Interview by Kelly Calabrese from NY Castings
When it comes to auditions, we’ve all heard the skipping record telling us that “we have to calm our nerves,” “be natural,” and “not be appear as if we NEED to book the role.” But these sound bites of advice can often confuse instead of helping us focus on how to consistently make the most of every audition.
That’s why, NYCastings sought insight from acting coach Bob McAndrew who has been praised by many celebrity students including Christopher Walken, Chris Cooper, Sela Ward, and John Stamos. Here’s how to master the art of auditioning…
Q: How do you help actors to master auditions?
I do a lot of exercises that help people realize what comes up for them when they face casting directors. What needs do they have, emotionally. Sometimes, there is so much pressure – “I should be this. I should do that. I should. I should. It pounds them on the head. Casting directors want you to succeed. They want you to make contact with them. They want you to say hello and appear like someone who would be nice to work with. They appreciate it when you take a moment before you begin. It’s a sign that you are a professional. You are taking your time; you are not trying to please. You are doing your job. The needier you are, the less attention you will get. You come in with NEED written all over your t-shirt and its like forget it. No one wants to be around that.
Q: How can an actor drop that feeling of NEED?
It is not a quick fix thing that you can learn overnight.
You’ve got to know what your relationship is to the third world, to the people who are watching you. Can you be free to do what you want to do in front of these people? Or do you need love, approval or parenting?
I believe that it is possible to be free – to a great extent. And when you are free, you can have a lot of fun. Little kids are out there just playing in the playground and having fun. The more fun you are having, the more people will want to watch you. Even if you are playing a tragic scene, you can still make fun choices. Even if you are playing the violent, bad guy. A fun choice is a choice that excites you. It’s something that you want to do over and over again.
Q: How did you get started with coaching?
I was an assistant to Wynn Handman, a famous acting teacher. He is 90 years old at this point and still teaching. He has probably trained more successful actors than anyone in the business: Denzel Washington, Alec Baldwin, Mia Farrow. I learned how to teach with a master, and it was like serving an apprenticeship. So I am not just an actor who became a teacher. I served a long period with him and then started my own business here in NY. Then I moved out to California where I met Lucille ball, and then I became head of her talent program at Paramount. After Paramount, I became the head of talent development at 20th Century FOX. My background is interesting because I know what it takes to make it in this business and also what film acting is all about. It is a different domain than theatre.
Q: What key advice did Wynn Handman give you?
It’s really all about the way you deal with people. He taught me to believe in people. To be gentle with people. And, to really create an atmosphere in which they can grow.
Q: What are some of the key causes of auditions going wrong?
Tension. Tension. Tension.
The tension is tangible. It is both physical and mental. You have to go in relaxed, and not have big expectations. Expectations stop you from enjoying the process. Expectations lead to upsets. There’s a trick you can play on yourself. A trick that takes the anxiety out of your sails. Simply change your expectation to a preference. “I would prefer to really enjoy every aspect of the audition process. Of course I’d prefer to get this part, but if I don’t the world won’t come to an end. You see the difference? An expectation wreaks havoc on your system whereas a preference gives you some leeway. Why not just enjoy the process of auditioning? After all it’s a great opportunity to use your acting skills.
Q: What do you wish actors would realize about auditions?
That actors must give a performance at auditions opposed to a nice read. That actors must create characters that stand out. So much so that at the end of the day the competition can’t touch you. Why? Because you have given them more than they expected. Most actors go in and read for the role. They do something, but not nearly enough to win the part. If they never really learn the art of auditioning, the agents get tired of sending them out and the individual actor loses confidence. Even if you don’t get the part, if you make a good impression, there is always another day. You won’t get every part you go out for. But you can leave a lasting impression. They will remember you.
Q: HOW DO YOU MAKE A STRONG IMPRESSION?
RISK. You have to be willing to be bad in order to be good. That means you have to be willing to take a risk, and that means you make strong choices rather than the middle kind of choices a lot of people make. The 70% choice. The safe choice. You have to risk failure in order to win.
In every given scene you have an objective. There is something that you have to accomplish. If you don’t accomplish it, it will affect your life negatively. So, ask yourself, What am I fighting for in this scene? And what will happen to me if I don’t get what I want? What if she rejects me? I have the engagement ring in my pocket, and what will happen to my life if she rejects me?”
When you realize what will happen to you if you don’t get what you want – that raises the stakes up very high.
When you come into the room your motor needs to be running. You have to already be in that highly charged emotional state. You have to think of yourself as being in the emotional delivery business. Unless people are moved by what you do, unless they feel something – whether its sadness, or happiness, or laughter, or anger – the audition is not going to amount to much. It might be OK, but OK is not good enough.
Q: How do you help actors make strong choices at auditions?
Generally, when you ask people what their objective is in the scene, they can’t tell you. There is some kind of a block. It takes a lot of digging to uncover the objective. Acting is wanting and acting is doing. Sometimes there will be a boy/ girl scene and you’ll ask the actor “What do you want from her?” and he will say “I want to get to know her.” Wrong choice! You can’t act “I want to get to know her.” The audition will be over in a few seconds. So you explain to the actor that, “I want to get to know her” isn’t active.
Language your choice by choosing an active verb. What are you doing? Are you seducing her? Is that doable? Yes it is. OK then, you are on the right track. Seduction doesn’t always mean overt sex. It can mean, “You look beautiful today. I love the color of your dress.” There is something you are actually doing. That will take you through the entire scene. Maybe at the end of the scene she reaches over and touches your hand, and so you have accomplished your goal.
Make sure you are using an active verb to describe your objective. Acting is wanting. It is also doing. There is something you have to do. What is my active verb? To console, entertain, to intimidate? There are tons of them. It’s a technical habit that you have to get into.
I tell actors that if you make a choice that doesn’t make your heart beat then drop it and go to another. . When you make a strong choice, you can feel it in your body. And often, it is not comfortable. Strong choices will get you out of that comfort zone. Comfort zone is not where you to be.
Q: What inspirational advice do you have for actors?
Here is what I tell people. Every day, in every way, we are better and better. You have to just realize that the old cliché ‘with practice you become perfect’ is true. You work on your body, your body becomes more elastic. You work on your voice, it sounds better. You get up in front of people more and more, and you get more comfortable to the point that you can’t wait to get in front of people. It is about being patient, believing in yourself, and realizing that you get better and better as you practice.
Today in every way I’m better and better!