Amy Hubbard has carved out a seriously impressive career in casting – you’ve more than likely watched a film or series she’s worked on. I’ve been writing to her since 2008, so I was excited to attend her recent casting workshop through ActorsCollab. It was great to perform a scene from one of her current projects and get direct feedback from the renowned casting director as well as some of her top audition tips. Here’s my takeaway:
Embrace the self-tape. It’s here to stay and Amy loves them.
Be 1000% off book. Amy wants to see the character in the moment, not an actor looking at the page or struggling to remember lines. You’ll also be freed up to listen better – Amy reiterates the age old adage: “90% of acting is listening”.
Underplay. Amy often has to reassure actors that doing less is more – be brave, think ‘documentary’. There’s a temptation to ‘show’ what we can do. Don’t. There doesn’t have to be a gear change or emotional climax. Even if the entire scene plays at one pitch it can be enough.
Ask questions if needed. A good one is, “Where should this performance be pitched?” (in terms of energy and mood). Or if you get multiple takes, “Was that last one too big?”
Ignore the writer’s stage directions. Always. They are not performance notes. Writers use them to clarify their ideas to readers – particularly those who can green-light their script. You the actor must listen to the urge that motivates your own unique actions.
Keep it snappy. The people watching your tape have tonnes to do and a limited amount of time. Give the scene it’s due, but avoid gratuitous pauses or time-taking. Amy quotes Peter Jackson in this regard: “No scene can’t be improved with a bit of pace”
Confidence is key. You will land the role based primarily on confidence, then your talent and only then whether you’re actually right for the part. Amy wants her clients to know, “You can hit the ground running with this one!” Be confident in yourself and your ideas. The room is yours. Don’t apologize. If you fluff something, just let ’em know you’re starting again and blow them away.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is probably not Kevin Costner’s favourite role. He was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for worst actor, while Alan Rickman won a BAFTA for his scene stealing Sheriff of Nottingham; none of which mattered to me: I was a kid in a cinema, utterly transported by the film. That’s the magic. And over the years Costner has produced a lot of it.
Some of my favourite Costner performances include John Dunbar (Dances with Wolves), Elliot Ness (The Untouchables), Frank Farmer (The Bodyguard) and Sonny Weaver Jr. (Draft Day). He remains one of my favourite American actors and I’m happy he’s still at it.
The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favourite films. I’ve tinkered (below) with the parole board scenes where Ellis Boyd Redding (Morgan Freeman) must convince his interrogators that he’s “no longer a danger to society”. I always get a kick out of seeing his attitude change with time and wisdom and find it very relatable to my own profession and it’s various gatekeepers. [Spoiler alert] Ultimately, Ellis stops trying to satisfy the parole board with what he hopes they want to hear; he no longer cares about the outcome, chooses not to censor himself or fear the consequences and in doing so earns his freedom.
I saw a few casting directors tweeting the above article about a shift in the casting of speaking roles. It highlights how actors are increasingly expected to be culturally aligned with the characters they play. It has a lot to do with ‘cultural appropriation‘ – a contentious topic.
“An actor’s automatic licence to fake an accent is now increasingly in doubt.” – Vanessa Thorpe
As a South African actor, I’m aware that mainstream South African roles are almost exclusively played by non-South Africans who for the most part fail to accurately deliver the accent. Even so, they’re working with recognised names, are handsomely rewarded and in a position to elevate their careers.
If they weren’t allowed to play those parts, would it also mean I could only ever play South Africans? Bit of a double-edged sword that one.