One of the best ways to train as an actor is to watch great actors doing their thing and ask a few questions of their work. What are they doing here that is making this effective? Why are they the right person for this role? What can I take from them to help me grow as an artist? Now there have been millions of great auditions over the years and I want to say upfront and often that this is not an exhaustive list! There are many more, and tonnes that we will never see, however, I have scoured the internet to find some of the best auditions for your viewing pleasure and creative growth! Watch and learn from the masters of their craft!
The best auditions are authentic, vulnerable and connected performances where the actor shows us who they really are, under imaginary circumstances. This article contains some of those auditions, watch them and take note of what these actors do so well, to add that to your own work!
#10 Michael Cera – “Superbad”
Michael Cera is a massively underrated actor. The criticism he cops is that too often he is ‘playing himself’, but I think that is a massive strength rather than a weakness. The reason Cera has worked consistently across film, theatre and TV from the time he was a child is that he is not afraid to show the camera who he is and how he feels about the world around him in everything he does. He is vulnerable and authentic and most importantly, unpredictable in this scene. The way he turns on his friend, the way he uses sarcasm to attack is all really alive and grounded in impulse rather than a rehearsed choice that he looks to execute. He is wonderfully present here and importantly, he listens wonderfully to Rogen. His choices are unique, in the sense, they all genuinely come from him. So often, actors are caught trying to do something they think the audience wants to see, as opposed to doing what they would actually do if they were in that situation. Cera does all of this wonderfully here and Superbad was a colossal success partly because of his performance.
#9 Brie Larson – “Scott Pilgrim vs The World”
Okay, look: I love Scott Pilgrim vs the World, it’s one of my favourite movies, and the clip here from Brie Larson is super small but there is a reason it makes the list. The reason it makes the list is how much of a strong choice she makes here. She has created this heightened character that is this super cold, emotionless creature with this deep velvety voice. Can you imagine how bad this could have gone? So bad. This could have been a total disaster, but she nails it here. This is a great tape to watch to remember to back yourself and believe in your choices. If you go for a big choice and you believe in it, and importantly it is grounded in the text then you will be rewarded for your risk! Do the work, believe in yourself and when in doubt go for something more ambitious rather than less!
#8 Tom Hanks & Robin Wright – “Forrest Gump”
Two for the price of one. Damn, this is delightful. These two actors, obviously incredibly talented and these are more screen tests than they are first auditions, but there are a couple of things here that I think is worthwhile examining. The first and clearest thing for me here is tone: these two actors understand the tone of this film wonderfully. Their performances are genuine, spontaneous, delightful and impulsive, but they’re also hyper-aware they are not in a sitcom or something stylised like Brie Larson above. They understand the sensibility of the screenplay and look to bring it authentically to life in this moment. Additionally, their relationship is really clear. You understand exactly what they mean to each other at this moment. The combination gives them real freedom to play in the moment which is where we get so many of the truly delightful moments in this scene. Great stuff.
#7 Shay Mitchell – “Pretty Little Liars”
And now for something completely different, Shay Mitchell found huge success in Pretty Little Liars; here, she shares her audition tape on Youtube. This is interesting because you get to see her live reaction to her own tape, it’s a great example of actors judging themselves really harshly. I think of every creative role in the world, actors give themselves the hardest possible time. Shay finds this tape really difficult to watch back, but it’s clear why she got the job! Her image work here is sensational, she really sees the world around her and ensures her eyelines are in the frame while she does it. She has a great connection to the text and a clear understanding of the relationships in the scene. As with the other tapes so far, you can see how authentic she is here, she isn’t trying to pretend anything, it’s really genuine! And her story of getting the job and that experience that she talks about at the end is heartwarming too, take a look!
#6 Adam Driver – “Girls”
It’s hard to remember a time before Adam Driver was a household name, but back before Girls, he was just a regular everyday guy like you and me. He was the first person they saw for the role of Adam in Girls and hearing Lena Dunham, the show’s creator and star, talk about him is sensational. While he does make a big physical choice in the impro (that is super risky and we wouldn’t recommend doing – especially not without consent from the other actor!) What I really want to draw your attention to here is the scene they do about texting when they are sitting down together. Watch Driver’s eyelines and images here! Check out his listening! The guy is so alive and present and authentic in his performance. Importantly though, he makes sure we don’t lose him for a second of this. We watch him listening to her, he hardly looks at her through the scene and when he does it is significant. We feel his aloofness, his intelligence and her anxiety and playfulness. The combination is exactly who these two characters are in the script. It’s a nigh-perfect example that it is not the acting that gets the role it’s the actor. You are already the character, you just need to show us who you are under these imaginary circumstances.
