Casting kids is quite an experience. You never quite know what is going to happen during the session. Who knows what they might say… they are awfully honest. What you see is what you get. I think adult actors could stand to learn a thing or two from their child counterparts. Here are a few lessons learned on a recent job…
Commercial actors should never fail to learn a thing or two from kid actors.
Kids know who they are and what they can do. That may seem like a slightly strange statement, but I’m speaking in the context of commercials. Kids can be and usually are painfully truthful. When questioned (or not!) in a casting session, they will spill their honest thoughts. No matter how they have been coached to say something otherwise. So, the other day when I was holding a session for kids with a specific skill (let’s call it skill X) you can imagine my surprise when the first thing out of the cutest little boy’s mouth was, “I can’t skill X”. I laughed, thinking that he just needed a little encouragement and assured him I thought he could. We lined him up to slate and asked him (on camera) about his experience with skill X. He again said that he couldn’t do it. The director was present and started to chuckle. I was mortified. Every person in the room became his personal cheerleader. To no avail. The boy simply couldn’t/wouldn’t do even remotely what we had asked him to do.
What lesson should we learn here? Be honest with your agent, and yourself about your skills. Who knows where the breakdown happened here. Did mom exaggerate his skill to the agent? Was it the agent inflating his ability to me? Because this was a small child he may have just been ornery that day. But for learning purposes… let’s go with open and honest communication with your agent and manager. Because it may be impossible to go through every last skill you have verbally, you should also make sure your resume is crystal clear about your skills as well as your level of proficiency.
There was a young teenager who came in on the same job who had a crisis in the lobby. She took a look at the other kids going in for the job and realized her skills didn’t measure up. She told her mom (and my assistant) that she didn’t want to be seen out of fear that I wouldn’t call her in again, due to the misrepresentation of the level of her skill. She ended up coming in and she was right. She didn’t measure up. Certainly knowing the whole story I’m more than happy to have her in again.
But there’s a lesson to learn here as well. Think in terms of your skills, but consider other things you stretch, too. Are you really an expert level of the given skill you are being asked to perform? Remember that the other people being seen for the role (or a strong majority) will be. You will be compared to actual experts. Do you really look like the age range you are being called in for? If you are 35 and being seen for a 24-26 year old role… remember, you will be seen right before and right after someone who actually is. The Trader Joe’s checkout person asking to see your ID is not a good indicator that you look 20. It’s easy to adjust your headshot to make you look younger or better looking. It’s actually very hard for me, personally, to tell ages from headshots. But it’s obvious when you walk though the door. Always think about the fact that you will be surrounded by the people who actually are what you are stretching the truth to be.
Kids have the luxury of carefree “just-being-who-they-are” in this business. They have someone else feeding them and paying their rent. No stress. Adult actors may feel more pressure to stretch the truth out of necessity to take care of their own basic needs. I’d say stick to the work smarter theory. You are wasting your time when you go in for a role you aren’t suited for. Not to mention the casting director’s time. Not to mention the consequences of this decision… so find a day job (if necessary) that works well for pursuing your actor ambitions and spend time on the road traveling to the jobs you can/will book.
Callback/booking success rate greater, no burning bridges, and no sinking feeling while waiting in the lobby… win, win, win! Learn a lesson or two from the kids on this one. Aim to be a painfully honest commercial actor.