What Are Casting Directors Looking For?

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For us actors, a casting director often seems like someone who doesn’t seem to have time for us, who doesn’t really care, or whose poker face is so practiced that we have no idea if we did well or not. Behind the job though is a human being who loves performance. They love it. They love talent, and they love scenes. And they love finding the perfect person for the role. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there! But what are casting directors looking for? And how can you conduct yourself to ensure that you keep being brought in by them?

In order for casting directors to continue bringing you in for auditions, they need to know that you will be professional, and confident in your approach to the audition. They also need to know who you are as an actor, and what makes you unique, so that they can bring you in for auditions that you actually have a shot at. 

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What Does a Casting Director Do?

Casting directors are doing a tough job. Whilst sometimes they might seem disconnected or distant to the effort we have expended in prepping our audition, we must remember that they are just doing a job. It’s not personal, it’s business. 

They, like all of us, are in a competitive industry. They are vying for contracts, forming relationships with directors and production houses, and, ultimately, looking to produce the best results for their clients. 

In this instance, the best result is finding the best talent that’s best suited to the roles that need filling. They provide the director, or production, with a top tier choice of possible options for the various roles that need filling from the pool of actors that auditioned. 

It is the casting directors who are the big filter between a first audition and a callback. They are the ones who create a shortlist of performers for the directors to look at. Sometimes, if it is a very big project, they are creating a short list for their city or area for another, larger, casting director to sift through. It is a demanding, high pressure job. 

Getting Seen by Casting Directors

I will let you in on a shocking secret: No matter who you are, you will not land every audition. No matter how talented you are, you are not right for every part. Yep. Shocking isn’t it. 

Auditioning is a numbers game. Sometimes people get lucky within their first few, but for most actors, there will be a whole lot of unsuccessful auditions for every success. What is most important is that you get seen. The more often you are seen, the more likely you are to land something. 

So if the casting directors are the audition gatekeepers, knowing what they are looking for can really help you in your career. Treating them like a human being, rather than an enemy or a judge, is a start, but what else can you do to improve your chances of being getting seen again? What can you do to make sure the casting director keeps asking you to come in?

Do Your Job

First of all I want you to stop thinking about auditions as individual jobs. Acting is your job. Auditions are PART of the job. So rather then thinking about an audition as a job interview – a try out for the job – treat auditions AS the job. 

Bryan Cranston talks about offering a solution to a problem. The problem the production has is that they need an actor to fill a role. During an audition it is your job to offer your version of the character, your possible solution to their problem. It may be the solution to their problem, it may not. That is out of your control, and not up to you. You have done your job through offering an option. 

His full advice is worth watching so check it out: 

One of the best things you can do is rock up and go to work. Not seek validation, not burden someone else with the need to coddle you, or manage your nerves for you. Just go to work. They want to see someone who is confident in their ability to do the job, not someone so desperate for a chance that they will be a permanent yes man. Nor do they want someone so nervous that regardless of the performance they deliver they question how you might handle the pressure of a set or production. 

Provide your potential solution to their problem, follow any direction, and then leave. 

This can, of course, be very hard to do. It takes a great deal of mental fortitude, but a shift in thinking can make a huge difference. 

Maintain a Professional Relationship

As well as the above mentality of going to work, shifting the aim of your audition can do wonders. Instead of making the goal of the audition to get the part, I want you to make the goal of the audition to GET ANOTHER AUDITION. 

The casting director can not give you a part. But they can give you another audition. If you rock up and do a great job, regardless of whether you get the part, they will give you another audition. If they like your work enough, they may even throw you in as a wild card for parts. If you keep rocking up and keep doing good work, eventually they will start asking for you, rather then waiting for a submission from an agent. This is all about forming a relationship. The casting director’s are looking to form long lasting, mutually beneficial professional relationships with the actors in the area. You are the resource they manage!

I want you to think about their job for a second, rather than your own. They sit in a room for days at a time, either watching people put down scenes or watching self tapes. For a big production, with a national casting net, they may see 100 options, sometimes more. If each scene is 3 minutes, they are watching at least 300 minutes – 5 hours OF THE SAME SCENE. That’s without call backs or redirects. 

