“You roll with it because you’re that good. That’s what you want to show me. You can do this anywhere and nothing ruffles you.” —James Levine

It’s not a matter of if but when something unexpected will happen during an audition, on set, or on stage. In episode 19 of Casting Frontier’s Bring It! series, James Levine and session director/actor Charles Carpenter discuss the mindset associated with going with the flow while performing. Indeed, actors with the ability to “roll with it” have a distinct opportunity to shine. 

What can take an actor by surprise while performing? The list is endless but includes:

  • Your scene partner gives a most unexpected reading
  • You fumble your lines
  • Your scene partner skips a few lines
  • A prop or wardrobe malfunctions
  • Someone’s cell phone rings
  • An unusual direction makes for an awkward scene
  • Somebody knocks on the audition-room door
  • A fly lands on your lip
  • You trip
  • A double-dutch audition next door makes the building shake

“Just because you rehearsed it doesn’t mean it’s the only way it can go,” Carpenter says. But it’s impossible to be prepared for every case scenario. That’s why it’s more important to adjust your overall approach to performing. In a nutshell, whatever happens, Carpenter says, “Allow yourself to play.” Indeed, you’re there to play!

Besides, when something breaks the routine in the course of a day’s work, things have the potential to become more interesting. Levine says, “What I love to see is when somebody fumbles, how they pick it up and keep running. What happens to them in the moment when something unexpected happens—they think they made a mistake? They don’t stop the thing; they don’t cut it; they don’t say, ‘Can I start again?’; they don’t drop character … And now I’m thrilled. I’m engaged because they just continue this. And now it’s exciting! Something exciting has happened.”

Remaining in character no matter what the circumstance is pivotal as it allows that particular take to remain up for consideration. “If you cut the scene, I have to scrap that,” Levine says. “And maybe I loved it up until then. Again, not your job to cut it.”  

Without a spirit of play, actors risk getting that deer-in-headlights look on their face mid-performance which immediately breaks character. On the other hand, actors who are ready to improvise as needed have the advantage. “You roll with it because you’re that good. That’s what you want to show me. You can do this anywhere and nothing ruffles you,” Levine says.

When actors continue performing despite an interruption, there’s certainly a chance that particular take won’t work and will be edited out. But that’s okay. Playfulness is less about the finished product than it is about the process. Remaining fluid, however, is conducive to a great take!

Remember this scene from Apocalypse Now when Marlon Brando’s monologue was interrupted by a pest?

And here’s Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight reacting with shock as Kurt Russell unknowingly smashes a $40,000 vintage Martin guitar from the 19th century before production had a chance to swap it with a prop instrument.

What kinds of unexpected things have happened to you while performing? Were you thrown off or did you roll with it? What was the outcome?

Determined to help actors cut through the mystery associated with the casting process, James Levine authored an enlightening book entitled Bring It! along with Charles Carpenter and Jim Martyka, which will be released digitally in the near future. In the book, Levine shares helpful audition information from the vantage point of a casting director as it relates to commercial, film, and television acting. 

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