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In the Best Light – An illuminating glimpse inside a Casting Director’s mind with CD Adrienne Stern

THE END… of an audition often fills an actor’s head with thirteen conversations about one thing – Will they chose me for that role?

Of course, you want the part! But worrying about every detail will only spin you into a dreary tizzy. So hold on tight and prepare to see the light…

“An audition isn’t always about getting that part,” shares casting director Adrienne Stern.

And, “It is out of your control.”

Helping actors put things in perspective, Adrienne Stern spoke with NYCastings about what actually goes on inside a CD’s mind during the audition process.

Adrienne Stern is known for working closely with Directors and Producers to secure the types of casts that open doors to major film festivals and distribution packages. Her films have premiered at Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, Tribeca, Berlin, South by Southwest, Seattle and many other prominent film festivals, many taking home prestigious awards. 

Currently, Adrienne is working with Circle of Confusion casting Hellbenders, written and to be directed by JT Petty. Also slated for 2011 is Shoedog written by George Pelecanos and to be directed by John McNaughton, starring Sean P. Diddy Combs, Wes Bentley, Heather Graham, Sam Shepard and Kris Kristofferson and A Wake Up Call starring Mira Sorvino, Ashanti and Dan Hedaya

Get ready for an illuminating glimpse inside the mind of CD, Adrienne Stern…

Q:  To you, what is an audition truly about?

Even though we know you want that role, an audition is about getting into a casting office and doing a really wonderful audition. If you are not right for that particular part, for whatever reason that is out of your control, then maybe there is another part in that project that you are right for. 

You want to get called in over and over again in that casting office. That, to me, is what an audition is truly about. It is about getting into everything that a casting office is doing so that when the right part comes along… you come in, you read for it, you own it and it’s yours. Then, the casting team feels very proud that they’ve really nurtured their relationship with you. That they helped to get you to a point of confidence where you know that Adrienne Stern’s casting office is a warm and welcoming environment. Where you know that you will give your best audition and we are rooting for you.

Q: What are you looking for when an actor walks into a room?

The actor should come into the room with a warm energy.  Simply say hello, make it clear that you are ready to jump into the audition and always connect with the person reading with you – whether it be the casting director or reader, make sure you say hello to them. Tell them where you are starting. Let them know if you are going to sit or stand so that the camera can follow you. If they ask you to sit, that is something you will have to do. But, if you have anything to ask that is imperative to the audition, make sure you say that ahead of time. 

And then, once you begin, know that you own that time. It is about you and all eyes are on you.

Know that you are there because we invited you there. We want you to do a great job. We want to make it easy for you. We want our client to like you. We want our job to be done sooner than later. If you come in and do a great job, then that’s all we ask of you.

Q: Do you ever get nervous for an actor? 

No, I never get nervous. I understand that an actor gets nervous and I can see that they get nervous. I see the sides shaking in their hands and that they get flustered. 

Q: What thoughts go through your head when you see a nervous actor?

If I know someone well and it’s not a great audition, I will absolutely give them adjustments. Or, I will ask them to have a seat outside and I will discuss with my producers and the director about the person. How the person is capable, what they’ve done and suggest we bring them in again and give them another shot. Absolutely, I will do that.

Q: If you don’t know the actor, will their nerves make you think they are not ready for this?

You can’t overall say one answer. Everyone is an individual. Every actor comes in with something different to offer. Yes, there are people who audition and have the right look but you have to say, “Can a person carry a film for an hour and a half? Or, are they better suited in a smaller role? Or an ensemble? Or as one of five characters in a group that play off one another?” I do make those types of decisions as well.

Q: Do you take note of how the actor relates to the reader? The connection and the chemistry?

I don’t. An actor will come in and read with myself or an associate or a reader. They may not read with the person who will play the part opposite them. They might not even be an actor.  And I know that when we bring someone in for call backs, and do mixes and matches with other talent, that it takes the audition to another level. They are interacting and playing off another actor who could possibly  be cast with them.  So in no way does it limit them.

Though, through the years, I see a lot of less experienced actors do something which I call “giving the audition to the reader.” Meaning, they come in and they are waiting for the reader to feed them every single line so they can act off it. The actor has to learn not to do that. 

