Reverse Engineering Actors!

As a director I love working with actors! I want to help them create the most fascinating characters --within the bounds of the story at hand and the context of the other characters. But often the question for a director is HOW? Which is why I read and study the stuff actors read and study. I want --no, need-- to understand their methods, challenges and fears. What makes them tick?

It's easy for a director or (anyone else for that matter) to get caught up in their own goals and challenges, keeping their nose to the grindstone and plowing through obsticales to get what you want. And a director has plenty to worry about from scenery and costumes to camera, lighting and more. But, Hey, it's a PEOPLE business, and the people your audinece will relate to are the actors! The actors are not just a director's tools to tell the story (not to be confused with Hitchcock's 'cattle') they are THE emotional link to the audience. And as human beings, each very unique and creative, every actor in the show is an important collaborator with the director.

So when I read an article like the one in BackStage Daily online, 38 Famous Actors' Audition Prep Tricks, which I found on RoundTable's Headline/Media News page my first thought is to investigate what an audition means to an actor ...and how I can use this information to get better auditions and discover through that process the perfect actor for every part in my production—assuming there is such a thing!

Yep, I'm REVERSE ENGINEERING actors! For a director it's a neverending quest to figure out what makes an actor tick and how to communicate with them accurately and effieicently to get not just their best performance but one that works with the rest of the cast and their characters. There are some actors that are only concerned with their character and some directors that are not concerned with their actors.

One of the things that struck me in this article—besides the range of human reaction to the stress of auditioning— is the uniform desire to do a really good job with the script and the character. The audition is not just an opportunity to get a job, it's an opportunity to ACT! They all take it very seriously and all examine and analyse the part to make the best choices for the audition. All want to be well prepared (in a way that suites them) and want to bring an interpretation that will make an impact, even if they know that subsequently they may be asked to try it another way!

Another thing that struck me is the wide variety of flexability to the process. While all of the 38 know the audition process can vary with the director, they each have a good idea of what works for them. Some want to walk in, perform a piece and exit without chit chat. Others expect to meet and greet and ask questions. 

I found this article valuable partly because there are 38 voices. That number provides a wonderful cross section of of talent from whom to glean lessons—for a director as well as other actors.  Also, these 38 are successful and experienced. They've been through the mill and know what they're talking about. They are certainly worth listening to. And I did.

One last thought from a director's perspective: a few scknowledged their success by addressing the need to audition—or lack thereof!  After all, these 38 are recognizable names with impressive credits and many could easily be cast on their resume alone without auditioning! But the more important detail is that they still want to be properly cast in a position where they can do their best work. Determining what that is exactly is never easy for an actor—or the director. It's like forcasting the future. But in the case of casting performers we have only to look at the people.

Yes, as a director I try to reverse engineer the talent. But so do the actors!  I think Carla Gugino said it best:

"I have to audition much less now than I used to and usually when I do, now it’s more about seeing if the director, the project, and I are the right creative fit.”

That's great advice. That's why as a director you will want to at least try to "Reverse Engineer" the talent!

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Wednesday, 22 May 2019