We’ll Call You…

Posted January 9th, 2019 by Ben

We all know how auditions work, right? A desk, a group of poker faced creatives and an actor who will do anything to impress them. Quite possibly anything at all…

Like dodgy scoutmasters before Jimi Saville, the casting couch was a joke before it was an outrage, a normalised nightmare hidden in plain sight. But then the culture changed and everything is ok now, right?

Arguably the series of cultural detonations that became the #metoo movement were sparked by the election Donald Trump as President of the US. Buffeted by irrefutable evidence of his misogyny, bullying and actual sexual assault, his victorious campaign was a final insult to a long buried fury that needed to be expressed. Ironically, before he became the global face of brand Patriarchy™, Trump had a possibly more pernicious cultural impact as the symbolic boss in the reality TV contest The Apprentice. Here he first found a multi-million audience, pantomiming the leadership skills required to run a large organisation with a single catchphrase – “you’re fired.” 

Not that he invented the management style that revels in the simple power of bestowing employment and takes egotistical delight in keeping a pack of hopefuls hanging on his every word. Before the Donald, if you wanted to caricature the nightmare job interview then it was the audition with the defeated candidate heading for the door, their ears ringing to the tune  “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

I’ve heard many justifications for auditioning as if you are Donald Trump. You want an actor with that x-factor that makes them stand out from the crowd. You want to see how they perform under pressure. You want to be sure they can learn the lines. You want someone who just “is” the part. So you demand your candidates turn up in costume and off book. You sit behind your desk, perhaps you decide not to talk, to keep them on edge – after all they’ll be nervous when you’re filming, so best make them nervous now. Best of all you get someone else to film them and you’ll watch it later without meeting them. Ideally getting them to hold their name on a piece of card and look front and profile like they’ve just been arrested.

All I’ve described is a perfectly normal audition process –  nothing here would warrant a hashtag. But even though no one is naked, if this is your approach you’re still a complete and total Donald.

This is a process designed to make a director feel powerful, it has nothing to do with finding the right cast. Rather than a process designed to make actors fail, if you want to find the right cast – audition to help people succeed.

Yes, you need an actor who can deal with the pressure of a shoot, but more than that you need the actor you can best support through that shoot. Yes, you need an actor who can give a mesmerising and award winning performance, but that means finding the actor you can best guide towards that performance.

An audition is not be a process where a director judges an actor’s ability, their professionalism or their reading skills. It’s not even really a process where you judge their suitability for the part. Fundamentally it’s an experiment to find the actors you communicate most interestingly with. Who inspires you? Who takes your nudge and gives it back as a definitive choice? Who understands you? Who stretches you? Who brings the depth or insight that you lack? It should be the first act of a beautiful relationship, not just a one night stand…

  1. Orla jackson

    Hi Ben,

    Thank you writing that! It’s odd as I was just talking about this very process with another actor the other day in direct relation to you guys. I auditioned for Nina forever – we met a good few times for it- I was dying to play Nina but not booking the job on this occasion didn’t bother me in the slightest as I felt I had a fair audition process with you. We workshoped and actually for to throw ideas around. You CAN NOT tell much about an actor from the alternative casting style and it is credit to you both and shows in the work. Thank you for auditioning actors like this, with respect and with best intentions for all

  2. Zoe Cunningham

    Hi Ben
    This is the second blog post in a row of yours that I really agree with! It feels apposite to me as I’ve just been rejected from a self-tape by an agency that didn’t even want to meet me before they had “assessed” me and it made me think through the power relationship that was going on.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Ben

    Orla! You gem! Thank you.

  4. Ben

    Thank you! I’m always very reluctant to ask anyone to put themselves on tape. Getting a sense of how someone performs is complicated enough without adding in the filter of how well they or their partner can operate a camera and light a room…

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