There you are: walking up towards the audition room, a cup of coffee in your left hand and some analysed audition sides in your right. You take a satisfying sip of that iced, white choc mocha (my favourite) before you throw it into the recycle bin and pop those sides into your back pocket. You take a deep breath and walk into the waiting room, only to find yourself surrounded by a group of actors who all look eerily similar to you. Eventually, you get called and you jump into that audition like your life depends on it. You give the casting directors nothing less than a stunning performance. Satisfied with how you went, you head out of those doors with a smile on your face and treat yourself to another iced, white mocha on the way home.
Then? Nothing. No callback, no feedback. Nothing. Now you are siting in your apartment, re-evaluating your life choices and asking yourself, “Why didn’t I get the part?” It is a question as old as time, right next to “To be or not to be?” and “What is the velocity of an unladen swallow?” It is a fair question and an important one to ask yourself. However, it can also be a frustrating puzzle to solve, with no clear-cut answer. Lucky for you, however, I am here to help. Exploring why you didn’t get the part can give you plenty to think about when honing your craft, or at the very least some closure.
(Note: The velocity of an unladen swallow is actually 24 miles and hour or 11 meters per second. How good!)
Why You Didn’t Get The Part?
I know, as an actor, that a nice clear cut answer would put my mind at ease. But in reality, the answer is not quite as definitive as we would like. At the end of the day, you will never really know for sure why you didn’t book a particular job, unless you somehow end up contacting the casting director directly. I would not recommend doing this. Nothing says “I’m green and unprofessional” quite like it. The solution, then, is to reflect on the possible reasons, as well as your actions, to determine what went wrong so you can be better prepared for next time. Let’s break the problem down into two main parts:
1. What You Can’t Control
“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Any Trekkies out here? No? Just me?)
In every aspect of your life, there are going to be variables that are just simply outside of your control. It can be frustrating at times, but you should try and find some solace in the fact that you didn’t necessarily do anything “wrong” as such. Sometimes you can lose even though you did your best. The only thing you can do in that scenario is to be graceful when you don’t get what you want (and also, when you do). Below are some outside variables that might have factored in the reason why you didn’t get the part.
Your Looks (Mostly)
This one is a bit of a dual-sided point, being that you can, in a way, control how you look in regards to how you present yourself. Your physical makeup is out of your hands, but your style is not. Depending on the part you are playing you can make small adjustments—from your hair style to what you wear—that can help you adopt the look and feel of the character. If your character is a lawyer, for example, and the scene takes place in a court room, wear something presentable and professional. In the end, if the director is after a certain look and don’t fit their vision, that’s just that. Always remember, though, how you were made is beautiful, fantastic and unique. For every part you didn’t get because of your unique look, there’s another role out there that you are perfect for. Try not to get discouraged.
This one has gotten me stumped a few times. I remember auditioning for the role of a high school bully. Which is fine, except for the fact I was 25 at the time. Surprised at being submitted for this brief, I went to investigate my acting profiles only to realise that my “playable” age range was still set to 18-23. Not only that, but one of my profiles displayed my actual age. Always remember that you do not have to reveal your date of birth to anyone in the industry (except for your agent), and make sure to only reveal what your “playable age range” is. All that aside, be real with yourself about what your age range is every year or so. You can’t be young forever, and pursuing parts outside your range is only going to end in heartbreak.
Inside the head of every writer, casting director, producer, there is a vision that they have for the project, and the character that you are portraying. You can try and work it out all you want, but you will never understand what it is they are seeing. Sometimes there are clues in the script in regards to the story, so doing a thorough script analysis can help. In the end however, all you can do is give a deep, and genuine performance and leave the room knowing that you did your best.
It’s a dirty word that most people don’t like to talk about, yet it is prevalent in the theatre, film and TV industry like no other. Realistically, it is not inherently a bad thing. This game is all about who you know, after all. However, it can be frustrating when you lose a role to someone who got it because they are cousins with the director (or whatever their connection may be). It has a very specific sting when you lose that way, especially when it is really obvious when an actor got the job due to their connections and not talent. My advice is this: there will be times in your career when you might have a leg-up on a job because of your connection. And others will curse your name in that situation as well. So think of it as “it’s their turn, not mine” and prep for the next opportunity.
