The Queen of France was executed in 1793 for crimes against her country. Among them was the popular notion that she once said hungry French mothers who had no bread should eat cake. Although she may have said many things she would later regret, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and wife of Louis XVI never made that famous statement attributed to her. It came from Jean Jacques Rousseau’s 1766 work “Confessions.” Rousseau was speaking of a famous princess who, upon being told that the peasants had no bread, replied “Let them eat cake.”
But Marie Antoinette couldn't have made the statement because in 1766, she was only 11 years old. Nonetheless, the legend lives on as a misconception.
As a working professional in acting, casting and teaching, I run up against a lot of misconceptions by actors I work with. Some of them are understandable, others are baffling in their lack of logic.
For instance, some actors think they didn’t book a part because the casting director didn’t choose them. They clearly have a skewed idea of what casting directors do.
Casting directors almost never actually cast anything. True, they may call actors in on a first call, arrange for them to attend a callback and book them if they are chosen. But as far as actually making the choices of who gets the part, casting directors may offer input and opinions, but they don’t choose the cast.
Casts are almost always chosen by producers, directors or agency people. So in that sense, a casting director is more like a traffic cop—controlling the flow of talent to be considered by the decision makers.
This is not to say that their job is easy or that actors should take lightly the idea of getting on the bad side of a casting director—heck, you don’t want to run afoul of ANYONE in show business because it’s bad karma and because you never know when today’s production assistant will turn out to be tomorrow’s Tarantino. Remember, he started out working in a video store.
So how do you get and stay on the good side of casting directors? There are several things you can do:
- Make sure your headshot looks like you look now—not 3 or 5 or 20 years ago—NOW. Nothing is more annoying to a CD than calling someone in based on the online headshot and finding it was shot in the 1990’s. That means someone just took an audition spot that could have been given to an actor who has a chance of booking the role.
- Be honest about your level of work. Casting directors will sometimes call people in who just aren’t ready with their skills level for the part being cast. If all you have is a year of community theatre experience, you’re probably not ready to carry a major studio film. So even if you read for that film, the CD knows you aren’t ready and that’s the impression you leave them with. I’m not saying they won’t call you in again, but it will probably be a few years because what they remember was you weren’t ready when you had the chance
- Be professional. That means being on time and prepared. Dressed correctly, sides in hand if theatrical, having researched the part and spent time preparing a well thought out read. If your commercial audition came through one of the online services, look for sides and learn or at least be familiar with them. Even if you don’t book the part, that kind of professionalism will get you called in again.
- Don’t lie on your resume. Saying you were in “A Chorus Line” on Broadway when it was really in Waukegan might get you in the door, but when the CD learns the truth—and they will-- you’ve just torched that bridge. I personally saw a woman who listed riding bicycles as a skill on her resume, book a commercial in which she had to ride. Guess what? She got to the set and couldn’t do it. Producers had to get an emergency replacement for her, ended up suing her for half a day lost, and the CD was so enraged, he trashed her name to many of his peers. She not only shot herself in the foot, she got the calf, knee and thigh too.
- Don’t appear needy—ever! Sending endless postcards, asking for auditions for parts you clearly aren’t right for, giving elaborate gifts, etc all indicate neediness (is that a word?) Nothing is less appealing.
- Come in, do your audition as well as you can, then leave like the professional you want to be considered.
I also run into actors who tell me that this or that CD or session runner was “against them” or didn’t want them to be good.
How crazy it that?
A CD gets maybe 2000 submissions for a role in a network national commercial. They can audition about 100 of those for the role, which means one in 20 actors got a shot at the spot. They read your resume, carefully consider your picture in relation to what their client wants, and give you one of their precious time slots. They then send your picture and performance to their clients for consideration.
Why in the world would they not want you to be good?
The session runner wants you to be good, if for no other reason, to prove he can do his job well. It enhances his reputation and leads to more work—so naturally he wants you to succeed.
Of course, there are grouches among us. Some don’t really like what they do and it shows in how they interact with actors. On the other hand, many grow frustrated with how unprofessional and even infantile actors can be. But for the most part, we, too are actors. We take our jobs seriously and really want you to be good. So if you run into someone who is problematic, just smile and be the professional you are and you’ll get through it. When that audition is over, forget about it and move ahead.
Because if you think about it, what else can you do? Worrying or fretting about something you cannot possibly change is counterproductive at best, and can be destructive at worst.
Dwelling on misconceptions probably won’t cost you your head, like Marie Antoinette, but it won’t help your career, either.
Keep your head up and your eyes always ahead. Stay positive and professional and you’ll find good things happen to you.
Doug has been working in film, television, theatre, and commercials for the past 26 years. When he is not acting, he works as a commercial casting director and session director. Casting Directors he has recently worked with include: Paul Ventura, Mick Dowd, Sheila Manning, Beverly Long, Danny Goldman, Jeff Gerrard, Frannie Selkirk, MC Sweeters, Mary Jo Slater, Rick Pagano, Debbie Manwiller, Sharon Bialy, Tina Treadwell, Deborah Kurtz, Kate Enggren, Stuart Stone, Ellen Blake, Yumi Takada, Annissa Williams, M Casting, Sobo Casting, Petite Casting, Ava Shevitt, Jeff Hightower, Jeff Hardwick, Michael Donovan, Arlene Shuster-Goss, Danielle Eskinazi, Julia Kim, Ross Lacy, Joe Blake, Kathy Knowles, Tony Sepulveda, Britt Enggren, Beth Holmes, Bengston-Cohen, Annelise Collins, Annie Egian, Barbara Bersell, Terry Berland, Craig Colvin, Gabrielle Schary, James Levine, Jeff Rosenman, Judy Belshe, Judy Landau, Kris Nicolau, Lisa Fields, Lisa Pantone, Liz Paulson, Megan Foley, Melissa Martin, Jon Beauregard, Michael Sanford, Balyndah Bumpus, Mark Randall, Pam Gilles, Ross Levine, Tiffany Company, Renita Casting, Fringe Casting, Outcast International, Rise Barish, Plaster Casting, Rosanna Crash, Pamela Kaplan, Shane Liem, Susan Tyler, Alice Ellis, Vicki Goggin, Carolyne Barry, Davis-Baddeley Casting, Lindsay Chag, UBER Content, Victoria Burrows, Lynn Stalmaster, Robert Martin Jr., Steven Erdek, Mike Humphries, Gayle Pillsbury, Robin Lippin, Fern Champion, Bad Girls Casting, Judy Elkins, and Kari Peyton.