The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Auditioning Performers
As a filmmaker, auditioning talent for a new film is always exciting- watching your created characters spring to life as living, breathing people. The right actor/ actress adds more depth to your written characters, bringing in delightful changes and quirks. But sometimes, sending out the large casting net gathers up some very strange fish. Here are some bizarre ones I’ve encountered over the decades..
Meanwhile At The Whitehouse
Most people inflate the truth on their resumes. I knew one actor who billed himself as a star of the soap opera, All My Children. He was on one episode as an out-of-focus way in the background extra, but he warned everyone within earshot he was the new face of the show.
One person took the art of fibbing to a really dizzying high. I got a “Booklet” package from an actress with photocopied photographs of her in community theater presentations. She also included a one-page bio of herself that had an impressive start. The bio said she was part of an acting troupe that was invited to perform at The White House for then-president Ronald Reagan. She goes on to say how after the show, Reagan invited them all to a White House dinner. Are you impressed yet? She then stated that the dinner was drugged and she blacked out. Later, her and her acting friends woke up in the White House dungeon. They all had to perform slave labor under Mr. and Mrs. Reagan, who forced her to eat out of a dog food bowl. I feel as Reagan was an actor himself, and he would treat these people with a little bit more respect. She then goes on to say how she cannot perform before 5 p.m. because all high frequency waves from nearby office computers make her dizzy.
The Cab Fare is Too Damned High
An actor’s resume may seem normal, but when you meet them in person, it becomes quite an adventure. One woman who gave a terrible audition complained I was holding auditions during working hours, between nine and five, and coming in to audition at those hours causes actors to lose wages. She made several references to the cab fare she had to pay to get to me.
Another actor, again with an impressive resume came to the audition space with his friend who constantly gave us a rather suspicious look as the audition started. The steely-eyed friend asked how much the two of them will be paid for auditioning. He then interrupts the audition, saying he finds our film boring, and starts recommending a whole new project for us to take on. We politely refused.
Fear The Twinkie
Then you have the people who don't appear. I usually audition about thirty people for the one role. I choose the best four, and bring them in for a callback. There was one actress I wanted to bring back and we set a time for her to be at the audition space. She doesn’t show up. We waited for ten minutes. Nothing. Fifteen minutes went by- nothing. It’s getting towards a half-hour and pretty soon another actress is due to appear so we call the actress at her home.
A gruff sounding man answers. “Hello. We have an appointment to interview Mary for a film.” The man repeats our statement as a question. “You have an appointment to meet with Mary? Mary told me about that film." "Yes.” I responded, “We would like to know if she’s on her way over here." "She hasn’t even left the house.” He says with a pause. “You have to understand, and let me make this clear to you. I am the Big Twinkie around here. And if the Big Twinkie does not want Mary to leave, then Mary cannot leave." Scary.
Sometimes we'll have the callback at a convenient place for the talent. We did this for an actress who worked as a bartender in an uptown Manhattan pub. She told us to come by right before they open. We get there and there she is in Daisy Duke shorts and a little top striking various sexy poses on top of the bar. I know filmmakers who would have dived right for her bait. Most of us know if she has to resort to this instead of her acting talents, it spells out low self-confidence and potential trouble on the set.
Momma Will Protect You
In the early 1990s I was working in Jacksonville Florida with a producer looking to film our low budget crime screenplay. The many responses to our casting notice in the local Arts newspaper were sent to my office I was operating out of from my home. One day the phone rings. It’s from an irate local Jacksonville mom.
She demanded to know what type of film I am making. “I drove past the mailing address you gave for the headshots.” She fumed. “It’s a house! Not an office!” She went on to say that her committee are out to banish pornography from Jacksonville. I assure her there are some violence and sex elements to the film, but nothing that comes even close to pornography. She calms down and she says she's also looking out for her son who wants to start an acting career. She said she is shielding him from seeing anything objectionable or immoral. I asked how old her son was? “He’s twenty-one.” .
Auditioning is mostly fun and very rewarding and you get exciting talent for your film. In one case, two separate women were just what I wanted for my thriller Sharp And Sudden. I cast one of the women, but the second woman became part of my “stock company”. I cast her in my next three films.
These stories took place in the days when you mailed a headshot and resume to an address placed in a printed casting notice. Since the pandemic, auditions are largely done with internet video chats and self-tapes. Logistically, this makes a lot of sense, but I do feel you are missing out on the one-on-one meeting where you can tell if a talent is going to be an asset to your film, or a major migraine.
About the author -
Glenn Andreiev is a Long Island based filmmaker and film historian, whose work has appeared on CNN, The View, Court TV and The Museum of Modern Art. He currently gives lectures on various aspects of film history. His films can be found at his website- www.glennandreiev.com.