Here we go, some seriously game changing self-tests by great actors and some takeaways from each.
Dacre Montgomery – Stranger Things
This self-tape is incredible. Nearly on every front. Especially if you have watched the show, Dacre completely encapsulates the character in this tape, not only in the scenes but in the vignettes in-between as well. Personally I would never have the guts to do this in a tape and that probably points to why he is on the show and I am not. This is the definition of making a bold choice to make yourself stand out from the pack.
Dacre also does a whole bunch of technical stuff really well here. He has a clear point of view about what he is talking about and who he is talking to. He uses the frame incredibly well, the change in costume gives you a real change of place, he’s really aware of the location of each scene and he makes you feel like you are right there with him. Even the music he chooses ads life to each scene and is really period-appropriate. Plus it is all so easy, it all feels really natural and unforced. This is my number one
Daisy Ridley – Star Wars
There is only a tiny part of this tape on the internet at this point, but it gives you a snippet of how awesome Daisy’s performance was here. The reason this tape is in at number 2 is because of her emotional connection to the moment and extraordinary ability to repeat it over and over. You can hear the director JJ Abrams talking in the voice-over saying he was blown away by her ability to really encapsulate the stakes of the scene, have a powerful emotional response to them and be able to take direction and repeat the scene with the same levels of commitment.
This lets the director know that this actor can do thirty takes of the same moment and give it all each time. It also shows exceptional craft from Ridley who, in landing Star Wars set up her career for life. This short piece of footage tells you all you need to know, that this performer has technique, craft and undeniable power. You can also see that moment in the film done nearly exactly the same as this tape.
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Hobbit
So this is a bit of a weird one, the likelihood of getting an audition to be a literal dragon is pretty low however his commitment to voice and physicality here is exceptional. Similar to Daisy Ridley above, this clip isn’t the entire audition, but the parts that you can see it’s clear that Cumberbatch took the serpentine nature of the character really seriously. For these high fantasy auditions, fully investing in the characters world can be challenging espeically if that character isn’t human. Cumberbatch here fully invests himself in the dragon, not only vocally but physically too.
Watch the part where he sniffs the air for the intruder. Somehow he manages to make that action which could have seemed very on the nose (see what I did there?) feel grounded and natural. Vocally he made a really strong choice, the performance here could easily feel too big for screen, it’s highly theatrical. Lots of emphasis on keywords, heightened diction and a really unique melodic approach to the dialogue. But it is highly effective and fascinating to watch.
Dean Norris – Breaking Bad
Now this is not technically a self-tape but it is a fantastic audition none the less because Dean is utterly himself and completely the character. In even better news, he actually makes a mistake in this clip, he gets his own characters name wrong but keeps on rolling through – because he recognises that the character of Hank isn’t the sort of guy who gives a damn. This clip is the perfect example of the actor being themselves, under imaged circumstances.
He is utterly unapologetic, calling it how he sees it and is very natural. Also, note he has the script in his hand and he is referring to it through the scene and that this in no way affects his performance. He’s making jokes, improvising, making mistakes and keeping on moving forward for what his character wants, just like we do in the real world.
Blake Lively – Gossip Girl
Blake Lively is seriously underrated in my humble opinion. She’s a wonderful actor, with real depth and range and all that is on display in this tape. Where some of the other self-tapes here have had people making really bold, out there choices or intense emotional commitment to high stakes scenes, this tape makes the list for how unquestionably real, down to earth and genuine it feels. Watch this and try and tell me that you know what is going to happen next, Lively is so in the moment and so focused on getting what she needs from her scene partner that the entire artifice of the audition seems to dissipate.
If you forget the lighting this could be two friends who have accidentally left a camera recording. It feels so far from scripted it’s wild. This is the sort of performance that would book you a lot of work, and provided the foundation for the rest of Blake Lively’s career.
Henry Thomas – E.T.
The OG of all audition tapes. Again not a self-test, but you have to give credit where it is due. This kid is in the final round of auditions with none other than a small-time director by the name of Steven Spielberg. If you listen to the end, you can literally hear the Oscar-winning director say “Ok kid, you got the job!” Which frankly, is every actors dream! I watch this at least once every few weeks. An incredible all-round performance and commitment to an improvisation.