better know your script extremely well and be prepared to take direction. Sometimes you spend hours learning and preparing the scene til you feel confident that you are going to walk in there and blow them away with the performance of a lifetime. You nail the scene, take in a moment of satisfaction after ‘cut’ is called, look to the Casting Director expecting to see him/her stunned by your acting prowess or possibly even moved to tears. What actually happens though is they give you a polite smile and say thank you, and you are back out of the room before 5 minutes has even passed, aaaand you never hear from them again.
Sadly, this happens. A lot.
Other times, you are still in the room after 20 mins and 10 different takes and you are now crawling around on the floor with your shoes off saying the lines like you are the lone survivor on a deserted island who hasn’t eaten in three days because its some weird psychological exercise the director thinks will help channel the emotion he wants to see from you in what is actually a courtroom scene. Then when you feel like you couldn’t physically do any more to prove yourself you finally leave the audition… and never hear from them again.
Again, this really has happened.
No two auditions are the same. Sometimes they have a desk and chair and a fake phone and every prop under the sun for you to navigate and try to use naturally to make the whole scene look realistic. Other times you stand in an empty room and just deliver the lines with no action or props. Sometimes there is a fabulous actor reading the lines opposite you, giving you great energy to work with… and sometimes it is someone who is obviously not an actor, (someone from the office maybe?) with a terrible fake accent or who’s overacting is very off-putting and you are expected to still give a natural performance. Sometimes you go in one at a time, sometimes you are paired with another actor to be your pretend boyfriend, and again, whether you get the best or worst actor in the waiting room as your partner is completely luck of the draw. The times I have been paired with someone I don’t gel with and the whole audition has all gone horribly wrong, do tend to make for great stories to retell at parties, I have to say!
Usually, you don’t get the job. I did read a depressing statistic once about the percentage of auditions an actor will do that actually result in him/her getting the job – thankfully I don’t recall the exact number but it is verrrrry very small!
For the bigger productions they will cut people and then hold callbacks where the shortlisted actors go in again. I have been lucky and got the job after only one audition, or sometimes its has been after 4 or even 5 callbacks! Again, depends on the job. With every callback you feel you are getting closer so the pressure just gets worse!
Often the very top handful or sometimes just top 2 actors are put on hold while the company is deciding. So when you get this call you KNOW you are very close, but even to be in the top 2 only gives you a 50% chance of getting the role, so you quite often don’t get it.
Chemistry tests are fun, they only do these sometimes – particularly on shows where you are joining an already established cast. They get the other actors to come in to play out the scene with you so they can see if you are believable as their girlfriend, daughter, best friend etc. When it gets to this point I am almost always taller than the actor playing the boyfriend and quite often, its awkward/weird.
Soooo yeah it’s an interesting process!
Probably the worst thing and the only part I will never understand, is that if you don’t get the job you just never hear back. There is no group email saying “thanks, but no thanks.” You just don’t hear anything. Sometimes when it’s a gig you really wanted you can hold onto the belief that you are still in the mix and they might just be taking a really long time to decide… until you literally see it on TV one night and force yourself to go “Ohhhk guess they went in a different direction.”
When people talk about actors needing a thick skin it is really no exaggeration. The pressure actors come under once there are actually ON a show and under public scrutiny is a whooooole other blog post for another time! But there is a different kind of resilience the auditioning actor needs to have. You can’t take it personally, you just can’t. Because rejection comes over, and over, and over again. You will read scripts that you absolutely fall in love with, and characters that you feel so connected to that you become convinced you were born to play the role – only to walk in, say the lines once, and not even get a callback.
In my experience, the most important skill as a “professional auditioner” (which is really what we all are) is having an inner ‘caring switch’ and being able to turn your caring on and off.
When you get an audition you need to care, SO much. If you want to be considered for the role you have no choice but to be the actor that is the most prepared, who has done the most research and who gives the most flawless performance. You have to be the best, so you have to really care about the work.
Then, the second you walk out of the room, that switch needs to flip and you need to absolutely not care at all.
This is a skill I am still mastering and sometimes I have been better at this than others, that’s human. But I know that the actors who can flick the switch off like that are the healthy ones!
Sometimes, the universe is working in your favour and you land something absolutely wonderful and for a few weeks or months, you are an actual working actor! You are part of the production, you are on set and performing, and creating! And it is fantastic.
…And then that’s a wrap. You are back to work in the shop, or the café, or the bar. You are pulling your thick skin back on, and going back into the world of professional auditioning. Because even though the lows outnumber the highs and the process is fickle and disappointing, all actors have fine-tuned our personal ‘caring switches’ or other custom coping mechanisms which make it bearable. This is just what we do, and no matter how nerve-wracking or disappointing or downright weird that last audition was, we are always ready to do it all over again.
Before I wrap this up (pun intended) let me leave on a positive thought, which is quite a rare thing for me!
It was the brilliant Casting Director Tom McSweeney who once told me my job was to be a “professional auditioner” which is just so true. You prepare the work, and treat the audition as a performance. Consider the fact that SO many people out there are still struggling to find an agent and break into the industry. Then among those of us lucky enough to be represented, hundreds of actors don’t get submitted, or don’t even get past that stage to get into the room to do the physical audition! So just getting to go in there in front of the camera is a privilege. Each audition you manage to get in on is a new chance to perform and do your thing, the thing that we all love – and getting that call to say you have been given the role and have actual paid work for a few days or weeks? Well THAT is just the bonus.