"How to Not Give a F#%k in the Audition Room" by Matt Newton
"I don't need this job." (Well, I do, but I'm going to pretend that I don't, even though if I don't book this I will probably quit acting.)
I was recently inspired by my new favorite book "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#%" by Mark Mansan (highly recommend to all actors), as well as actress Alexa Carra's great article "Pilot Season: How to Not Give Too Many F$#ks." As a former actor, and now director and on-camera acting coach, I thought I'd throw my oversized beanie hat in the ring and offer another perspective on the subject.
How do we, as talented and skilled actors, walk into an audition, callback, chemistry read, or screen test for a big film or TV show and TRULY act like we don't care, and that we could give or take whether or not we get the job? Supposedly that is what casting directors like, that very attractive quality known as "subtle indifference." The rub is, by the time you get to a screen test for a pilot, you have actually already signed a contract, seen how much you are going to make per episode (and your trailer size, salary bumps, etc), your agents have told you how important it is, and then have to throw it all out the window and pretend you DON'T care when you walk into a room with 30 network executives in suits for a series regular in a new ABC show that could change your life? Good luck with that, folks!
How do you NOT care when you stayed up late the night before, memorizing 15 pages of script, barely slept, your eyes look tired, you took time to watch an episode of the show you are auditioning for to get the "tone," left your temp/bartending/nanny/security/real estate job a few hours early meet with a coach, then you have to spring for a last minute Uber to get to the audition on time (cause for some reason it's located at the tip of Manhattan), all the while listening to your carefully curated "audition playlist," and then you are expected to walk into the audition room with your middle fingers up in the air, when truthfully in your head you have already spent the $9000 you would potentially make if you booked this Blue Bloods top of show guest star?
As an actor I tried to find this confidence for years. I read every self help book and watched every Tony Robbins seminar, read the "Artists Way" cover to cover, practiced meditation and yoga, made a damn vision board, went to years of therapy, and have actually said to people "Tell me how to not give a f#4k. Please!" all for a little insight into this elusive world of "not caring." I, like many actors, am far too self aware to put caring out of my mind, especially when you haven't worked in 2 years, you are worried about your mediocre agents dropping you, you are piecing together residual checks and catering gigs, and your parents keep asking you every day "When can I see you on TV?" Quite the opposite, I gave WAY TOO MANY F#$KS!
Here is what I've learned from working with thousands of actors over the years, both on set, and at my studio. Confidence can be faked. The best actors have the least confidence, and the worst actors have the most. I see it all the time, and it amazes me, and I'm constantly trying to bridge the two. Try being a guest star walking into a scene on the set of Blue Bloods with Tom Selleck staring at you, hitting your mark, and delivering a monologue in front of 150 crew members when you are almost at overtime and everyone wants to go home? Most people would have a mild panic attack and ask the on set medic for some Propanolol. But the ones who book, the ones who walk on set like they own the place, they know it's all about confidence and acting like you deserve to be there, come hell or high water, knowing your shit and not apologizing for it, being fearless and unshakeable in your physicality and delivery.
Amy Cuddy's enormously popular TED talk "your body language shapes who you are" discusses how ACTING confident can actually create that same physical response in your body, and release calming endorphins. So wait, if I stand confidently, with my legs spread apart, my knees will stop shaking, my mind will stop freaking out, the sweat will dry up, and my panic attack will stop? No, but it will help, and we all need a leg up in this arena. You can be trembling and crumbling on the inside, but on the outside you can learn to convey a calm ocean of strength and confidence. It's the stuff dreams are made of, and creates the allusion of authority. And at the end of the day, you need to instill trust in casting directors and producers, so that they can put you on set and you won't crumble. You know how your hand shakes when you are holding the sides in an audition? That makes people nervous. So start right now and put something heavy underneath your sides, so that your hand doesn't shake, and you appear more confident, and people trust you more and therefore hire you. Voila! You don't give a f#$k!
The truth is you will spend most of your career auditioning, unless you are one of the lucky actors who are "offer only" (in which case you probably aren't reading this article), so you better learn to love it, and develop the skill of "acting like a person with unshakeable confidence." Everyone tells you how important it is to not NEED the job. It's that fine line being confident and arrogant, right? Well you try not giving a f#$k when 15 "Law and Order" producers are staring at you while you sit in a chair, pretend to cry and say "I don't know who killed him," all the while also thinking "Do I seem confident? Am I caring too much? Should I look them in the eye when I'm done? Did I pee my pants a little?" Yes, you did.
