This article is going to be exploring how you as an actor can land an audition, and, ultimately, a role on an Amazon Prime project. We’re going to take a deep dive into three actors in leading roles on Amazon Original series, and learn about their career trajectories and experiences auditioning for Amazon Prime.
I’ll let you know right now that if you’re looking for the big secret, the silver bullet that will guarantee you an audition and a lead role on a show, then you’re not going to find it here. We’re looking at real examples to find common factors that lead to an actor’s success to figure out what we can learn from their journeys and how you can apply that to wherever you happen to be in your own career right now.
What is Amazon Prime?
Firstly, let’s break down what we’re talking about when we say “Amazon Prime”. Amazon Studios is the television and film production and distribution section of the multinational technology company, Amazon. The content created by Amazon studios is distributed through Prime Video, a streaming service much like Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu and Stan. There is a tonne of shows and films on Prime Video that have been produced, and even previously distributed, by other production companies. Shows that are both distributed and produced by Amazon Studios are usually referred to as Amazon Originals or an Amazon Original Series. Today we’re going to be talking about how to audition for an Amazon Original.
After launching in late 2010, Amazon Studios has become home to some excellent content in the past decade, and especially in the last few years, as streaming has become the dominant avenue for film and television production and distribution. The Boys, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, The Expanse, Fleabag, and Hunters are some examples of the great content being created that proudly bears the Amazon Original series title. It’s important to note, however, that the folks actually doing the casting for these Amazon projects are not Amazon in-house casting directors that work exclusively on Amazon projects; they are casting directors who work on all sorts of projects, for all sorts of companies, who happen to be working on a specific Amazon Original series.
But, how do you actually get in front of one of these casting directors and land an audition for the next big Amazon Original show? We’re going to have a look at three actors who have starred in Amazon Original series, and how they got to audition and eventually star in these projects.
Rachel Brosnahan – The Marvellous Mrs Maisel
Rachel Brosnahan is an American actor who plays Miriam “Midge” Maisel in the Amazon Original hit series The Marvellous Mrs Maisel. Set in New York City in the late 1950s, this fast-paced comedy was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino. If you know your early 2000s TV, you’ll recognise Amy Sherman-Palladino as the creator of the much-loved Gilmore Girls. Season 1 of The Marvellous Mrs Maisel was cast by Jeanie Bacharach, Meredith Tucker, and Cindy Tolan, with Tolan going on to cast Seasons 2 and 3 alone. Jeanie Bacharach says she “actually thought of Rachel when [she] read the script”, but decided to hold auditions anyway to make sure they got the right person for the job.
Rachel Brosnahan, who is now iconic as the show’s leading lady, said that the “audition process was a lot of dialogue[…] I auditioned with the wedding monologue, the big breakup scene with Joel, and the final stand-up.” Leaving the audition, Brosnahan was sure she had done a terrible job, “I left my first audition feeling like I’d sufficiently ended my career and was thrilled and surprised to be called back in and go out to L.A. to meet Amy and Dan.” Despite being very sick, and having to reschedule her call back, Rachel eventually made enough of an impression on Amy and Dan that she landed the role and the rest is history.
But, hold up, how do you even get to a place where a casting director is familiar enough with your work that they would even think of you when reading a script? Before The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Brosnahan had a pretty extensive resume already. With credits on Gossip Girl (2010), Grey’s Anatomy (2013), Orange Is the New Black (2013), House of Cards (2013-2015), and Crisis in Six Scenes (2016) just to name a few. This might have looked like a breakthrough role for the 30-year old actor, but there was a tonne of work, and many years of auditioning and training, that lead to her landing the lead in a show like this.
Kate Mulvany – Hunters
Australian actor Kate Mulvany recently landed the lead role of Sister Harriet in the Amazon Original series Hunters, alongside Hollywood heavyweight Al Pacino. The series, which also stars Logan Lerman, Jerrika Hinton, Josh Radnor, and Tiffany Boone is set in New York City in 1977 where a young Jewish man, bent on revenge, forms a group of Nazi hunters. Hunters is creator David Weil’s breakout project and was cast by Ross Meyerson (Homeland, The Expanse), John Papsidera (Inception, Dunkirk, Memento, The Dark Knight) and Julie Tucker (Damages, Six Feet Under, Nurse Jackie).
In an interview with Inside Film (IF) Magazine, Mulvany said that the audition came as somewhat of a surprise to her. “I thought roles might dry up for actors who are over 40, but I have been offered parts I never expected to get”. When her US management suggested her for the role she didn’t expect to get it, but proceeded by sending out a package of her work. This included scenes from The Merger, The Little Death, Secret City and Get Krack!n. This package was enough to convince creator David Weil, the casting directors, Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, and Sonar Entertainment that she was the right person for the role.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge – Fleabag
What rock have you been living under that you haven’t heard of Phoebe Waller-Bridge or her hit show Fleabag by now? Just in case you’ve been hibernating on some distant planet, Fleabag is an Amazon Original series about a central female character, Fleabag, trying to find love and companionship in her messed-up London life. Phoebe Waller-Bridge both wrote the show and stars as the show’s lead character. Other cast members include Olivia Colman, Andrew Scott, Sian Clifford, and Fiona Shaw. And the series was cast by Kelly Valentine Hendry, Alex Irwin, Victor Jenkins, and Olivia Scott-Webb.
