Friday, 11 April 2014

A Guide to Talking to Actors

“So what do you do?”

You had to ask, didn’t you? You’re at a party or a gathering, you’re introduced to someone and, of course, you ask that person what they do. It’s natural.

You might then see a grimace. You might get the sense that a few cogs are turning as they work out how to answer. Then they’ll take a deep breath.

“I’m an actor…I suppose.”

Then they wait for the inevitable.

If you’ve asked a woman, then you might go straight for the jugular and ask why they’ve called themselves an actor instead of an actress. Of course, if they’d called themselves an actress then you would’ve asked why they don’t call themselves an actor.

Maybe you’re one of those who’ll say, “Oh, you’re an actor!” and you’ll do some flamboyant hand gesture. If you do that, you deserve all the bad things that are coming your way.

But, more likely, you’ll ask:

“Been in anything I might’ve seen?”

If you have to ask this then you probably haven’t. Or you’re being seriously disrespectful to the actor because, if they say yes, their performance was clearly so forgetful that you’ve just dealt them a massive blow. You’re also ridiculously suggesting that the actor knows your viewing habits. And you’re also opening yourself up to the actor revealing to the rest of the room your appalling taste.

“Why yes. You saw me in Romeo & Juliet With Herpes. Don’t you remember?”

Also, if you ask a particularly feisty actor, you risk these answers:

“Your nightmares.”

“Your bedroom.”

“Your mum.”

However, what you’ll most likely get is an embarrassed “No,” while the actor painfully remembers all the productions they’ve been in that have been poorly attended that their career has been a string of private performances or never made it to air or brilliantly made it to TV but were shown on Channel 5 at 1:35am.

So, best not to ask.

Next, you might go for, “What kind of acting do you do?”

This is near impossible to answer. Unless you’re an actor who refuses to do anything but interpretive dance in the style of a frantic pigeon then the chances are that you do all manner of things. Theatre. Film. Commercials. Corporate. Musicals. Sitting at home constantly worrying that HMRC are on their way over to get you.

“Anything,” you say.

“Porn,” they think.

So now, a person you met only 2 minutes ago thinks you’re an out of work porn actor. To try and break the tension that has very quickly formed, they’ll ask:

“So are you working on anything at the moment?”

Oh god. Never ask this. If the actor hasn’t already told you at this point in the conversation then never ask this. Clearly, they’re not. Or, if they are, it’s so horrific that they really don’t want anyone to know about it. Like Diana the Musical.

So, again, you’ll probably get a mumbled “No,” while the actor desperately tries to remember a time when they were asked this question and they actually were. Never, they realise. 

By now, you might feel the need to lighten the mood. You might ask,

“So, are we going to see you in EastEnders soon?” Never do this. Again, if they were going to be in EastEnders, they would’ve mentioned it. Seriously.

“Is your agent like the one in Extras/Friends?” No. Or yes. Either way, you’re presuming the actor even has an agent. Given the previous couple of minutes of conversation, that’s quite an assumption to make.

"Why don't you just do panto?" I've been genuinely asked this more than one person. They're all dead now.

So next time you see someone at an event and you think they might be an actor, walk away. You’ll know who they are immediately:

They’ll be the ones trying to ask subtly whether there’s a free bar.

They’ll be the ones hovering behind waiting staff like a hungry shadow.

They’ll be the ones desperately avoiding any questions.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Drama Fools

This week The Stage ran a piece on Old Vic New Voices' Steve Winter saying that he feels drama schools aren't preparing their graduates for the industry.

I agree. In fact, even though he hadn't said it then, I started agreeing with this the day after I left drama school. As I aimlessly wandered around the house wondering what on earth I was meant to be doing, I realised I had no idea about the industry. Was it alright that it was 1pm and I was still in my pyjamas? Was it OK that I wasn't entirely sure if I had enough money now that I didn't have a subsidised canteen to rely on? Was it acceptable to be absolutely bloody terrified?

Like most industries, you don't really know what it'll be like until you experience it. And my word, I had no idea about the acting industry until I'd witnessed every nudity-requesting, unpaid second of it. So I'm not saying that drama schools should be holding your hand every step of the way and not letting you leave until you've got a 6-month contract with EastEnders MINIMUM. But there needs to be some guidance. Now, if my drama school had sat me down and told me that being a graduate would mean I'd know my pyjamas so intimately that it'd make a newlywed couple blush then...well, I'd have demanded that they fastrack me through for immediate graduation. But seriously, I had no clue. Unless you're part of an acting dynasty then no one goes into this job thinking it's going to be easy but I do think, considering the amount of money they take from their students, that drama schools at least owe their young charges a bit of knowledge.