#5 Ruby Barker – “Bridgerton”
Now we are starting to get to the point in the list where we are seeing actors combining the successful attributes of previous tapes and pulling it all together. Barker here has a wonderful understanding of the relationships between these two characters, the environment the scene takes place in, she uses images and eyelines wonderfully, she understands the tone of the show and delivers her performance pitch-perfect for the format. But what is most impressive, is that she comes off as empathetic in a scene where she says some very harsh words to her scene partner. The reason this happens is that because she is so authentic about it, she is not pretending anything in this scene! The way she challenges the reader here, she fights every damn minute for the status in the scene and refuses to back down is breathtaking to watch. A masterclass.
#4 Dean Norris – “Breaking Bad”
I love this audition. If you have watched Breaking Bad (and if you haven’t, what the hell are you doing reading this article? Open a new tab. Find Breaking Bad. Watch it. Come back. Go. Go now!) If you have seen the show, you’ll know this is the exact same size, shape and type of performance that Norris brings to six seasons and a movie of this show. He is the perfect epitome of your alpha male, arrogant, annoying uncle. He thinks he’s a real hotshot, but somehow amongst all of his obvious flaws, he is very likeable. Norris here is incredibly authentic and genuine. We really feel like we are at a barbeque at his house listening to a conversation with him and his in-laws. The other thing that I love about this tape is that he makes a mistake! He calls another character, his own character’s name! And it doesn’t bother him at all, he just drives on through, total water off a ducks’ back. How many times have you got a name wrong in a script and it’s ruined the moment for you, or you have laughed at yourself, or you have started again, embarrassed with yourself? So often that ruins takes, Norris here pushes on and books the job with this! A wonderful example that it is the life – not the lines that matter. Brilliant.
#3 Dacre Montgomery – “Stranger Things”
What, did you think we would have a list of great auditions and not put Dacre’s tape for Stranger Things in the list? Please. Who do you think we are? This is a sensational tape for a lot of reasons, yes he dances shirtless between scenes and plays some cracking jams but the real point here is his quiet intensity, and the incredible work he does with his eyes. Watch that first scene and take a note of when he blinks. By my count, in a 2 min scene, he blinks 4 times. We just do not lose his eyes for the whole time. The eyes are the window to the soul, if we don’t see your eyes it might as well not have happened, whatever the moment is! Montgomery does a sensational job of seeing the environment around him, being connected to imagery and staying right on his reader all while keeping his eyes open and in the frame. No one likes watching someone blinking! Also, listen to how he uses volume! Montgomery knows the mic is going to be close to him, and instead of getting loud at the climactic point of the scene, he gets real quiet, and real threatening. It’s fantastic to watch.
#2 Gabourey Sidibe – “Precious”
Now this one, this one really choked me up. Gabourey Sidibe is nothing short of completely sensational in this tape, and what she gives us here is something I haven’t talked about in-depth yet: emotional connection and stakes. The stakes here are so friggin’ high, Sidibe has personalised the world and the information in the scene so much that it is genuinely affecting her in the moment. She is super raw here, super vulnerable and so connected to the emotional stakes of the text. There is not a moment of this where we feel like she is pretending, or acting or false in any way. It is all distinctly coming from her, it really means something to her, more than something it all means everything to her. Also, listen to the reader, check out how little the reader is giving her? She is working in tough conditions as an actor and absolutely excelling. This tape really affected me, my stomach clenched up, I teared up a little bit and it is just the freaking audition! Incredible.
#1 Henry Thomas – “E.T.”
The O.G. of auditions. This is incredible. Let me set the scene for you. You’re Henry Thomas, you have auditioned for the lead role in the new Spielberg movie E.T. You get through rounds of auditions and it all comes down to this. You’ve done the scene a bunch of times, you are in the room with Spielberg, a reader, your parents and a bunch of other people from the studio. Spielberg gives you an improvisation, that the reader is going to be an FBI agent come to take E.T. away and you can’t let him. Off you go—oh,m,n and this whole time, you’re 6 years old. I don’t know what the actual hell I would do in that situation, but I can show you what Henry Thomas did, and it’s incredible. Relationships, given circumstances, objective, environment, eyelines, emotional connection, stakes, bold choices and a huge amount of authenticity, it’s all here. That voice you hear at the end? Yeah, that is Spielberg saying ‘Okay kid, you got the job!’ Sensational stuff. Enjoy!