For the more experienced actors who come in and audition, the words are just words that are being said to them. They are going to come in and play the way they want to play the scene no matter how the sentence opposite them is read.  Many experienced actors don’t even connect with the reader in terms of eye contact. Maybe when they first arrive in the audition room, they will say hello and let the reader know where they will start. But once they take off, they take off and they own it. 

That’s what an actor needs to learn how to do. They need to learn how to own an audition and not make it about the reader feeding those lines. 

Q: If an actor comes in VERY focused, without smiling or being overly warm to the room, could that make a poor impression on you?

Not in the least, we completely understand. Some of these roles are very difficult. I am just about to start a film where we will be looking for a deaf boy and I know that many of these actors coming in are going to be prepared the minute they walk in. I do not want to knock that out of them. I don’t want them to lose their focus. Then, after the audition is over, if they want to relax and say thank you and good bye that’s fine. But we are all aware that they are coming in focused.

Q: In a ‘Casting Tip of the Week’ of Facebook, you mention that actors should not leave their coats on. What message does that send you?

When someone doesn’t take their coat off, I feel as if they are not relaxed. It feels as if they walk into the room and they have one foot out the door. Plus, they are hidden under the coat. It is as if they are hidden under a tent. 

Q: Are there other misdirected signals an actor sends out?

Women, more than men, have a tendency to sit in the chair, cross their legs and then lean back. They are so relaxed that they forget they made choices, that they stood while they worked on their sides. 

I also think that a lot of actors get very nervous by the third page of the sides and they rush through it. They may have started off the audition very well but they become self aware that they are standing in front of people and so they rush through it and it leaves them flat in the end. They don’t know how to finish their sides is what usually happens.

You have to find the fine line. You don’t want to speak to slow or rush through it. You have to find a happy place. 

When you have all eyes on the reader, waiting for them to feed you a line, maybe instead just make it a voice that is feeding you lines. Pick a place that you are looking at and make that your spot so you are not having to look at somebody that is going to distract you.

Q: How can a less experienced actor get more polished – beyond just getting more audition practice?

I think it doesn’t hurt to get together with a group of your actor friends. If someone has a camera, bring all you sides and work on them together. Have someone film you and watch it and see what you do. Time yourself and figure out what your pluses and minuses are.

Q: Do you ever get disappointed that someone doesn’t work out as well as you hoped they would?

Absolutely. When we feel someone is almost there we will read them over and over again. We will work with them and give them adjustments in the room. But if they just don’t get what we are looking for, there is nothing we can do. If my producing and directing team walk away and feel as if this person wasn’t able to bring to the role what they were looking for, then we need to move on and there is nothing we can do. We gave it our best shot.

Q: Beyond the audition, how much does an actor’s resume weigh on your mind?

My clients are very eager and interested in watching reels and being familiar with the work that somebody has done in the past. Many actors get offered parts in films based on previous work. But each role is different and there are opportunities for people who are just getting started or people who have done a few things. Every project has different qualifications and reasons as to why we are casting one person or looking for one type of actor over another.

Q: Can you share some insight into the inside of a casting director’s mind. How you process thoughts during the audition and decision process?

My mind is a file cabinet. I have a lot of things that are constantly being pulled out of their folders. And, I think that actors have to realize that the film industry is a business. People are investing money to make a film and so decisions need to be made no different than any other business.

Q: Switching from the casting director’s mind to the actor’s… How can an actor get into the best auditioning mind set?

You need to come in with an open mind. Always remember that we invited you to the audition, we gave you an appointment, and think of all the other people that wish they were there but we chose you to be there. So walk in be happy to be there, do your best and walk out. That is all you need to do, nothing more than that. 

As Adrienne mentioned at the start of this article. “Auditioning is about getting on the casting director’s list so you are called in over and over again.” 

“There is absolutely no way of knowing who else they are considering for the part; who else has read before or after you. You just have to go in and give your best job because it is not always about getting that part but about getting a part in that casting office.”

It is about creating that…  BEGINNING.

Thank you Adrienne Stern for giving NYCastings a glimpse inside your indie mind! 

For more wise advice, follow Adrienne Stern Casting on Facebook…

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