And it's not really industry knowledge that students need. Yes it's important to know how to conduct yourself in an audition and I seriously think drama schools should make their students aware of just how bleak casting calls can be but it's survival that's the crucial thing. Now, you might think that it's all about survival of the fittest and if people can't hack it then it's not the job for them but that's pretty mean. I started drama school thinking I'd be in a feature film within a few months and then, on that first day out in the real world, I thought I'd be lucky to be tagged in a Facebook photo. I felt alone, pretty confused and with no real idea what I was supposed to be getting on with. All I really knew was that putting a tea bag in with a letter to a casting director was supposedly not the done thing.

We had very few people come to speak to us while I was at drama school. We had a couple of actors (both of whom were in work), a representative from Spotlight and an agent who took one look at us and said he couldn't imagine taking any of us on. In hindsight, that was one of the best lessons I've ever learnt. But we had no one telling us that most of the time this job would be bloody horrible to you and it'll leave you with just enough hope that you daren't give up. We had one lesson where we told what commercial castings were like which was held by a tutor who hadn't worked professionally for 20 years. All I can say is that I wish I'd had at least one audition that was that friendly, supportive and left me feeling like I might just get the job.

So instead we were just flung out into the world with a cheap looking headshot and and a CV that means nothing. But maybe it's best that we're all just thrown out there and made to learn from our mistakes. I learnt to always remember people's names at agencies. I learnt that if someone tells you to prepare a serious monologue then you don't try and be a maverick and present a comedy one. I learnt to look up addresses before attending auditions so that I don't find myself turning up at someone's house and wondering if I'm about to murdered. I learnt that I should never have coffee before an audition.

So maybe I should be thankful to my drama school for not preparing us for just how brutal this industry can be. Maybe if they had told me then I wouldn't have stuck at it and slowly learnt all those lessons. Maybe those mistakes are what every emerging actor needs.

Except tax. Please drama schools, if you do nothing else for your students, tell them about tax. It's one thing making a tit of yourself in front of a director, it's another thing spending most of your adult life being terrified of HMRC.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Poor Misguided Fool

The joy of writing about casting calls is that it gets me thinking about my own experiences and, occasionally, I allow my mind to go back to my very first audition. It's a memory that my brain is so desperate to bury among with the time I accidentally called Holborn Police Station about vine leaves. But before it gets suppressed, here it is... 

My first audition was one of sheer excitement. I’d only left drama school a few days before so I was on Cloud Nine Hundred and Nintey Nine. Getting that call had me dancing around the flat on my own for a good three hours later. It was only for an advert for a train company which is owned by a certain hot air ballooning trazillionaire and the role I was up for was so insignificant that it was merely known as ‘an It Girl who's been shopping.' Now I'm no It Girl. Girl who works in IT? Yes. Girl who is related to Cousin It? Most definitely. But It Girl? Nope. The brief was that she was a woman who was loaded down with designer shopping bags and my agent told me that it was therefore necessary that I took as many fancy looking carrier bags as possible for the casting. As it was my first one, I presumed that this was the done thing. No one had told me otherwise and I trusted my agent in the same way that I trust my mum, my dog and David Attenborough so off I went in search for as many bags as I could possibly find. 

The casting was the next day so I headed off nearly two hours earlier than I needed to in fear that a natural disaster would start a bomb scare which would then trigger the whole of the UK’s transport system to go into meltdown. Of course, as the casting was only half an hour away, I found myself with 90 minutes to suddenly kill. I went to Starbucks and two coffees later, my brain was spinning, my heart was providing the beats for a whole night of drum n bass and my feet were practically doing the quick step to my audition. I turned up at the audition covered in sweat, my meticulously straightened hair now a frizzy disaster and enough shopping bags to make Bond Street blush. And I was stuck. I had so many bags that I couldn’t get through the door.  This door was my entrance to the acting world and I was wedged in it.

I was faced with an army of women who all looked a little like me but, lo and behold, none of them had stupid agents who had told them to turn up to the casting looking like a upmarket bag lady.  I imagine I painted quite the picture to these other hopefuls. There they were all calm and composed while I was there like The Littlest Hobo on speed with my wild eyes and empty shopping bags. 

I was finally called in and I decided that seeing as I’d been dealt this horrible hand, I might as well go for it. I could have left the bags in the waiting room but I’d brought them this far so I thought the best thing would be to lug them in with me. But, of course, I got stuck again. The casting director glared at me, a pitiful ball of sweaty frizz that was clearly brought here just to ruin her day,

“Leave the bags at the door please.”

Prop-free but still soaring high on caffeine, I buzzed into the room. Name given to camera, profiles shown, jittery hands involuntarily waved in front of the camera and we’re ready.

“So, you’re on the train home and, as you glance out of the window, you realise that the train is being chased down by Red Indians.”

I bite my tongue, partly due to political correctness but mostly due to the fact that the caffeine flying through my veins has made me lose control of nearly all my bodily functions.

“Now, obviously, you can’t move. So, you need to show the fear just in your face. Ok.”

I give what I think is a wonderfully subtle performance. Like something Olivia Colman might do.