There wasn’t one. Fleabag was originally written as a one-woman 10-minute comedy sketch by Waller-Bridge herself. She was helping her friend Deborah Frances-White fill a 10-minute spot in a comedy show, and wrote the piece in just a few days. After a positive response from the audience, Waller-Bridge’s best friend and DryWrite Theatre Company co-founder, Vicky Jones, encouraged her to turn it into a full-length play. The full-length play was performed for a month-long season at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing credits now include: Crashing (2016), Killing Eve (2018), and the 25th James Bond film No Time to Die (2021). And to think it all started as a ten-minute comedy sketch turned full-length one-woman fringe show.
What have we learnt?
From these case studies we can ascertain that there are many different paths towards landing a lead role in an Amazon Prime Original Series. However, all of these actors have some things in common, too. Here are some key takeaways from our above case studies about what it takes to be considered for, and ultimately land, that audition and role on Amazon Prime.
You need experience (and credits)
This one might be a little annoying to hear, especially when you’re just starting out, but the folks casting and producing these multi-million/billion-dollar projects need to know they can trust you to deliver. One of the ways they can be assured that you can do the job is that you’ve done it before. This is why we see actors’ careers seemingly sky-rocket all at once; momentum builds when people see your work, and then they want to be the ones credited for giving you that big breakthrough role. But, what is clear from all three of the above examples, is that a breakthrough role doesn’t come from nowhere, and often those who are taking the biggest risk on you are the casting directors who offer you a small part in a low budget project when you have absolutely no credits to your name. The more you work, the less you’re seen as a risk. So, by the time Rachel Brosnahan was up for Midge, or Kate Mulvany was being seen for Sister Harriet, they already had enough work to assure the company, the producers, the show creators, directors, and everyone else involved that they could deliver. It might seem like lead actors come out of nowhere to become the next big star, but that is rarely the reality.
You need an agent
The only way you are going to have a chance at even auditioning for the smaller roles that will set you on the right path is to have an agent. If you’ve read even a handful of Stagemilk articles, then you would know by now that we are big advocates of getting yourself an agent. Without one, you are pretty much invisible to the industry. Let’s follow the trajectory of casting a role for a moment. First, someone writes a role. When that project is picked up for production, it can sometimes already have certain actors attached (this is something that can be used to create trust and excitement in the project in the first place). The unfilled roles will then be passed onto the project’s casting director. They may already have some ideas about actors they’d like to see in certain roles. For the remainder of the roles, a brief will go out to agents detailing the role and what sort of actor they’re looking for to fill it. It’s at this point that your agent can suggest you if you are suited to the role. From there, you may get an audition if the casting director is interested in seeing you. Without an agent, you’re pretty much locked out of this process entirely. You may be able to find and submit yourself for briefs as a freelancer, but the quality and size of those roles will be less, and it will be a lot harder to get seen.
You can make your own luck (read: work)
Despite being incredibly talented performers, both Kate Mulvany and Phoebe Waller-Bridge got their first big breakthroughs through their work as writers. Kate Mulvany began as a multi-disciplinary artist, and wrote an award-winning and celebrated play called The Seed in the very early stages of her career. Similarly, Phoebe Waller-Bridge was able to launch her career as an actor by writing herself on stage and, subsequently, onto the Amazon Prime adaptation of that play. There are so many brilliant, talented, hard-working, and generous actors in the world. For every role there are hundreds of actors who could do a wonderful job at it, so it takes something else to set yourself apart from the crowd. If you have an idea for a show, or a unique voice as a writer, this can be very valuable, and a lot rarer than your skills as a performer. And even if the work you make doesn’t launch your career, you’ve still spent time developing your skills and most-likely given yourself a chance to perform (even on a small scale). Isn’t that better than sitting at home binging shows that you wished you were on? We certainly think so.
Where to start?
Let’s work backwards for a second so that each and every one of you reading can figure out where you are on the journey to landing that audition, and what your next step might be. To be someone a casting director thinks of for an Amazon Prime project that they’re casting you’re going to need some experience and credits that they’re familiar with. To get those credits you’re going to need to audition and book those (often smaller/supporting) roles. To be put up for those roles you need an agent. And to land yourself a great agent you need a headshot, CV, showreel, and some training.
Great. So if you already have an agent who is putting you up for roles and what you need to do is book them then brush up on your audition skills here: How to Approach an Audition and What are directors looking for in an audition?
If you have an agent, but you’re not getting the auditions you need to get your career moving, check out this article on how to get more auditions and how to stay audition fit for when that dream audition finally does come around.
If you’re right at the beginning of the journey, give yourself the best start possible by reading up on what your first six months should look like: What to do in your First 6 Months as an Actor.
Getting an audition for a role on an Amazon Prime Original series is going to involve a lot of the same steps as getting roles more generally. You want to build up your skills and profile to gradually climb higher and higher with each new opportunity you’re afforded. The biggest myth to bust about auditioning for Amazon Prime, or any big production company, is that the perfect lead role will come out of nowhere, and find you, the perfect actor for that role, wherever you are in the world. It’s just not true. Actors who audition for and book these roles have been working away at it for years, gradually building their experience, credits, and skills so that when that opportunity comes along, they’re ready for it.