Master Your Auditions – Wisdom from Director, Writer, Teacher – Bob McAndrew

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 & A with Director, Writer, Teacher – Bob McAndrew

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.

People want you to succeed. They want you to come in and look at them and say hello and appear like someone who would be nice to be on the set with, who doesn’t look like a wacko who would cause a lot of trouble. And then, before you begin, you need to take a moment. That is a sign that you are a professional. You are taking your time; you are not trying to please us. You are doing your job. The needier you are, the less 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 their love and approval?

I believe that it is possible to be free – to a great extent. Maybe not all the time, but to a large 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 bad guy, a fun choice is still something that you want to do over and over again.

If you are not so desperate about it, you will have more fun and go out again. And sometimes you go out a lot. If the agent gets good feedback, they will continue to call you out.

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 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 – 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.

You are freaked out about appearing in front of a casting director, you don’t know what to do. You have to realize that you have to go in and make contact with whoever the auditors are – the casting director, the director, the producers. You are making contact with them. “Hello, I’m Bob McAndrew.” And then, before you actually read or do your monologue, sometimes you have to take a moment and get into character. A lot of actors will not allow themselves to do this. They feel like they don’t have the right. That they are imposing. Sometimes you have to turn your back for a second, take a breath, and then go into the scene.

The tension is tangible. It is physical tension. You have to go in relaxed, and don’t have big expectations. The expectation does not allow you to really enjoy the process. Expectations lead to upset, always. There is a trick you can play on yourself. You can change your expectation to a preference. “Of course I would prefer to get this part and make this money, of course I would.” But, if you have an expectation it is going to wreak havoc in your system. It will not allow you to do what you can do, to work moment to moment, in a relaxed and confident way.

Know what you are doing, be confident.

Q: What do you wish actors would realize about auditions?

That you have to give a performance. They have to get a feeling that you can reach the highest levels. You have to create a character they can visibly see, that stands out, so that at the end of the day they want you and not the others. You have done something so extraordinary that the competition can’t touch you. There is something you have done that no one else has. You have done a performance and created something unique. You have given them more than what was expected. You gave them something new.

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 an impression, and they will remember you.

Q: How do you make a strong impression?

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. So sometimes you have to say to yourself “what am I fighting for in this scene? And what will happen to me if I don’t get this raise? This promotion? What will happen 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.

Based on these choices, when you come in to the room your motor has 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 – whatever it is. Unless they feel something, 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 understanding. You have to understand that acting is wanting and doing. Sometimes there will be a boy and a girl scene and you will ask the actor “what do you want from her?” and he will say “I want to get to know her.” No. Your audition will be over in a few seconds. People will lose interest. It only takes casting directors 30 seconds to know if the actor has something, if the actor is alive. So you explain to the actor that the choice of “I want to get to know her” isn’t active.

The way you language your choice is 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 mean sex. It means, “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 action or an active verb. Some people get it right away and others don’t. 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 millions of them. It is a technical habit that you have to get into.

I tell actors that if you make a choice and it doesn’t make your heart beat then go to another. Unfortunately, a lot of people make a choice and it is not working for them. 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. You want to be uncomfortable.

It is making your heartbeat because there is uncertainty.

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.

It is like fine wine. I am a wine connoisseur. I can tell you that when you open a bottle of wine, a fantastic bottle of wine that has been in there a long time, it is really something. And, when you watch an actor who has been around, like John Gielgud in Arthur who plays the butler, he is just fantastic. You have more life. More experiences. As you get older, you get better and better.

– WOW! Thanks Bob McAndrew.

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