by Casting Director, Laurie Records
…make subtle mistakes in a callback.
Callbacks are a thing to be celebrated. You are being acknowledged for doing something right in the room, in addition to having all your tools in order (headshots, resume, reel) to receive the call in the first place. You have done a lot of things right! Hooray! The last thing you want to do is unknowingly shoot yourself in the foot in the room by making a misstep. Trust me, there are subtle (and not so subtle) things that happen on a consistent basis that knock actors out of contention for the role. Let’s get to it…
Commercial actors should never make the less than obvious mistakes in a callback that could jeopardize the booking.
First, and actually the most obvious mistake I’ll mention, is when an actor walks into the room grumpy from whatever shenanigans have been going on, leading up to walking in the room. Callbacks are the most unpredictable of all casting sessions. The clients dictate the pace of the session, and any number of things can go “wrong” causing some major delays in the schedule. Don’t be thrown, and grow grumpy by a long wait. Another thing that can throw you/cause irritation: Actors “psyching” (your words, not mine) each other out in the lobby. Do everything you can to remain unaffected. Your job is to walk in the room warm, charming, likable and prepared… no matter what happened in the lobby, how bad traffic was, who irritated you, or how short the notice was for the callback. Don’t be grumpy. Grumpy doesn’t book commercials.
When you enter the room and someone asks how you are doing (casting director, director, agency creative, camera op, etc.), remember, no matter how casual the atmosphere is, you are in a professional situation. Answer accordingly; lie if you need to. Steer clear of any tragedies you are experiencing in your personal or professional life. Avoid downer answers (remember: likable, warm, friendly) and keep it short… even if you know the person asking, really well. You may be very good friends with the Director or CD doing the asking. Give them the update on the divorce, bankruptcy or death in the family over drinks later that evening. I’m not making this up. And really, truly, in that moment… they likely don’t really want to know how you are, anyway. Keep it short and sweet.
Careful to not insult the product… or you will talk yourself out of the job. Can you imagine how this could happen? Blatant sarcasm toward a product happens on occasion (bad, bad, bad), but little things like (after taking a bite), “Hey, this KFC chicken is ACTUALLY good,” can be terribly detrimental as well. Nothing remotely slanderous can be said (or implied) about the product in the room… or anywhere in the vicinity of the building, frankly. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you… or that you are hoping will feed you.
Careful not to bash the copy. The copywriter is very possibly in the room… or at least his/her friends and cohorts are. Don’t insult ad agency people. Again, this can happen in little ways. “This script is ACTUALLY funny,” is insulting to ad agency creatives in general. “This updated script is WAY better than the first round,” is another subtle phrase you might want to avoid. Have you ever heard of a backhanded compliment? Steer clear of them. They never go over terribly well.
No negative talk (about anything, really!) in the vicinity of the casting facility. If one of the clients hears you complaining, it can, and most likely will be held against you in the room. Things get stressful on set. Who wants to risk having a whiny actor around to make it worse? Happy actors help to make a happy set. So, be happy within earshot of anyone who has any power in the decision to hire you. And since you don’t know who they are… be lovely and kind in all areas of the casting facility when attending a callback.
Resist the urge to attend a coaching session before a callback. Remember, you have done something the clients liked, so you don’t want to go changing everything. It’s really about recalling what you did the first time around, going into the room and delivering a strong version of what you previously did. Then, be ready to listen and take it a new direction if asked. Remember, sometimes you are asked to make an adjustment for the sole purpose of demonstrating that you actually can take direction… even if it isn’t the intended way to go with the commercial. *Be able to take direction*.
Bottom line, there are many ways that an actor can unknowingly take themselves out of the running at a callback. If you are grumpy, if you walk in the room and deliver an entirely different performance… you may have an uphill climb ahead of you. Cut the sarcasm and negative talk, and simply be a nice, likable, actor from the first step out of the car, until you are safely unlocking the door to get back in. The clients have called back a handful of actors that they like. Quick decisions have to be made. Don’t give the client the gift of a silly reason to take you out of the mix. Make them work hard to come up with their own ridiculous reasons, and rest assured, plenty of them are. All you can do is your best, so make sure you are doing just that.