2. What You Can Control
“The odds are already stacked against you, so do yourself a favour and become as prepared—mentally, physically, and emotionally—as possible” – Samuel Hollis.
Did I really just quote myself in an article that I am writing? Yes, yes I did. Because if you take anything away from this article, I hope it is the quote above. Now that you (presumably) read it again, let’s get to the crux of it: there is a good possibility that the reason that you didn’t get that part, and because you are not getting roles or callbacks, is because of you. The biggest obstacle in an actor’s way is usually themselves. I know this because I have seen it time and time again, and I have lived it as well. I believe one of the reasons that this happens is that actors give fall into this trap where they think it’s not them but the casting directors that have all the power over whether they get a role not. This is going to sound wild, but you actually have a lot of power in an audition space. You have more control over your acting career’s destiny than you think. We just went through some reasons why you didn’t get a role that are beyond your control. Now let’s look at some ways to take your power back.
“Attitude is everything, so pick a good one.” – Wayne Dyer
The vibe you bring into a room, believe it or not, is transparent. You can hide it the best you can, but the chances of keeping your attitude concealed from a casting director (whose job it is to cold read someone as quickly as possible), is very low. Casting directors see hundreds of people a week. Why do I mention this? Because if what you bring into a room is desperation, cockiness, or a bad attitude, they’re gonna smell it from a mile away, compared to the legion of others who have a better attitude. I find those who get the role, go into an audition room with an air of confidence (not cockiness), self assuredness (not desperation), and the desire to serve the project rather than to gain something from it (a job, a pay check etc).
You can ease your desperation by getting out there and finding, creating and working on other opportunities. If you have five different avenues to secure work, you aren’t going to be too stressed when one or two of them doesn’t work out. If you want to improve your attitude, look at auditions as an opportunity to serve a project in the way you best can. It can be easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of work and getting what you want. Look at acting as an opportunity to give, rather than to get.
“If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail” – Benjamin Franklin
This is one of my favourite quotes. I remember hearing it for the first time from my 8th grade English teacher as we were working on our end of year speeches. “Whatever, I’ll just wing it,” I thought. Famous last words. I went up there and I did, well, I actually did okay. I didn’t bomb, but I wasn’t great either. I wouldn’t even say the speech was good. Just…average. The truth is, if you are in the room and auditioning you probably have some decent acting potential. There’s also a chance that you have gotten here just by improvising and using raw talent alone. The hard truth of it is (and I would know because I learnt this the hard way), is that you will eventually get to a point in your career where you can no longer just walk into an audition room (or set) and just wing it using your raw talent alone. One day you will hit a wall in your career and you will see others get ahead of you because they have learnt to up skill; they have learnt how to properly prepare. If you don’t want to learn this the hard way, then it is best to learn how to prepare accordingly. So what does this look like? Well it’s doing things such as:
Vocal and Physical Quality
Your body is an instrument. A professional basket-ball player wouldn’t get on to the court with out warming up, so why would you walk into an audition without the proper preparation? Work on developing a physical and vocal warm-up routine for auditioning. We have plenty of resources on this subject elsewhere on StageMilk, just because we know how important it is. This goes for accent work too. Keep these skills sharp so they’re there the minute you need them: treat them like exercise, and stay in shape.
Analysing the Script
How can you become a character when you don’t even know who the character is? What the story is and how your character moves through it? These aren’t rhetorical questions, either. Know the text, study the text. Engage in script analysis so you can mine the words for the writers’ intended meaning. If time isn’t on your side, or you lack the full context of the script (which is often the case in auditions), break down the scene to get the most pertinent information. Script analysis always gives you the edge, and helps you stand out in that room of lookalikes all vying for the same job.
