Every actor started from humble beginnings, in a similar situation to you. They were either working part time jobs, or full time jobs, or even studying in acting class. They probably had a few agents before their big break.
No matter their circumstances, every actor has to submit a self tape audition at some point in their career, regardless of the level of their fame.
In this blog post, we'll show you the self tapes that have landed famous actors, roles in TV & film.
Rachel McAdams - Allison Hamilton in The Notebook
The Notebook has always been a polarizing film, derided as merely being a 'chick flick', but in reality, the acting in this film is phenomenal and the casting choice of Rachel McAdams was a winner.
This is interesting conisdering the other noteable auditions for this role included Ashley Judd, Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Biel and Britney Spears. All of which would've made for a remarkably different movie.
At this point in her character, Rachel McAdams had 7 feature film credits, and was hot off her comedic turn as Regina in Mean Girls. This audition had a lot riding on it, especailly considering that Rachel was auditioning with Ryan Gosling rather than having a non-actor scene partner.
This audition tape shows a very spirited display of acting, that is well and truly invested in the emotional circumstances of having a history with a long lost love & being conflicted over what choice her heart feels is right.
Takeaways from this audition tape
- Commits to the entire scene from memory
- Her moment before the scene is emotionally charged & prepared
- Speaking as well as listening with intent to the other actor.
- Non-verbal behaviour which speaks the emotional subtext very loudly & accurately.
- Understands the goal (emotional romantic security), as well as the obstacle (being engaged to a good man who isn’t her true love) and works off them.
- Physicality works well
- Emotional, but not showing emotions for the sake of showing emotions.
- There’s a fire & resentment that comes from inner pain, which is unleashed at certain points.
- Rachel McAdams clearly tells the story of The Notebook, whilst embodying the predicament of her character masterfully.
- The emotional shifts & beats are well embodied.
- Take note - The wardrobe wasn’t period specific. These things are not necessary in the performance and can detract from the imagination of the casting directors.
- Accent isn't perfect nor authentic to the time/place. This wasn't an issue, as her natural accent was what made the final cut of the film.
Henry Thomas - Elliot in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
The power of a young actor is very apparent, in their ability to imagine the circumstances of the script, and even more importantly - embody them.
After the first child actor chosen, had an on-set tantrum over a game of Dungeons & Dragons, the casting process was restarted.
One of the front runners was the young 9 year old actor Henry Thomas. With a very heartfelt & honest audition, the performance Henry displayed was akin to a master actor, with a heavily improvised spin.
Spielberg had this to say about Henry's performance
"The improvisation was so heartfelt and honest that I gave him the part right there. I was blown away by this nine-year-old. Then I came to realize he’s an adult actor, not a nine-year-old. He’s a very controlled, methodical performer who measures what he does and feels what he does and yet broadcasts it in a totally subtle way. His performance is so controlled, unlike most kid performers, who seem to be giving you 150 percent on every shot. Henry’s performance is just a bread crumb at a time, but he takes you in a wonderful direction to a very, very rousing catharsis. He’s just a 'once-in-a-lifetime' kid."
It's quite apparent from the self taped audition (ok, it wasn't self taped, but this is largely what is required from yours!), that Spielberg's intuition must have been very attuned to the performance, to award Henry Thomas the part then and there.
Takeaways from this audition tape
- Fully invested & living truthfully in the imaginery circumstances.
- Understands the need to hide his information from the interrogating agent in the beginning
- Knows the stakes of what will happen if ET is given up
- Appreciates the seriousness & gravity of the situation
- Makes an emotional appeal & argument to spare his best friend
- Demonstrates the knowledge that adults can & will lie, especially this Government agent.
- Has a strong emotional connection to ET
Henry Thomas, at such a young age, simply picked the tennis bat and returned the serve in the game of 'please don't hurt my best friend'.
Every audition is a game, and you have to know the rules to play. This is where a full and in-depth script analysis (or at the very least, an instinctual understanding of the character/story as demonstrated here) is sorely needed.
Dean Norris - Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad
Before his turn as the wisecracking DEA agent in Breaking Bad, Dean Norris was a veteran character actor with a number of credits to his name.
Building up a steady but slow reputation as a veteran actor with the chops to push a role over the years, he earned an audition for the AMC show in pre-production.
In this interview with Rolling Stone, Dean Norris comments...
[Laughs] When I first got the pilot script for Breaking Bad, I thought it was a comedy. Vince thought of him that way too. I think they felt comfortable hiring me because they thought I could play the total wad, and still people would like Hank. Or at least not hate him.
Actually, Hank was a little more racist in the audition piece, which never made it into the show. He still makes some "beaner" remarks to his partner [Steve Gomez], but it was even worse. It's a tough-guy business. And part of that territory is maybe being, in your description, a wad...
I still thinks it's – well, not a comedy, obviously, but there's even laughs when I watched the premiere this year. When Walt says, "Hi, Carol," and she drops the groceries. That was a great line! Before Saul Goodman came along, they needed Hank to be in scenes people laughed with. Otherwise it would've been just too effing depressing.
Takeaways from this audition tape
- Listening intently to the other character & responding authentically
- Embodying the character’s physicality & mannerisms
- Displaying his social value in society and his hierarchy in the family as a high profile DEA Officer
- A sense of machismo is brought to the table
- Comedic, off-script improvised additions in the audition, that are still within the realms of the character
- High degree of concentration & fluidity of behaviour / vocalisation.
- Effortless shift in speaking to different characters & acting within different scenes.
Dean Norris, takes an slightly improvised approach by going off script with his first remark of ‘ship his ass back to camel land’. This was a deliberate choice by Dean to make ‘Hank’ more of an average, salt of the earth American, having an ignorance of Politically Correct behaviour.
This Hank is very humorous, as well as being rough and tumble. The obvious warmth & alpha male charisma is there. We really believe he is talking to his brother-in-law, and possibly trying to impress him in his capacity as a DEA agent.
This shifts into a different gear, when the ‘news report’ comes on TV, and enjoys the adulation of being the toast of the party, schmoozing everyone over with charisma.
The character of Hank is on display masterfully, whilst showing the warm dynamic between Hank & Walter.
This audition goes through many different scenes of the first episode. Dean Norris had done his homework - having to play & shift his emotional state rapidly, whilst believing that the same (female) script reader was his brother in the law, and also a news reporter.
Notice that he isn’t exactly word perfect, nor completely off-script - but given the fluidity of his acting, he had embodied the script perfectly.