Audition Strategy: You Can Not Read Minds

You can not read minds. Please remember this fact.

We humans think we’re soooooooo good at reading other people. We look at body language, we listen to what others say and fill in the gaps with what we think they really mean. We do everything we can to gauge the situation and our status within it.

In fact, this is part of our training as actors. We’re encouraged to watch people as they sit on the bus ride home from work, or observe them as they discipline their kids (or not) in public. These observations help inform choices we make as actors.

When it comes to real life, the higher the stakes for us personally, the higher our spidey-sense of human interaction. We leave auditions, meetings and interviews absolutely convinced we know what the other person was thinking. And then we draw conclusions from those assessments.

Sometimes our conclusions are right. Often we’re wrong.

I know I owe you a part II of my post on building an acting showreel, but recently people have been asking for my input about stuff that happened at their auditions.

Like this:

“Chris, my audition was really fast, I only went through it twice and the guy before me said they had him run it five times with different adjustments. Does that mean I won’t get the job?”


“Chris, I had the room cracking up and they seemed to love me, but I didn’t book it. Why?”

I’m as guilty of this kind of thinking as anyone, but about ten years ago, I made an effort to change. Here’s the story:

I was in a callback for a Wal-Mart commercial, and the scene was a family playing ping pong together. Mom and Dad (that’s me) are playing while the kids watch. The game starts off nice and civil but then Mom becomes a competitive beast, surprising everyone by trying to smash shots down Dad’s throat. Dad tries to keep up but can’t, and she overwhelms him for the win as the kids cheer. She sort of snaps out of it and gives a shrug like, “I don’t know where that came from.”

At least that was how it was written.

We were told to “make it our own,” which is really code for improvising, so on the first take I did it as written. But in take two, I made a change that caused the creatives to howl with laughter.

After a bit of matching Mom’s high intensity, I just stood still and kind of marveled at the crazy person she just became. I also effortlessly returned her shots without even looking at the ball. I just looked at her. This made her work harder and harder to try and win.

This change was the opposite of how my character was written, but because it was so unexpected, they loved it (audiences love a good surprise) and actually told me, “We’re gonna steal that idea, that was great.”

Did I book the job?

No I did not.

But I walked out of there thinking it was mine. Why wouldn’t I? I made the spot better!

I’m usually pretty good about letting things go but this one hurt because not only did I leave knowing I was going to book it, but they actually told me they were going to use my ideas. So they stole my stuff and took credit for it.

When I came up with that lovely little story, I started getting pissed, which made me realize how futile made-up stories are. Because for heaven’s sake, a lost Wal-Mart commercial was not worth the personal aggravation I was putting myself through.

The truth is that I didn’t know if they were going to use my ideas. That might have just been the director enjoying the moment, or trying to be funny himself. It’s completely possible they had no intention of having the Dad in the final spot do what I did, since scripts are run through a litany of committees while being approved for production. Going with my change would have started that process all over again, delaying their whole time table.

My ideas weren’t “stolen,” but they were appreciated by those in the room.

I decided the best thing to do is to stick with what I knew. I knew that I did my job, and I did it well enough to get a compliment that went beyond the usual, “Good work, thanks.”

And that was it.

Since then I’ve applied the ten minute rule. After every audition I give myself 10 minutes to think about it, then I forget it. This saves me from dwelling on the things that I don’t know.

The truth is that you can never know what someone else is thinking, and you’ll never know why any job goes to another actor. It’s what you sign up for in this business. Not knowing anything about casting decisions is part of the job.

But instead of filling that knowledge gap with your perception of the situation, it’s far healthier to just put your work out there and forget it.

Because no one can read minds.