Learning your Lines
If you can, memorise your lines. Sometimes you have a week to learn your lines for an audition. Other times? Maybe a few days. Then there’s those times where you have an afternoon before you have to submit that self-tape or walk into that room. Most casting directors know that you are not always going to have time to memorise every line, but it is a great advantage if you do know them. That way you can focus more on being present rather than what it is you need to say next. I have found when I am in a time crunch, I can learn my lines fast by analysing the scene (see above). That way you not only understand the scene more in-depth, and can bring it to life in a more genuine way, but you will unconscious learn the lines at the same time.
Mental, Physical, Emotional Preparation
What’s your sleep schedule like before a big audition? Did you have a nutritious meal before hand? What are you doing to calm your nerves? This echoes the same sentiment as the paragraph above where I talked about vocal and physical exercises. If your body is your instrument, it will work better if its in peak condition. What does this look like? It means going to bed at a reasonable time (and not being hungover), eating well so you have the energy you need to perform that day, hydrating, going for a walk, meditating to calm the nerves; it’s about looking after yourself as a person. Developing a self-care routine has infinite benefits, and this includes your performances as an actor. Don’t ever skip on maintaining your mental health: your career isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. Stay in fighting shape.
Learn How to Audition
Auditioning, we’ve said so many times on StageMilk it’s almost silly, is a skill. And like any skill, it can be learned and improved and perfected. Yes, you’re acting, and your skills as an actor play a big part. But the mindset, the stakes, the atmosphere; they’re all different compared to actually playing a part on set or stage. The best advice I got from a casting director was that during an audition, they are looking for your suitability for a role, not your ability to play a role. Bring energy, charm, originality, and something interesting to your character rather than trying to “play” a character that you think is the “right choice” or to be “good.”
All these little ways to prepare factor into your performance whether you like it or not. Getting an audition, and then getting that role, is already hard enough. Don’t make it harder for yourself by not having prepared the days and nights before. Actors who get work regularly, prepare. Those who don’t prepare, usually don’t get work often.
“Acting is a craft, and you need to study to be an actor” – Jason Ritter
While we are fresh off the topic of being prepared, let’s talk about craft. It’s an obvious concept, yet I see many actors complain about not getting roles only to later reveal that they don’t work on their craft regularly. Acting, whether we like it or not, is a competitive sport. If you really do want to be a professional actor, and get those parts you audition for, you must have an edge over the other players. When you look at the bare bones of what an actors career is, it looks like this: You (a person) want to trade your skills and services (acting), for income (getting that role). You need your skills to be sharp, honed, and ready to be put to use at any moment.
So do some scene study with your peers. Go take an acting class, work with a coach and get some feedback on where your craft is in the current moment. Fun fact: you can actually do all of these things right here at StageMilk as part of our Scene Club!
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca
Ah, this old chestnut. Luck, coincidence, serendipity… Factors of life that so many people forget about. Acting, without a doubt, is a perfect example of how luck plays a role in any sort of success you might achieve. Sometimes you just don’t get a role because someone else had more luck than you, other times you get a role because luck was on your side. I once auditioned for a role where 120 profiles were submitted, and out of those 120, only 10 got an audition. That means my chances of getting the role (after I beat the 1 to 120 odds of actually getting an audition) is 10%. I had a 10% chance of getting the part. The odds are stacked against you. You can do everything right, but still fail. That doesn’t make you an unworthy actor, just a little unlucky, and that’s okay.
Lucky for you, however (pun intended), you can increase your luck by following the tips and practices that I’ve mentioned above. Luck lies within both boundaries of what you can control and what you can’t. Every time you take a class, do a student film, read a book, go to a film/theatre meet up, work on your craft, do your vocal exercises and refuse to quit, you are actively increasing your luck. Therefore increasing the chances of getting that part. When you start taking back all of the variables you can control, and let go of the variables that you can’t control—that’s when you will start getting parts.
So now you know some possible reasons why you didn’t get a role and a few ways you can improve your chances. No matter what though, don’t give up! I know that the constant rejection can be strenuous at times, but if you quit then you will never get there. Keep working on your craft, on yourself and remember: stay hungry.