Actors Must Beware of Zombie Casting Directors!
by Mark Brandon
At some point during an auditioning you may encounter a "zombie" casting director. What is this and how can you prepare? Here are some tips.
At nearly a third of all your auditions, you're going to encounter a "zombie" casting director. That's someone (whether it's a casting director, casting associate or another actor) who reads the other character's lines during your audition, but gives you so little emotionally, you'd swear they don't have a pulse.
The reason is they're either too tired from seeing scores of actors all day, or they simply don't have an acting background and aren't familiar with the concept of providing you with something to "feed off of." Somehow, they expect you to materialize a performance by some kind of mystical, solo osmosis.
Obviously, this can be a major disadvantage when you're auditioning in front of directors and producers with that kind of casting director as your scene partner. He or she can get away with looking dead; you can't.
This situation imposes a two-fold dilemma. On one hand, you don't want to "tune-in" to him or her like you normally would with an experienced actor. You'll just get pulled down to the same fatal level of energy and appear equally as boring. On the other hand, you certainly can't afford to compensate by rapidly summoning up fabricated feelings. That makes you look like you're overacting.
Prepare a clearly drawn, impassioned goal. Some actors refer to this as their "action," or "objective." In any case, it's a result you ardently wish to see acknowledged in the casting director's behavior during your reading. (Ultimately, it's what your character wants as well. You're just focusing on the casting director personally as opposed to acting to another character.)
While the reading is underway, this pre-arranged response you struggle to get out of the casting director will naturally be thwarted by his or her sheer indifference. As an immediate result, it will generate within you either one or the other of these two completely genuine feelings: mounting frustration or increasing amusement.
As an example, let's say you're reading for the part of a crooked business person trying to get a reluctant associate to agree to a "shady" plan. Knowing you're going to be seeing a lifeless casting director, you formulate a strong, uncomplicated goal like, "demanding obedience" from the other character. As the reading gets underway, you begin to see the casting director exhibiting anything but obedient behavior or compliant tones. Not getting what you want therefore, should be a frustrating experience, stimulating you into working harder to succeed.
These rising sensations serve to increase your performance energy in safe, incremental levels. What's more, they come out like they're supposed to: realistically. That's due to the fact they're arising authentically out of the interaction between you and the zombie casting director, not artificially out of your head. It's an example of the time-tested wisdom of, "good acting is reacting."
The only decision you have to make after formulating your goal, is which feeling to play to. That's easy enough. If the scene is one of a confrontational nature (as in the above example) let the frustrations come through. If the scene is of a happier nature, then let the arising amusement come up and color your work.
At this point you may ask, "How do I know whether or not the casting director I'm going to read with will give me such apathetic treatment in the first place?" The truth is, you don't - unless you already know them. But here's some unbeatable advice: Just as every fighter pilot carries a packed parachute for all missions, every actor should carry a passionate objective for all audition scenes. It's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.