From Ordinary to Memorable in Casting Calls

June 4, 2012

In many ways, life is maintenance. Working, paying bills, eating, cooking, cleaning, exercising, driving, getting the car registered, repaired, and gassed up–you know the drill. All the logistics required in a modern lifestyle trim down our available time; it’s easy to overlook what is going on within ourselves. Sure you’re aware you got angry when that guy cut you off on the freeway; yes, you found yourself laughing when you forgot your own birthday. But throughout banal tasks and daily foibles, it’s easy to feel somewhat emotionally cut off.

Then you go in for a casting call. Once there, you’re expected to be expressive and full of life. Whether it’s Gregory Peck playing the quiet, mild-mannered Atticus Finch in an intensely alive, nuanced, and complex manner, or Michele Williams making Marilyn Monroe a real person as opposed to an icon, actors are expected to rise above mediocrity and capture the intricate, ever-evolving drama of the human soul. You, as a dedicated thespian, are expected to have a command of your deepest inner workings in order to deliver whatever qualities are essential for any particular role. You don’t want to merely portray the role appropriately well—you want to play it remarkably well. You want people to remember it. To do so, you need to capture the depth and complexity of the human experience—characteristics that require a life fully lived, insightfully lived.

This is your dream. This is your goal. Don’t merely wait for your next acting class to inform how to express all that’s within you. Rather, continue your studies as you go about those humdrum daily experiences, If you can learn to be a keen observer of human behavior in both yourself and others, you’ll find that every human action from walking the dog to washing the dishes is often filled with joy, love, anger, confusion, and clarity all wrapped up into one. And all the gestures, word choices, lies, all the things left unsaid are grist for your mill. Ultimately, your duty is not to the director, your fellow actors, or even the audience. Your primary duty is to commit to your character in all of his or her complexities and contradictions.

While portraying a character, the devil is in the details. And details can be boring, or details can be intriguing. Watch Paul Newman pull the chair out for Piper Laurie in The Hustler. He executes a simple action as if his life depended on it. Or Marlon Brando washing his bald head in Apocalyse Now–he makes it epic. Charlize Theron in Monster as she’s preparing herself in the mirror–classic. How about Richard Gere peeling the label off a beer bottle in Looking for Mr. Goodbar; it’s as if he’s caressing a woman.

Breathe life into your characters by caring about all they do. Start by caring about all you do. You might even find your own life becoming more meaningful, and more memorable.