Most of us actors get in the game and stick with it because we love what we do. (If you’re not in it for the love of acting, you might want to rethink your career choice!)
We spend countless hours in school and classes learning the craft, then we spend countless more hours practicing the skills we’ve learned and perfecting them in rehearsal rooms, in our living rooms, on the train, on the bus, on the sidewalk, at work, in restaurants and bars after work, etc., often to the dismay of co-workers, roommates, fellow commuters and customers.
But no matter how much work you put in – and by no means should you ever stop working toward getting better! – the simple truth of the acting field in this day and age is that there are so many other actors out there trying to do the same thing that it’s sometimes hard to stand out. Oftentimes simply going in to the audition room and hitting all your marks and bringing a great, well thought-out read to the table just isn’t enough. We’ve got to find a way to stand out from the crowd, we’ve got to grab their attention, we’ve got to make a splash – we’ve got to make it so they can’t take their eyes off of us. And the first place to look for how to get them to look at you is, well, your look.
Now, some of us are born lucky, with an arresting face, body, hair type or demeanor that naturally creates a wake behind us wherever we go of slack-jawed, drooling gawkers with little cartoon hearts popping out of their bulging eyes. Some of us get showered with phone numbers and friend invites and strangers sliding into our DMs. If this is you, more power to you. (And we hate you.)
Just kidding of course. But it this isn’t you, welcome to the club. But here’s the thing: even if you weren’t born with a perfectly chiseled jaw or piercing ice-blue eyes, you can still manage to sculpt your look in such a way that you can catch the eye of more casting directors and make them give you a second look. Here are a few ideas!
Mix it Up
For most people, once they reach adulthood, they’ve pretty much settled into whatever their general look is going to be. If you’re a rocker type, you’re rocking those jeans and t-shirts; if you’re a more conservative type, you might be more of a khakis and button-down shirts kind of dude. Luckily for us actors, we know all about how much fun it is to slip into a new character – and thus the costume associated with that new character. One simple idea to mix up your look a little bit is to simply, well, mix it up. If, for instance you’re kind of an everyday Joe, office worker type of guy, you probably get called out for roles where find yourself in audition waiting rooms surrounded by dozens of other guys with the same basic type of look, right? So one great place to start with standing out from the crowd is to simply try out different hair styles, or maybe add some facial hair, or try some different style of dress. Who says your office worker guy can’t be coming in to read on casual Friday, rocking some slim-cut jeans, an unbuttoned paisley shirt and gelled-up hair? Same goes for women (minus the facial hair): consider the possibility of changing your make-up style, or maybe try out a new hair style or an arresting hair color change.
Keep in mind too that the way you dress doesn’t have to exactly match what the character you’re reading for is meant to be. Much in the way that we are trained to look for quirks or different angles or unique takes when it comes to actually playing a character, you can do something like this with the clothing you wear as well. Make a list of all the things you and the character you’re auditioning for have in common. These are your easy, obvious choices. Now take one or two things and go the opposite direction in terms of your look. Going against the grain can have amazing results in terms of grabbing the attention of the people in charge of making decisions!
One important factor to take into consideration while you’re thinking of changing your look in an interesting way is also, um, reality. Have you ever noticed in older films from the 1950s and early 1960s that the hero/protagonist men, the guys who, at that time were the hunks of their era, the masculine ideal that women wanted and men wanted to be, these guys all wore their pants hiked up over their gut? They’re all like, “Captain Kirk muscular,” if you know what I mean. Even given the differences in societal standards for what constitutes “in shape” today versus back then, it’s still pretty hilarious to imagine that these soft-bellied, almost portly gentlemen were meant to appear to be beefcakes.
One great piece of advice I got from a CD a while back was to leverage what you’ve got. Take your quirks and the things that make you different and work them. So if you wear glasses, instead of putting in your contacts every time you go to an audition, get some funky, or at least more daring frames and wear them out with pride. Or try colored contacts! Or if you’re a super tall lady, find ways to dress and carry yourself in ways that accentuate your height, not hide it. And if you do have the body type of that portly, soft-bellied fellow of yesteryear, don’t try to pull off a gut-clenching, upper body-flexing posture throughout your read – instead rock a Hawaiian shirt and let it all hang out!
My point is that at some point in your journey to change your look you also have to bend to reality. Like, if you’re a bald guy for instance, is your body type more Bruce Willis, or John Carrol Lynch? If you’re more the “Yippe-ki-yay” type, consider shaving off whatever’s left and going with the stubble look. If you’re the latter, you might have a hard time pulling off a tough guy, jeans and t-shirt look – especially if you’re still rocking those accountant-like tufts of hair on the sides and back. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with trying out a new look that might go hard against your body or facial type – just that you want to draw attention to yourself in a way that makes people stroke their chin thoughtfully and go “Huh!” not crinkle their forehead and go “Huh?”
Confidence is key
As is true of all auditions and acting in general, confidence is the real key to success. As you develop a new look, make sure you get comfortable with it before you head out to the audition. There’s nothing worse than feeling like a little kid at a wedding who is wearing a suit that’s itchy, uncomfortable, doesn’t fit and anyway doesn’t feel right simply because he never dresses that way. Feel free to make strong, bold choices in changing up your look to something more arresting, but do make sure you’re totally comfortable with it and able to wear it out with confidence before you go to read. You want to stand out but you also want to roll into the audition room with the attitude that you’re right where you belong.
Also keep in mind the actor’s truism that it’s a fool’s game to try to get into the head of the CD or director when it comes to auditions. Trying to guess what they want to see is a waste of time; showing that YOU are what they want to see – quirks and differences and all – that is your ticket to success!