Firstly, we can not expect them to get excited by our performance no matter how good it is when they are looking down the barrel of a full day of the same scene over and over. Secondly, they are looking to save as much time in this process as possible. They want to know that the person rocking up for the next audition will deliver a solid option. 

If you continuously rock up and do good work, act like a professional, and do your job, you become one of their solid options. Regardless of whether you get the part, that time they have with you is well spent, and tapes you submit are worth watching. They begin to trust your work, and will keep seeing your work, confident that time spent with you is worthwhile in a time poor process. 

Yes but… What Are Casting Directors Looking For?!

Ok, so I am aware you probably clicked on this article hoping for some acting tips, and I am getting to those. I wanted to make sure you understand there is no cheat sheet. No tips and tricks. Just work and working relationships. 

Now that we have reframed how you think about the actor–casting director relationship, you are now ready to hear some of the elements of PERFORMANCE that casting directors are looking for. 

#1 They Want Professionalism

I know this is not acting, but it is close. It is how you act as yourself before and after you act. 

Professionalism is the first thing everyone everywhere is looking for. Showing that you are a professional is the best thing you can do to get called back again. Unless you are undeniably awesome, irreplaceable and oozing with charisma (which is very few people in this world), being late, unprepared, unable to take direction, rude or totally panicked by the experience are unforgiveable. 

If you want to be taken seriously as an actor, take acting seriously. Why would a casting director ask to see you for a show or movie with a million-dollar budget if you can’t learn your lines, rock up on time, be polite, follow direction and perform confidently?

Here are some quick rules to be seen as a professional:

Rule for lateness: 15 minutes early is early. 5 minutes early is on time. On time is late. 

Rule for preparation: Whatever they say in the email, do. What ever they attach, read. If in doubt, do more rather than less. 

Rule of direction: Listen to direction. Ask question if you don’t understand. Better to ask a dumb question than not follow direction when asked. 

Rule for rudeness: Use manners. Be polite. Don’t be rude. Its simple. If my 4 year old can do it, you can to. 

Rule for nerves: They are your problem. Don’t make them everybody else’s problem. 

If you find you are very nervous or suffer from stage fright, you might want to read this article about How to Beat Your Audition Nerves

#2 Perform Confidently

If an electrician comes to your house to fix something, are they nervous? Are they worried about whether you like them or not? Are they looking for validation from you? Do they need to be told good job afterwards? No. They just do their job. If they did look nervous, or apologise constantly or look unprepared, would you let them continue? Would you trust their work? No. You would probably get a different electrician. 

Confidence is a key thing that casting directors are looking for. This doesn’t mean over confidence or arrogance, but a calm confidence that you are right for the job. If you don’t think you are right for the part, why are you there? Why waste peoples time?  

It is also not a time to feed your dopamine loop or be coddled from stress. You should not expect or need the casting director to shower you with praise. They are not a friend, teacher or mentor. They are a co-worker who is busy and has people waiting outside. 

I get shockingly nervous for auditions (although I never show it because its not their problem its my problem) but I am always confident in my performance. Why? Because I have done the work, not just for this audition, but for years previously working on my craft. If you are not confident you are either a) unprepared or b) doubting your abilities. If you are either one of these things, maybe hold off on the auditions until you have the time or confidence to deliver the goods. Better off taking a break than making a terrible first impression. 

#3 You Have the Monopoly On You

Casting directors want to see who you are and what you deliver. Why would they want to see you copy someone else or try and be somebody you are not? You are the only person that can do it your way. Although your way may not be right for everything, if you keep being you, when someone needs it done your way, you are the only person that can deliver that. Trust when that perfect part comes for you, you will be who they call to see for it. 

This is one of the hardest things for actors in their early career to hear, process and internalise. However I can guarantee that if you work towards this you chances of landing a role will get forever closer. 

