If you’ve spent any time in acting classes, at a university level theater program, or even if you just learned acting by doing, one thing we can all probably agree on is that commercial auditions are weird.
Any audition is weird, of course: taking the material out of context and being expected to plunk down the goods in your allotted minute and a half is a challenge that can baffle actors of all experience levels.
But the commercial audition, now. That is a special looney beast of its own weird flavor.
Probably mauve. I bet commercial auditions are mauve-flavored.
Regardless of whether that is an astute observation or the fever dream of a bent mind plagued by too much caffeine and too little sleep, it’s undeniable that commercial auditions are their own special challenge. Here are a few mental tricks to play on yourself in order to help you up your game on this strangest of playing fields.
1. It’s not about the money (even though it is)
Well, of course it’s about the money. We’re not dragging our carcasses all over town to read for commercials because of a deep artistic need to eat Cheetos or to help pharmaceutical companies sell erectile dysfunction medication. But the thing is, if money is what you have on your mind when you walk in the audition room, it reads. We talk a lot about intention and objectives in acting, and having the forefront of your mind as the actor occupied with thoughts of how you might spend the filthy lucre you could get from booking this job shows, in the form of desperation. At the very least it’s a distraction. You have to be focused on the job at hand in order to even have a shot at getting a callback, much less booking the role. And if you’re daydreaming about buying a new phone and a new laptop and a new car and taking a trip to some tropical island, you’re not focused on the work. (And if that’s the kind of money you stand to make, I’m going to the wrong auditions.)
2. Relax, you’re not going to book it
This may sound negative, but if you think about it, realizing how long the odds really are to book any given commercial can be a tremendously liberating thought. Better yet, it allows you to perform a little mental jujitsu. Look at it this way: just knowing that you are one of dozens if not hundreds of actors reading for this commercial can help you relax to the point where you can perform well enough that you might actually book it. The mental trick here is to use the fact that you are but one of many to free you from pressure rather than put pressure on you. Most of the time we think something like: “Oh god, look at all these people. I’m going to have to KILL IT in order to book this.” And the attendant nerves that this sort of mental pressure brings ruins our chances of performing well. Do the opposite, grasshopper: understanding the likelihood of failure can bring you success by helping you to relax and thus perform your best.
3. Yes and…
If you’re part of almost any commercial audition, your agent likely submitted you to the casting team. So you already know you have the relevant age, looks, etc. So now what? What do they want from you in the audition room? Well, the casting director and ad exec he or she is working for generally have some pretty specific ideas about what they want the final product to look like. Your take on the role, your unique voice and perspective on how you might play the part are not as important at this point as getting yourself to the next stage of the audition process. So to that end, be a yes-man or yes-woman. Remember your improv training and dive in with joy and enthusiasm and go for it on every single weird or goofy thing they ask you to do. First of all, this demonstrates an actor who is willing to take direction, an important aspect of getting cast in anything, as we all know. Second, it shows an actor who is willing to play, and fearless about looking silly. And let’s face it, silly is often vital to the stories that commercials tell. Thirdly, this can be yet another mentally liberating idea: since they have their specific picture of what this thing is going to look like, you are free at this point to just take their ideas and run with them, rather than pressuring yourself to create something new and unique out of thin air. Being the one actor to fully embrace the ideas the casting agent and ad exec bring in can in itself be a unique aspect of your audition.
4. Dress the part (but not too much)
This one is the source of some controversy; I’ve read advice columns that suggest actors have, say, a doctor’s coat or other wardrobe choices on hand when going in to read for commercials. But this seems a bit much-ish, doesn’t it? And anyway, unless you plan to roll around the city with your own wardrobe rack, or pack your car full of every possible costume choice for every possible commercial, this is a fool’s errand. A more measured approach might be to wear something that is generally in keeping with the character you’re reading for, but not overdoing it. Be in the neighborhood rather than trying to ring the doorbell. If you’re reading for a doctor, maybe don’t show up in flip-flops and board shorts. If you’re reading for a mechanic, leave your three-piece suit at home. We’re busy actors, and casting directors know this; we have other things to do today so we need our clothing to be somewhat versatile. At any rate they’re expecting us to be capable of calling on our acting skills rather than relying on costumes or props to do the work for us.
5. Be yourself (who else can you be, anyway?)
Most importantly, bring your genuine self into the audition room with you. You may look like 30 other actors in the waiting room, but you are a unique individual with your own unique energy and your own unique quirks. Show them off! The character notes you were given are a guideline, but who you are is really the bottom line that lands you the role or not. Do what you have to do to get yourself relaxed and fully engaged in enjoying the experience of getting to do a little acting this day. It’s easier said than done, but have fun! If you’re not having fun, neither is anyone else in the room. And when you’re selling products, projecting an aura of fun is usually 90 percent of the battle. Enjoy yourself, and everyone else will enjoy being around you. Most of all, have fun because it will help you book that commercial!