“No, we need more than that. You’re being chased by Red Indians. You need to be terrified.”

So I go for it. Like something Lee Evans might do.

“That’s better but now give us that without moving a muscle. Show us that fear through your eyes.”

My caffeine kick now at its peak, my eyes go for it. I open my eyes so wide that I’m pretty sure I can feel my eyelashes brushing my forehead. Like something Nicholas Cage might do.

“Right, well, thank you. You can leave now.”

And that’s it. My first ever audition is over. I pick up my depressingly empty bags and head back out into the world. My eyeballs actually ache. I didn't get the job. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

An Invitation

Dear all,

To celebrate the 1st birthday of Casting Call Woe, I'd like to invite you all to a very special party.

You will all be picked up at 7pm sharp...

No pay unfortunately but you will get to ride in a white stretch limo with a midget and the band.

Please note that there is a very strict dress code...


Skirt so short you feel raped just walking past her

if u want wear your sexy bikini

Those wishing to come in fancy dress are more than welcome to do so but please note there are just a few rules...

We're looking for individuals to dress up in an oversized female genitalia costume

We need some girls to be psychotic nuns. You need to be willing to be topless too

She wears an unpractically sexy knight's outfit

Clothes size is important as the Grim Reaper robes are only available in SMALL

All guests are welcome to bring a partner. However, if you are, there are further strict dress codes...

Actor: full suit of armour. Actress: full nudity.

Male - fully clothed. Female - dressed in thong, semi-naked at times, has to do casting in underwear.

Men bring suits, women bring sexy gangster outfits and lingerie. 

Also, please note:

There will be a prize for best dressed

There will be a drinks reception on arrival...

The first 10 actors to turn up get a free drink from me. It's the least I can do.

A few notes regarding catering:

Main roles in a music video available. The band will do the catering. 

I can't afford payment but I can bring as much juice and biscuits as humanly possible. Biscuits are wicked. 

This will be unpaid & voluntary. However there is a place that does beautiful falafels around there

And for any of those with special dietary requirements...

We require you to be able to bring a packed lunch if we have a full day shooting.

There will be dancing...

Please note the frog doesn't need contemporary dance skills.

Willing to barn dance on camera.

And there will be entertainment...

Fagin on stilts.

And there will be goody bags for all...

Unpaid but you'll get to take home a small bag of coffee.

Carriages at midnight...

Sorry I can't pay but I can pick you up and drop you home.

Please note, I can't be held responsible for any guests that are remaining after midnight...

You will be turned to mince at the hands of the pitman.

Please RSVP at your earliest convenience...

Girls welcome, boys preferred.

Your esteemed host,

Miss L
(Her once striking good looks have simmered down to a kind of smutty mess.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Crow Must Go On

In today’s Guardian, Carey Mulligan revealed how she started to get acting work after Julian Fellowes visited her school. She wrote to him, he invited her to a meeting at a fancy restaurant and then she finds herself in Pride and Prejudice.

Julian Fellowes never came to my school. In fact, very few people came to our school. Probably because our school, although lovely on the outside, was filled with a fair few wronguns. Y’see, Carey Mulligan went to a private school and I went to a state school. The debate on education and schooling is very much for another day. Nor is this a comment on Carey Mulligan. I happen to think she’s a damn good actor so, Fellowes or not, she’d probably have done good anyway. Instead, I want to imagine what’d happen if the one of the very few visitors we had to our school had helped me with my career…

Dear Mr Crow Man (sorry I don’t know your real name)

Thank you for coming in to school today to show us your pet crow. I had no idea people could keep pets as crows. But then I also didn’t think a student would be as stupid to attempt to take ninja stars on a school trip. Seems you can be wrong about many things.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing is that I want to be an actor when I’m older and I thought maybe you could help me?


Miss L

Dear Miss L

Do you want to see my crow?

The Crow Man

Dear The Crow Man

Miss L

Dear The Crow Man

Remember me? I'm the one who contacted you about 20 years ago asking if you could possibly help me with my acting career. Of course, if I'd known back then that your crow was a direct descendant of one of the crows in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds then maybe I might have been a bit more open to your offer. But I was young and naive then and didn't realise that putting yourself in personal danger was fine if it helps further your career.

Anyway, I thought I'd let you know that you did actually help me with my dreams to become an actress. Y'see, after you replied to me, I realised that no one was going to hand me my career on a plate. So I saved up and worked really hard and got myself into a drama school. 

Also, you made me realise that anything's possible. If a man can make a career out of showing his pet crow in a school then I could definitely have a go at being an actor. It's been really difficult and I'm broke most of the time. But I'm really happy and I hope you and your feathered friend are too. 

Thanks for all your help. Apparently our school nearly booked some guy called Julian Fellowes instead of you but they didn't believe anyone could possibly make a career out of writing so they presumed he was a hoax. I'm glad they chose you.

Many thanks

Miss L