Acting Up

Casting director Mark Bennett takes you behind the scenes on auditioning your way to success.

Who he is: Casting director
Films he has cast: Alexander, Monster's Ball, Unfaithful, In the Cut

What role do you play in hiring creative talent?

I help directors pick actors for film roles. It's the casting director's job to be able to anticipate exactly what directors are looking for. The ideal is to find someone who brings something completely fresh to the role.

What qualities are most important to succeed in a creative industry?

Almost everybody who gets into this field at some point had some higher artistic or altruistic goal, and that can be lost over time because it's a field dictated by commerce. But the person who's able to maintain that certain degree of integrity, sensibility, business ethics, and a moral approach to their work inspires a greater degree of confidence and devotion.

How do you deal with prima donnas?

In more creative realms, there tends to be greater latitude for [that kind of] behavior. But that said, some actors have a difficult time because they move to L.A. expressly with the idea of being a star.

Worse is the occasional actor who comes off as so odious that his talent almost ceases to be an issue. Everyone knows the anecdotes of the difficult or eccentric actor. In fact, young actors often model themselves on that, thinking that unacceptable behavior is okay. While anecdotally those stories of the difficult or eccentric actor may be rich, I think it's very rare that that kind of behavior helps one get the job. The types of directors I work with value enthusiasm and passion for collaboration as opposed to just "what do you mean you need me to rehearse? Just tell me where to be, and I'll show up and do my scenes and go home."

How does the ability to improvise benefit someone trying out for a job?

People often come into an interviewing scenario so intent on what they know they're going to say that they get thrown off course by anything they weren't anticipating. They'll often make it impossible for themselves to really listen to what they're being asked to do, or give an answer that feels genuine and not overly self-monitored. I've often seen a director give an auditioning actor a note to change what they're doing in a performance, and the actor nods and claims understanding and then does exactly the same thing all over again. They're so concerned with getting the job that they're not listening.

How does a creative person avoid getting beaten down by rejection?

The key is to find a way to enjoy the process of auditioning. Ideally, people who go into acting have done so because they enjoy the experience of acting, and that's partly what they're doing in an audition. The biggest mistake people make is to brood or to stew over what they imagine to have been their failures. Why you don't get the part can be so superficial: They wanted someone shorter or they've cast somebody to play the brother that looks nothing like you. The actors I've seen succeed are the people who come with enthusiasm and confidence and are always prepared to have a positive experience.

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