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004: Acting
Posted in My Journey as a Screenwriter 9 min read
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As an actor, in order to obtain a role you must acknowledge the haunting fact that your opportunity is based off of the convenience of someone else’s availability.

In 2018, I started my career within the entertainment industry as an actor and found the process of obtaining roles to be one of the most unpredictable, fickle and unstable career paths someone can take, but when you get a gig – all your frustration goes out the window! That’s all it is – a gig (a job). The goal of an actor is to obtain a job during an audition. Similar to that of an interview and it should be assumed you will present the best version of yourself before, during and after the interview, but that still doesn’t guarantee you anything.

Allison Berres (left), C. Neil Davenport (center) and Rick Davis (right) preforming in Noah Haidle’s Smokefall
Augusta University – 2016

My father says, “Opportunity is when luck and preparation coincide,” and I’m here to tell you that’s all acting is.

THE FOREST BEFORE THE TREES

When it comes to actors, most think about the immediate, surface level desire of getting cast instead of the long term, investment needed of building a network. It’s the same philosophy in wondering whether it’s better to be given a fish or a fishing rod. If the actor believes the audition is only a place where memorized lines are recited, they’re destined for failure. I used to be this close minded. I would go into auditions with three page monologues memorized thinking, “If I do not get this one part, I will quit and get a full-time desk job” (which there is nothing wrong with), but this kept me from getting cast. So, I did what any diligent actor does and started researching. I dug within my past auditions and found something hidden in plain sight. All of my auditions offered different characters on different projects for different studios putting out different material. The fact that I was going on multiple auditions meant I was not trying to get cast on one project so I could be an actor at only one point in my life. I went on numerous auditions to be hired to practice this craft – long-term. So, the big question is, “How do you maximize the chances of getting cast?” The answer can be summed up in one word, NETWORK. Paul Rudd says, “I’m not actively seeking stardom. I just go to auditions, and I knock on wood.” Once I applied this simple tactic of treating the audition process as a networking opportunity, I started getting cast!

C. Neil Davenport as Bertha Buemiller in Ed Howard’s Greater Tuna
Evans High School – 2012

UNDERSTAND YOU ONLY HAVE INFLUENCE

After an audition, the actor sits in their car and delves into reasons why they did or did not obtain the part. This is called ‘a self-evaluation’ and is one of the worst things an actor can do when dealing with elements outside their control. 

On its primary basis, the casting director wonders two things when you’re reciting lines. First, “Does this person look the part?” which is a lot of the reason why particular actors don’t get cast and second, “Can this person follow direction?” Then to complicate things further, sometimes after the casting director submits their decision, someone higher up could replace an actor because their contract. Again, it’s all out of your hands.

If you don’t get the part, don’t blame yourself! All you can do during the audition is present yourself as a professional. Sure you can make physical self-improvements like dressing up as the character, but that’s as far as it goes. For example, I am 5’5 and currently weigh 145 with a receding hairline. No matter how much I would love to play Superman, I’ll probably never be cast. However, this does not mean I should pass up the opportunity to audition for Lex Luthor! You have to be okay with the way you look. If you’re not confident – it will show.

*One thing I personally do when an audition is over is toss the script in the nearest trash can. This is not meant to be spiteful of how I thought my audition went, but is simply a physical ritual which tells me, “Okay, it’s over, I’ve done all I can do, I’m not going to emotionally carry it with me after I step through the door and now it’s time to prepare the next audition.” 

COME IN READY TO (NET)WORK

The audition process is strenuous for everyone, even the professionals. During his Acting Master Class, Michael Caine said, “My auditions when I was young were not that hot… they showed fear.” Nerves are at their peak and the idea of messing up in the audition can be smelled, but actors have to knowingly allow judgement upon them and subconsciously welcome it. It’s their only method of obtaining employment. Here’s a fact that may take the pressure off. The casting director wants you to do a good job because it makes their job easier.

Despite what you think about him, Kevin Spacey says,

“What a lot of actors tend to do is focus on the wrong thing [during an audition]… if an actor is able to walk into a room and begin a relationship that may not payoff, they’re going about it the right way, but if the actor comes in thinking they need the part in order to pay rent, they are not truly being in the moment [because] they are too focused on the end result.”

Kevin Spacey

When you’re relaxed, the casting director notices this and thinks, “I understand this actor may not be right for the part, but they are serious about their craft and I am going to remember them for it.” Boom – Mission accomplished! It’s all about the relationships you build because at some point your phone will ring and your agent on the other line will be inviting you to audition for a part some casting director thinks you are perfect for!

Drew Thomas (left), Douglas Sloan (center) and C. Neil Davenport during a bro-hug.
Photo by
Cynthia Panzella – 2018

MAKE FRIENDS, NOT COMPETITORS

Networking incentivizes the need for an investment in people. It’s not what you know, it’s who, right? And the casting director is someone you need to keep happy. However, what most actors don’t realize is that the most abundant resource available to every actor to obtain employment during the audition process are the other actors in the waiting room. Yes, believe it or not, you can network before and after an audition. There’s only one casting director you have to make a lasting impression on, but when you choose to see the person sitting next to you as an acquaintance instead of competition, the opportunities multiply. Think on this; would your life change if you knew you were sitting beside the next Daniel Day Lewis or Audrey Hepburn?

There are two catches however with this type of networking method. First, it’s never a good idea to talk to someone before or after an audition if they have a script in their hands and second, if someone doesn’t have a script in their hands, but has a “piss off” sign on their face, do not bother them. Don’t force a connection with anyone. If you go into awaiting room, remain open and let a conversation come to you. However, if you do start a conversation never boast! Never talk about the expectations of the audition, who you know, what projects you have been on and how talented you are… nobody wants to hear it. What you should talk about are commonalities with your fellow actor.

Raymond Roberts and I met before an audition and talked about breakfast. When he was called in, I wished him luck, he did his thing, came out, I gave him my business card (and yes, you need to have a business card) and then I was called in. To my recollection, we were going after the same part, neither of us were called back, but if in fact one of us did obtain it, neither of us would be not spiteful of the other. Some of your best working acquaintances will become lifelong friends simply due to fact that your relationship happened on its own.

Rick Davis (above) and C. Neil Davenport (below)preforming in Noah Haidle’s Smokefall
Augusta University – 2016

Friends in this industry are a rare and valuable commodity. Here’s what will happen when you make friends. You go to an audition and not get cast, but your friend does. You have a hint of resentment, but suck it up because you do not have time for negativity and you are a better person than that. Then one day after you have forgotten about the whole thing, your friend who got the role calls you and says, “Things aren’t working out well here. We lost our co-lead, the director pulled his hair out and the production has been set back a bit… hey would you possibly be free this afternoon to meet the director? I think you would be a good fit for this character we lost.” All in all, as the old saying goes, when one door shuts another door opens.

Genuinely,

blog published in 2017 & revised in 2021

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