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Actors are repeatedly told to “follow all the instructions” for self-taped auditions. If the instructions say not to slate, for example, then do not slate—and vice-versa. On the other hand, performers are often urged to “take risks” and “stand out” during auditions. 

In fact, casting professionals are looking for that missing ingredient, something to wow them and take them by surprise. But distinguishing the difference between making a bold choice and not following instructions can be fuzzy at times. Dacre Montgomery essentially broke just about every self-tape rule in his Stranger Things audition tape, and he landed the role of Billy Hargrove. Why did his creative choices work for rather than against him? Professional acting coach Cody Dorkin from Studio 24 is breaking down the actor’s audition tape.

“When I saw [Dacre’s audition tape] for the first time, I was like, ‘This breaks basically every single self-tape audition rule, and yet it’s the best self-tape I think I’ve seen,” Dorkin insists. Here are the acting coach’s insights as to what went right in Dacre’s tape.

 

Changing Wardrobe Three Times

Right away, Dacre chose to slate sans shirt to capture the energy of the violent, unpredictable, and reckless character Billy. (Well, there’s a small chance he may have been asked to slate with a bare chest, but Dorkin doubts it.) 

“The fact that he made a choice of like, ‘Yeah, I’m probably going to be playing this role, maybe this would make sense, maybe this will stand out in this audition,’ and did it. It probably really stood out against all the other submissions that they received,” Dorkin says. 

Later, in Dacre’s first scene, he wears a black leather jacket to capture another aspect of his character’s personality. And in the second scene, he dons a shirt that reflects the show’s time period. “It gives casting something to see and, whether we noticed it or not, it’s just visually probably more appealing to jump between three different looks in one self-tape vs. the same thing all the way through,” Dorkin states.

 

Slating Almost in Character

Although Dacre has an Australian accent, he decided to slate in the voice of Billy. “I think that starts to help sell it, especially to a casting director seeing this for the very first time,” Dorkin reflects. This allowed him to get into character right off the bat. There also wasn’t an accent that might have been distracting to casting. Additionally, Dacre jumped right into performance mode with physical gestures that he believed would be characteristic of Billy. “And really it starts to draw us automatically into this performance right off the bat, and we didn’t even know why,” Dorkin says.

 

Taking His Time Before Speaking in the Scene

Dacre takes several seconds before starting his dialogue in the first scene. “He started to draw us in by not saying anything,” Dorkin notices. “He walked in nice and slow as [the] character, took his time, settled in. What that shows me is we have an actor that’s got very good control over their performance.” Later, Dacre takes his time with his reactions, allowing his character to shine through with various subtle facial expressions, and thus the actor demonstrates that he can give an editor what’s needed in post-production.

 

Working the Angles

Rather than looking towards the reader/camera right away, Dacre instead opts to stand a little further back and start with a profile shot and eventually turn toward the reader at a strategic moment for impact. Later in the scene, he steps closer toward the camera, essentially creating the feel of a close-up to create a more dramatic moment. “He didn’t just randomly do that,” Dorkins says. “It added to the scene, it made it more intense, and he was able to kind of change the beat of the scene by knowing and using his frame to his advantage to tell that story.”

 

The Use of His Full Body

Although the second scene takes place in a car, Dacre performs his lines standing up, freeing up his body language. “The scene is not about driving a vehicle,” Dorkin says. “So the fact that he stood up and still plays like we’re in a car, you can visually see what he’s doing here, and it works.”