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Working with Actors: The Casting Session

Last article I discussed the importance of knowing a “character’s” personality traits and how you can use a “character personality chart” to help you.

(To get a copy of this quick reference personality chart, go to http://www.actioncutprint.com/chart.html and print out the page. This chart will give you a clear understanding of who a character is and what their motivations are – as well as help you with the actor’s interpretation of the character.)

In this article, I will discuss the casting session and how to quickly find out if an actor is right for a part.

But first, here is a quick guide on the casting process.

When a director first gets a script, you read it through several times to get a feel for what the story is about and who the characters are. (NOTE: In future articles, we will discuss the Director’s script breakdown in more detail.)

As you read the script, you will get an impression of the characters. You then have a meeting with the Producer(s) and the Casting Director to share your ideas of the characters.

(NOTE: This is an important meeting for the Director, because it is where you find out what the Producer(s) are thinking and if you are on the right track. Remember: television is a Producers
medium and they have the final say in everything – including casting!)

After the meeting, the Casting Director goes away and puts together a list of actors that fit the character traits and specific looks discussed in the meeting with the Producer(s).

The Casting Director then has her own casting session where she videos a “short list” of actors for you and the Producer(s) to view.(Sometimes you will only cast from these tapes – other times you will make a short list from the tapes and then to go to a casting session.)

Okay – you have now arrived at the casting session. You walk in with the Producer (usually late because you had to get a Starbuck’s latte) and you meet the cameraman (who puts the actors
on tape) the reader (who reads the script with the actors) and the Casting Director.

You then get a piece of paper listing all the auditioning actors and the roles they are portraying – then the actors enter and do their thing!

When the session is done, you have a headache, the Producer(s) don’t agree with anyone you like, the casting Director is already on the phone setting up another session, and there is a message from the production office informing you that there is a complete revision of the script waiting for you when you get back!


Okay, let’s back up a bit.

The Casting session (actors call it “the audition”) can be a terrifying place for any actor. It takes a lot of guts to walk into a small, windowless room and have about 5 minutes to “show your stuff” in front of complete strangers – some of whom could make or break your career!

But it is just as tough for the Director as well! How can you decide, in less than 10 minutes, who is right for a particular part? Because you never have enough time to work with the actors in a casting session, here are three qualities you should look for in an actor when they audition for you:

1) do they look the part?
2) do they have range?
3) can they take direction?

Yes…I know there are many, many more, but these three can usually give you a enough information about an actor – in under 10 minutes!

1) Do they look the part?

I call this the “50%” rule – 50% of any role is cast when an actor enters the room! He(or she) doesn’t have to say anything – they just LOOK like the character (they ARE the character) when they come in!

This is especially true of a TV series. You don’t have a lot of time to build a character in Television, so if an actor looks like the character, that is the first step in making them believable to a TV audience.

2) Do they have range?

This is basically saying, “Can they act?” and you need to find this out quickly. Can an actor give you both ends of the spectrum. Are they believable when they are in a tense, dramatic scene? Are they believable in a comedy?

3) Can they take direction?

Any good actor will make a choice when they enter the casting room. They will decide who this character is and give you their interpretation.

Many times, this is not what you had in mind, BUT…they were great! So, what you need to do is give them some “direction” – ask them to read the part again but do something totally opposite from what they just did. This gives you an idea if they have range, and if they can take direction.

Some actors have a problem getting through the audition. They are very good actors but they are nervous and tend to blow their audition. And other actors will always “give a great reading” but
hey end up a dud on the set.

Remember – casting sessions are not perfect. You will never be able to fully tell if an actor has the qualities you are looking for in just 10 minutes. But these three tricks will help you to see if an actor has range, and if they can take direction – in less than 10 minutes.

TIP: If you are seriously interested in an actor, ask for a “call-back” where you can work with this person one-on-one for a longer period of time. This will help you decide if the actor is right for the role.

A good performance happens when both the inner and outer self are portrayed. So when dealing with any actor, remember these three important words: Motive Determines Behavior!

Motive (what a character thinks-inner)
Behavior (what the character does-outer)

Copyright (c) 2000-2011 Peter D. Marshall / All Rights Reserved

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Zahra March 7, 2011, 8:49 pm

    How soon after an auditions for just 2 lines do you get a call to see if you got the role? Are there callbacks if only 2 lines? And does the casting director make the decision for the tv pilot show or the actual director make the decision?

  • Peter D Marshall March 7, 2011, 8:56 pm

    There is no one answer to your questions. It could be anywhere from 1 day to several weeks before you hear about a callback depending on whether it is a feature film or a TV series. And yes, you could get callbacks for only two lines. If you aren’t going to be considered for a role, some casting agencies may not even phone you back. In a TV series, the Producers make the final decision. Hope this helps.

  • Nirmal G September 25, 2011, 10:25 am

    Thanks for the article, Peter. It makes total sense. If it is a matter of needing a apple rather than an orange, mangoes or a banana, then it (should) take the angst out of auditions. However, the actor cannot possibly know if they are that type or not. However, has there been any time that the inner reality of an actor is so strong that you have to by pass the outer? Now THAT would be difficult.

  • Marie E. December 12, 2011, 7:27 pm

    Any suggestions as to how an actor can lower their “terror level” when auditioning ?!

  • Julie July 4, 2014, 8:27 pm

    MY son recently auditioned for a role in a new TV SERIES (role with speaking) and the next day was told by his reputable Toronto Talent Agent that – “You are on hold for the TV SERIES and be available from July 1 – 10. When it becomes a confirmed booking I will let you know”.

    It never became a confirmed booking. The callbacks were for the following week after he auditioned and he never had to go to any callbacks. IS BEING PUT ON HOLD BETTER THAN HAVING TO GO TO A CALLBACK? AND WHY WOULD AN ACTOR BE PUT ON HOLD THEN NEVER ACCEPTED?
    Tks Jules

  • Peter D Marshall July 14, 2014, 10:00 am

    Hi Julie, this is always a dilemma in the actor’s world. I cannot answer for the talent agent, but if your son does not get a callback, then the chances are very slim that he will get the role. I guess they just wanted to make sure he was available during that week and then the agent never got a callback request from the casting director. Have you asked the agent what happened?

  • Kathie April 1, 2017, 1:49 pm

    Thanks, as an actorvI will certainly adopt your method

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