The July Summer Intensive class visited with Casting Director Stuart Aikens today, and here’s what he had to say about how directors choose actors for their projects
“Directors make three decisions when you come in the room. First they want to know if you can act. Next they look to see if you can be molded, if you can take direction. Then third it’s are you right for the part?”
Stuart is in a position to know what he’s talking about. He’s a veteran casting director in Vancouver, who primarily casts film and television. You can get a sense of the projects he usually works on by checking out his profile on IMDB.com, the Internet Movie Database.
In talking more about first question “can you act,” Stuart went into some detail about how a director makes that decision. He feels that it all comes down to choices, and whether you tell a story with your acting. Even if it’s not quite the story that the director had in mind, communicating feeling and story to the camera shows an experienced director that you can act, and that they’ll be able to work with you to develop your character further. He said that “the director is discovering the scene as you act it out,” picking and choosing elements of a scene as he sees them played out in the room. An actor’s interpretation of a script can have a significant impact on the interpretation that the director chooses to use in the final performance. Stuart is very clear about not wanting a finished product in the audition room. “I want something in between a first read and a performance, I want actors to come prepared but I don’t care as much about whether they’ve memorized their lines, it’s an audition, the camera wants to see inside them, deep inside them with no self-consciousness.”
He went on to add that there’s often confusion about the word “choices” and that an actor can make clear choices about circumstances and situation, but should never make choices about specific effect (i.e. “I’ll yell this line” or “when I say this I’ll slam my hand on the table”) because it comes across on camera as artificial. In class I’ll often talk about the importance of making choices that are emotionally invested and important (bold), individual to your personality and experience (personal), and that fit the script and character (appropriate). Stuart’s language is different, but I believe the intent is the same. When you’re performing, we want to see that you’ve put yourself inside the story of the scene and are bringing it to life in a way that’s both truthful and engaging. Or in his words “we want to see deep inside you.”
He didn’t spend much time elaborating on the necessity for actors to be “moldable” and take direction in the room, but it’s a useful addition to the discussion that your choices should never be fixed. When preparing a scene, make sure that you work it several different ways to build your flexibility and prepare you to take unexpected direction in the audition room.
And I would say that as an actor you have very little control over whether you are “right” for the part. That has a lot to do with your physicality, your look and the basic way that your personality comes across on camera. I find it encouraging that Stuart listed it last in his list of three questions, because I think that actors too often become preoccupied with trying to figure out whether they are “right” for a part. I say forget whether you’re right for the part, and focus on being the most capable, interesting, engaged and flexible actor that you can possibly be.