Ten Interview Blunders Actors Make - and How to Correct Them
by Ruth Kulerman
Here are some sure-fire ways to blow your interview with a talent agent, manager, or casting director.
Let's assume the fishing for representation is over. You've got a bite and someone wants to interview you -- an agent, manager, or casting director. The dreaded interview looms. What do you do? How do you not blow it?
The following examples, positive and negative, are taken from real interviews.
Let's start with your appearance. It's important to note that, like in an audition, decisions are often made before you even say a word. Appearance, along with attitude, helps create that instantaneous impression.
Packaging is everything in our profession, whether it's for an audition or an interview. In fact, it helps to think of an interview as an audition, requiring a monologue and Presence, Poise, Preparation, and Packaging.
How to Blow the Interview: Appearance
Dress in ragged or dirty tee shirt and jeans (male or female), sneakers, hair hanging apparently unwashed, no makeup (female), unshaved (male). "Hey, Mr./Ms. Agent or Manager or Director, take me, warts and all, just the way I am when I spackle the bathroom or work in the sewer." (Please don't do this.)
To Get What You Want: Appearance
Dress as if interviewing for a job with a major corporation who plans to promote you into the high six-figure bracket in 18 months.
Females - Skirt (medium modest length), blouse or sweater with no cleavage, medium pumps, hose, nice makeup (not glamorous unless you are traffic stopping gorgeous), hair pulled back so that your face can be seen. No perfume. (Exception, if you are a dancer wearing the mini-est of skirts is fine, or the tightest of pants - just not jeans).
Males - Sports jacket, shirt, slacks (cleaned and pressed), tie is optional. Even if you are "street punk," let that be determined by your face and voice, not by dirty clothes, clunky boots or sneakers. Be shaven, washed and with combed hair (again, unless street punk or prison inmate type). No cologne or shaving lotion.
To Blow the Interview: Pictures and Resume
1. Arrive with no picture or resume. Be sure to give a long rambling excuse, including that you were in a hurry and forgot.
2. Arrive with outdated picture/resume.
3. Be sure the resume is untrimmed, sticking out past the headshot. When asked why it is untrimmed, mumble that you didn't have time to go to a copy shop and have it professionally cut.
4. Be sure to have a glamorous headshot that doesn't look the least bit like "natural" you.
NOTE: Many of the NY TV shows call with a same day audition for the small roles. What to do? Have audition clothes, pictures and resume always ready.
To Get What You Want: Pictures and Resume
1. Have five P/Rs with neatly trimmed edges. Have your resume follow exactly the industry standard resume format.
2. Hand the agent your comp card if he/she handles print work. Have it easily available so you don't take three minutes fishing in a bag big enough to carry most of your worldly goods.
Although it's a bit late for this interview, please be sure your headshot reflects your type. "Real" is in, big! Sexy will always sell but friend-next-door or character actor is much more in demand. Unless you are truly stunning, go for "real."
To Blow the Interview: False Claims and Lack of Preparation
1. Your resume says you sing (musical theatre). Get to the interview and say:
- "Oh, you know, like, uh, I can carry a tune."
- "I don't have this memorized but I love it so much I'd like to sing it anyway." (Yes, this is a verbatim quote from a recent interview.)
- "I sing with a band." (Irrelevant to agent who handles musical theatre.)
3. Your resume says you were on "Law & Order," "The Sopranos," and four studio films. Get to the interview and "Well, yes, they were all extra jobs but you could see me clearly in one shot."
To Get What You Want: Preparation
1. Often an agent or manager will ask for a monologue. Have three or four ready at your fingertips. Have them so thoroughly prepared that you can go on automatic pilot, if necessary. Do not stop, fumble, smile sheepishly, or apologize if you forget your lines. Cover your errors.
And since this may be in an office it would be preferable to select a monologue that doesn't have yelling or screaming in it. Also most agents, etc. prefer monologues without obscenities.
2. Have three songs memorized if you are presenting yourself as a singer. Have your music with you. Many theatre companies have "invited" general auditions. If yours is for a musical, take several songs with you and have them all ready to perform perfectly.
3. Do not claim anything on your resume that is not true. Do not try to pass off extra work as a featured role.
Interviews are often just "talk," unless they are a kind of invited general audition which is combined with a brief interview. It's a good idea to run several mock interviews with fellow actors who have been through the experience. Sometimes it pays to see a coach for an hour's work on interview techniques. Just be sure the coach has also been out there recently interviewing, now--not 20 years ago.
Interviews are conducted by the interviewer. Follow their lead. Do not babble. (I once lost the film role of a lifetime because of prattling with a director who had just arrived from London. I was too excited chatting about London to realize the poor man was exhausted, too thrilled to understand that I had more or less already been cast and all he wanted to do was see me to confirm the American casting director's advice.) Have all your antennae working during an interview.
And the flip side of babbling is to sit like a mute, mumbling yes and no. I cannot begin to mention all the topics discussed during some major interviews, but here is a mini-list:
1. "What was it like working with XYZ (a fairly well known actor/director)?" I adored him, thank you, and had a charming story to tell about a book he and I both enjoyed. (Discovered that bit of info from reading an Internet interview with him.) And yes, indeed, I do know and do love the book.
2. "What do you think are your duties regarding XYZ (a super international star in a Broadway production with a cast of only three women)?" I hadn't a clue how to answer that one.
3. "What was it like playing a lesbian?" (My first professional role in NY in a smash two-woman show). I loved the role, a famous backwoods trailer trash international photographer. I talked about how I landed the role. (It was an amusing story, involving patting the brick wall where the imaginary picture was hung. The director told me that action swung the casting decision.)
4. "How would you define yourself?" (I was speechless, from having spent 20 years teaching literature and contemplating human nature. I was too new to the profession to realize the agent was simply asking about my "type," not about the nature of humanity. Not one of my finer moments!)
Moral of These Examples?
Be ready for almost any topic during an interview. Think quickly and be diplomatic without being insincere. Be open. Never chatter about your philandering boyfriend or double crossing girlfriend or anything negative. Most important, never complain or bad mouth people you've worked with past.
Do not discuss politics or religion.
Have a mini monologue prepared called "Myself," full of short amusing stories and be flexible enough to ad lib constantly throughout that biographical monologue.
Thankfully, most interviews are rather boring, polite and short. They just want to get a sense of whether you are marketable and whether you will be pleasant to work with.
In conclusion, here are a few general pointers for interviews:
- Good manners are noted and appreciated.
- Sitting in a chair properly shows respect.
- Being organized creates a great impression.
- Chewing gum also creates an impression, but not the kind you want to make!
- Take your conversation cue from the agent. Formal? Breezy? Cool? Professionally distant?
- Be on time, no more than five minutes early and not one minute late.
- Do not have a snit because you are kept waiting. Agents are busy and have constant demands from casting offices who have emergencies. It is not an insult to you personally.
- Keep the snit under control if you are constantly interrupted by the telephone. Be gracious. And remember charm goes a long way!
Create an interviewing persona whose major trait is charm. Make your interview the pleasant highlight of their day. They will remember that and you will achieve your goal: an agent, a manager, or a role.