If you can forgive the contrivance, I offer a small acting parable: 

Once there was an actor. They were getting auditions, but never getting the part. So, they looked at the people that were getting the parts and thought, “I think I need to be more like them! If I am like them, maybe I will get the part!” So they changed their hair and clothes, even the way they talked and walked so they looked and sounded more like the people that were getting the jobs. 

Happy with their new look, which looked and sounded like all the people that were getting work, the hopeful actor started to audition again. But again, all the same people were getting the jobs, and the poor actor got nothing. “But I am like everyone else now, why aren’t I getting the work?!” Eventually the auditions became less and less, until they were getting nothing at all. 

Tired of the act and sick of the industry, they dyed their hair back, put on their old clothes, returned to their way of walking and their way of talking. To the actors surprise, the auditions came back. Before too long, they landed a small part. And although they didn’t land something big straight away, the auditions kept coming…

Okay contrivance over. You get the story though don’t you? It is very obvious from the outside looking in, but the number of times I have seen this play out amongst early career actors is incredible. 

Just think like the casting director for a second: Why, in a world overflowing with actors wanting a job, would I get someone who is trying to be something they are not, when I can just get the person who already is that? 

“But I need to be more commercial!” – Well, there is a heap of actors who are naturally commercial; why compete with that?

“But I need to be more muscular” – If it’s for fitness, cool, but if its for acting, there are already heaps of muscular actors who are naturally that way, and have a head start on you.

“But Brunettes are in!” – Yeah, cool, tell red haired Sarah Snook that whilst she smashes Succession. 

Be authentic to yourself and your voice. Constantly trying to fill every niche will mean you fit none. Constantly changing yourself will only work to confuse the casting director as to what you are right for. If they don’t know where you fit, they will just stop calling. 

#4 Playing the Scene, Not the Audition

Casting directors want to see you do the scene. They don’t want an audition. They want to be able to imagine you in the movie. 

I often see incredible actors start acting weird in an audition because they are wanting to find variety, or they are forcing moments into the script just so they can show off their emotional range. Or they start doing weird line interpretations just so they aren’t doing it “the way everybody else will”, even though they make absolutely no sense. 

Throw all this nonsense out. 

Play the scene. That is all you have to do. Play the scene truthfully with a strong inner life, with choices that make sense for the given circumstances and relationship that exists between the characters in the scene. Pursue your objective from moment to moment and respond to new information. Sound familiar? Because that is acting, and that’s what they want to see. 

Rather than viewing the audition as an audition, I like to visualise the audition (either self taped or in room) as my coverage for the scene. It’s the Close up or medium close up for the scene. I like to imagine myself already on set, doing the job already. I will get a take or two and then we will have to move on.

In that visualisation, I try and bring in the world of the scene around me, so everything from my voice, body, eyeline and intention match up to the scene I am about to do. In summary I am giving the version I plan to deliver on the day of the shoot, if I get the job.

#5 Pop From the Top

The first 30 seconds of an audition is crucial. In the small amount of casting I have done, you can usually tell whether to give the performance your full attention or not within the first 30 seconds, if not less. Sounds cruel, but it is absolutely true. 

The whole point of acting is to engage an audience. The casting directors have more people waiting, who also want the job, why would they bother giving you time if its not engaging from the get go?

This doesn’t mean do something weird or unnecessary. You don’t need to shout or go super fast. It means when you start, start completely. Immerse yourself in the scene. Don’t wait for yourself to warmup into it. Don’t wait for the climax of the scene to show you can act. If you don’t grab the casting directors attention in the beginning, chances are we aren’t watching for long enough to get to the climax.  

In addition to this, don’t let the scene drag by becoming indulgent just so you can sustain emotion or moments. If we can see the acting, it is bad. Great acting is invisible. Keep tight on your cues, pay attention to stage directions, and don’t add pauses that aren’t there.

Conclusion: TLDR?

The aim for you as an actor should be to form a professional relationship with the Casting Directors in your city. How do you do this? By doing good work consistently in a professional and cordial way. 

Be yourself. Be professional. Show them you can act by playing the scene, don’t play the scene to show them you can act. Make sure it pops from the beginning of the scene, and keep tight on your queues. 

Good luck out there!

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