I used to think when I auditioned for parts on TV shows and films that I could tell right away if I got them. Thank God, I’ve lost that the superpower (though I never really had in the first place). First of all, sometimes you will have killer auditions, and for circumstances beyond your control, you will not get the part. And second of all, my perception is broken and has been for a long time.
Recently, I went on an audition for “Mind Games,” a one-hour drama on ABC that is shooting here in Chicago. When my agent called, he told me there was no script, they just wanted me to improvise with the producers in the room. I was ecstatic because I am a lot more confident about my improvising than my acting, and it’s always good to get in front of the producers — it’s essentially like getting a call back.
The audition was not at my casting agent’s familiar office, but instead inside a dimly lit office building in an industrial part of the city. The walls were paper thin, and from the waiting area you could hear the other actors auditioning. The door would shut behind them and then they would start “improvising,” saying a couple of funny lines, causing the producer to howl with laughter.
They called me in. Two producers sat at a conference table in the back of the very sparse office, finishing up a hearty laugh like it was bowl of the best homemade beef stew they had ever eaten.
The casting director gave me the scenario that they wanted me to improvise: She would be pretending to throw a cup of hot coffee in my crotch.
Typically when you hear they want you to “improvise” it means they want you to be funny, so, I think I better say something clever or witty. But that is not always the case. Knowing this was a drama, going for the laughs did not seem to make sense here.
So, I asked the producers some questions, which can always be a scary thing for me in an audition. They gave me some very important information: that this whole “coffee in the crotch” was a set-up that the character was doing to create a diversion because he was part of scam that was going down in the cafe.
I thought if my character was truly part of a scam, I would want to be believable so I wouldn’t get caught. And that’s how I played it. I reacted to how I would react if I got hot coffee in the crouch. I did it only once, and got no laughs, none, and then the producers thanked me and I left, not getting even close to the response the other actors before me had gotten.
Other people’s approval is my oxygen, and as I drove away, I went into the whole “I’ve blown it, they called in the ‘improv guy’ in and I did not make them laugh. I fucked up.” This is called shame and I went into a mini, 24-hour depression.
The next day I checked my messages and my agent had been calling my cell phone. The producers wanted to check my availability for the part of Coffee in the Crotch Guy. Typically when they ask for your availability it means it’s down to you and somebody else. The point is they liked what I did, I actually did a good job, and my perception is all fucked up and I need to bring it in to get repaired.
If I got the part or not, it didn’t matter. I realized I had made the right choice for that situation, and that is almost as as good as getting the part.
A day later, my agent called back, and I could tell in his voice that I wasn’t getting the part.
I was fine with it, really I was, because this was the second time I had made it to the “check on availability” stage for this series, and if the show stays on the air, my experience tells me I will get an even better part. And more importantly, I am grateful that my improv training has given me the gift of being able to trust my instincts even when I don’t trust myself.