“You can do anything you set your mind to.” —Eminem

In episode 20 of Casting Frontier’s Bring It! series, James Levine and session director/actor Charles Carpenter discuss the unpleasant sensation of audition-room jitters. Although nerves may feel like an actor’s enemy, Levine insists they are actually a friend. In fact, he regards them as essential and encourages thespians to use the excess energy as a force for good. 

Whether you work as an actor, an athlete, or in another profession altogether, Levine says nervous energy is needed to increase focus and improve the overall thought process. “It’s the energy that your creativity comes from,” he asserts. Indeed, research indicates when someone regards something as a challenge or a threat, they perform better than if they did not experience performance-day butterflies at all. “If you embrace it and figure out how to channel that energy productively, then interesting things happen,” Levine says.

Nerves vs. Excitement

“Nervous energy and excited energy are the exact same thing,” Carpenter argues. “What happens when you get nervous? You get flushed, your temperature rises, your heart starts to palpitate, you get the wiggles. What happens when you get excited? Physiologically the very same things. It’s how you perceive it is the difference between being nervous and being fired up and ready to go.” With this in mind, actors can shift the way they regard their nerves by telling themselves, “This is really exciting!” and explaining to themselves—or somebody else, for that matter—exactly what makes this moment such an opportunity and a thrill. And they can remind themselves just how hard they’ve worked to get to this point.

Smile

Levine adds, “And smile. Just smile. This is not the end of the world; it’s what you want. But this job doesn’t increase you or diminish you. It’s just a job.”

The pressure of a potentially life-changing audition

But what happens when you’re given the chance to audition for a potentially life-changing role? Indeed, that’s when the pressure is really on! The battle over your nerves could become quite an albatross in this instance. “There is your true test of whether this is the right thing for you,” Levine says, “because you arise to that or you won’t. In the end, if you want a career, you have to find that moment exhilarating.” In those moments, actors must bring everything they’ve got to the table—everything they’ve learned in class, all their experience, their sense of purpose, passion, spontaneity, flexibility, acute listening skills, confidence—everything.

It’s not every day when you can watch one of these high-stakes moments. But here’s Daisy Ridley while auditioning for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The production was searching for a fresh face whose acting demonstrated both intense vulnerability and strength.

Nerves vs. Fearfulness

James draws a distinction between nervousness in the audition room and straight-up fear. While the former is normal, the latter is unworkable. “We can’t afford that on the set,” Levine asserts. “If you’re afraid here in this callback room, you’re going to fold on set. We can sense that, and that’s what’s going to do you in … We need to know if you can take this.”

Managing Nerves

Generally speaking, actors will need to manage performance jitters throughout their careers to one degree or another. To come out on top of it, Carpenter encourages actors to “fall back on your training; go to class; get together with your rehearsal partners; study; work so that your next audition isn’t your first time this week acting.”

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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