No matter how hard you work, no matter how many conservatories you went to, no matter how good looking you are or how much money you have, dumb confidence is hard to come by. You rehearse your lines hundreds of times, then walk in the room and act like you have never said them before so you don't seem like you are "anticipating." Then you try the opposite and you work on them only a handful of times, cause f$#k it, right? And then you go in and bomb. You can't win!
So here are some ways I've found truly help actors when they walk into the audition room.
1. Remind yourself how lucky you are to be doing this. Just kidding. F#$k that. You chose this, and you want it to go well, and you want to book the job. Take on the physicality of a confident person. Walk in with your shoulders back, lines memorized (but carefully placed in your lap in case you need to look), look the producers in the eye when you walk in, and think to yourself "Watch this. This is going to be great. Trust me. I'll make your job easier on set." Just keep telling yourself this until it works. Get yourself a good mantra, and say it until you believe it. Trick your mind for a couple of minutes while you are in the room.
2. When you are sitting in the waiting room, clear your nutty, spazzy mind. All those intrusive thoughts get in the way of you giving a fully present audition. Close your eyes, and take four deep breaths, and every time you breath in think of "confidence" pouring into your body, and every time you exhale, think of "fear" leaving your body. Do it four times and you can punch Tony Robbins in the face with all of your newfound confidence.
3. Get some perspective. Everyone wants the next step up. Even successful actors want something they don't have (a summer movie, a cool indie, a Taco Bell commercial?). This one day guest star is not going to change your life (or even your financial situation). You don't have to be the best actor, you just have to be right for the part, which usually is out of your control. Shouldn't that be enough to release the need to care? So many things out of your control, so little time. Can't you just play around for a couple of minutes and then go back to what you were doing before? Why does it have to be so damn important? Why does this have to occupy so much of your mind when there are much bigger things to give a f#$k about?
4. Enjoy the process and the journey. Nope, eff that. The "journey" of getting rejected sucks, and doesn't make your parents stop pressuring you to get a real job. Get a damn hobby. Find something to care a lot about that doesn't have to do with Checkov or "branding" or your IMDB star meter. Give yourself something to focus on besides acting and stop making yourself crazy obsessing over it and why your agents aren't emailing you back.
5. When you are in the room, focus entirely on the reader and what they are saying during the scene. If you are nervous, admit it to yourself. You make yourself twice as nervous by trying desperately to get rid of nerves. It's a vicious cycle. Everyone is nervous, so just admit it, and it starts to go away. This really works. What's the worst case scenario? You are nervous, the read isn't great, and you have another audition for something else tomorrow? Take the pressure off and just pay attention to what's happening in the silly little scene!
7. Stop fighting so hard for it to be "right.". It's so damn subjective. When people are nervous, it's because they are at war with the present moment. They want something different than what is happening. When actors are auditioning, they are nervous because they don't want to have to prove themselves, and they are mad they have to audition at all, and they have to justify this crazy existence of constantly getting rejected for that one potential audition where the 7s line up and they win the "booking" jackpot. Nerves come from wanting to control the outcome of a situation, or risk complete failure. It's literally the same as a fight or flight response when someone is putting a gun to your head. As Alexis put it in her article, you will work your ass off on a script, be fully memorized and camera ready, show up on time, and the next person will roll in late, hair disheveled, barely getting through the lines, be a total jerk to the casting director, and will book it. Isn't that enough to make you stop giving a f#$k? You have no control! Sometimes your hair is the wrong color, you are too short, too gay, not gay enough, you remind them of their landlord, or your shirt fit you funny. I'll say it again: YOU HAVE NO CONTROL! So chill and find something else in your life to worry about that you can actually control, like whether or not your french bulldog's UTI is going to come back, or your ukulele skills, or your dog's Instagram following and possible sponsorships.
8. Don't worry about booking the job, just book the room. Yeah, no. If I spend all of my days booking rooms, my wife will leave me, my baby won't have clothes, and all of those people who doubted me in high school can still say they haven't seen me in anything. So I'd like to book the job please! I got bills to pay, and my Urban Outfitters credit card is maxed out!
That's all I got. Try not to give a F$#k. But it's okay if you do. Anyone who is good at their job cares about what they are doing. If you didn't care, you would be a deadbeat. Exceptional actors are constantly self-evaluating and learning what skills they need to be better. As long as it's rational. What worries me is when actors take on the insane, irrational thoughts that have no relevance to their talent. "They hate me! I bombed in there! They will never bring me in again!" That stuff doesn't help at all, and when you keep saying it, you start to believe it. That's when all the f$%ks start being given, when you are trying to be a people pleaser, trying to prove something (to yourself, the casting director, your parents), instead of being fully present and letting the scene and circumstances wash over you from moment to moment.
Acting coach and founder of MN Acting Studio
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