Is it even necessary for casting directors to interview auditionees aside from plainly letting them show off their acting chops? The answer is absolutely. Sadly, many casting directors overlook this and learn its importance the hard way. Regardless of any skill the auditionee has (or not), work ethic and attitude remain at the top of any experienced casting director’s criteria. Through clever questioning, each applicant’s string of secrets can be partially unraveled early on, leaving room for caution and wiser decision-making. In order to know you’re bringing in the right people, here are a few brilliant questions casting directors should ask during auditions.
Wise Questions Casting Directors Should Ask Actors
What have you been working on?
Actors preferably should always be working on something. It could be a play, a student film, auditions, workshops, or acting classes. At the very least, actors should be auditioning and submitting for projects if they don’t have an agent submitting for them. Actors doing nothing sound skeptical (not auditioning, not submitting, not acting, not taking class). It can be a while since they booked a job, but an actor should always keep acting to keep skills sharp and to stay connected to the community. Simply having done a mailing, updating their actor website, or editing their reel clearly shows that an actor is serious about their career.
Aside from these reasons, casting directors should ask this question as an opportunity to gauge the applicant’s commitment to the project. Could there possibly be conflicting projects and schedules the auditionee has to face?
How do you deal with stress?
Zoé Henrot, artistic director of St. Paul Ballet, says that she poses what she calls “situational character questions” to potential new hires in order to hear how they solve problems and defuse tense moments. This helps her assess the work ethic and drive of the person she’s interviewing. Casting directors should ask this important question to know more about the applicant’s personality and how they’d vibe with the production when they’re under pressure.
“Being in the studio is a social experiment,” says Olivier Wevers, the founder and artistic director of Whim W’him Contemporary Dance. “The right personalities are important for the success of the creation process.”
If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?
Casting directors should ask an auditionee about other interests and skills they might have. Certain special talents can contribute greatly to the production, such as musical abilities, dancing, or speaking a foreign language. Actors who already have those skills are most appealing as production crews won’t have to spend valuable time giving lessons. Some acting roles might even call for more specialized skills, such as horseback riding or stage fighting. “We want to nurture people off the marley,” Debbie Blunden-Diggs says. If an actor is mostly interested in performance-related activities, then great. But it doesn’t make them look less professional to talk about non-related hobbies and interests. In fact, it might help casting directors remember them or envision them fitting into the bigger picture.
How long have you been performing?
Preferably, a casting director should ask, “Do you have any experience in the industry?” or “How many productions have you been in?” Noting down the roles, productions, and other relevant experience, especially under familiar producers or directors, helps casting directors predetermine the kind of direction an actor is already familiar with. Experience in a specific field generally means adaptability and prior industry knowledge, which makes working on set with them relatively easier. Some people may succeed solely on their talent, but many others succeed because they understand how things work and keep up with the industry.
Describe your acting style.
It is important for an actor to be aware of their style. Interestingly, many actors, especially new ones, are not. An answer like “comedic” or “dramatic” isn’t helpful. Asking an actor to describe their style helps you determine the extent of their training and independent research. Casting directors should ask if their style is influenced by any of the established teachers (i.e., Meisner, Stanislavski, Adler, Spolin).
Does this actor prefer working organically? Or do they prefer immersing themselves into a character’s situation? Are they the kind of actor who needs a lot of direction and preparation, or do they work better cold? Are they a very physical actor, or is their work more subtle and internal? There are people like Daniel Day-Lewis who are method actors and assume a role from the moment they step onto the set the first time, never leaving the character until the film wraps. Other actors have other processes. Through these preferences, casting directors can know if an applicant would be a match for certain actors and directors.
What inspired/inspires you to become an actor?
When you ask an actor to tell a short story of how and why they became an actor, you’ll find out a lot of things. What are they really after in this industry? Do their deepest motivations allow growth? Do their life experiences and present mind-set exude a certain attitude you can work with? Does the actor have a lot to learn? Do you see potential?
They may probably have a ready reason that includes a favorite actor, movie, mentor, or random first-time experience(s) that encouraged them to step into the career. But this question is about probing into an auditionee’s interest and eagerness in understanding this profession than it is about their dream of snagging performance credits and earning a million of followers. Are they willing to be trained, criticized, directed, and corrected? Blunden-Diggs says, “Before you put your name on the line, understand what you’re coming into.”
Do you have questions for me?
Casting directors should ask if the applicant has clarifications. In fact, it is important for actors to learn more about the casting process and the current project. However, clarifications largely differ from irresponsibility. Some applicants may show up to auditions not knowing what to bring, what to wear, and what to say; so the questions they ask already say a lot about them.
David O’Connor, owner and director of casting for O’Connor Casting, says, “My biggest pet peeve is people not being responsible and informed and playing stupid. ‘I didn’t know’ or ‘I wasn’t told.’ It’s not your agent’s job to hand-hold you. It is your job to take control of your career and be a professional responsible adult. . . . Each audition is a job interview. Come in like you want that job or don’t come in at all. . . . Be prepared, and always bring headshots. You just never know. Don’t rely on technology or your agents to do the work.”