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Four actresses reveal the secrets to getting the part

Without taking your clothes off

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Every successful actress, from the Broadway diva to the big screen bombshell, shares a common bond: They’ve all learned to survive that necessary evil known as auditioning. It’s a physically exhausting, mentally debilitating, and emotionally draining process — not to mention murder on a girl’s wardrobe. But, alas, there’s no other way to the top.

Here’s how four actresses — each with extensive auditioning experience; each between the ages of 29 and, um, 29 — feel about it. Because they’d all like to continue working in show business, they’ve asked that their names not be printed.

One of them (we’ll call her Louise) has been cast in major parts in several Broadway shows, as well as numerous smaller TV and film roles. Two of the others (let’s name them, oh, say, Mary and Jane) have starred in TV sitcoms and had supporting roles in big budget Hollywood films. The fourth is an internationally famous actress who is as familiar to discerning indie audiences as she is to millions of horny 13 year old boys. We’ll just call her Movie Star.

Okay, so let’s get right to the juicy stuff. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever been asked to do during an audition?
Louise: One director asked me to bring a puppet. It was for this big dramatic scene with a baby, so he told me to bring a puppet and pretend it was my baby. It was so ludicrous. In the middle of the scene I felt so stupid acting with this puppet I just started strangling the baby. Strangling the puppet. I just couldn’t stop cracking up. I didn’t get that part.
Movie Star: One director I auditioned for made every woman who came in take off their shoes. All the women had to be in their bare feet. I have no idea why.

Do you still have to audition?
Movie Star: Not as much anymore, unless it’s something I’ve never done before — like a new accent or something — and I have to prove I can do it. But I used to audition a lot.

How many auditions do the rest of you do?
Jane: Well, during pilot season [when the TV networks tape their prospective series] you can do as many as 13 auditions a week.
Louise: Or more. You can end up doing five auditions a day, five days a week.
Mary: It gets insane. You have to change clothes five times a day. You’re always in some washroom changing clothes.
Louise: I’ve changed in subway cars.

So when you go into these auditions, do you go in as the character you’re hoping to play? Is that why you’re always changing outfits?
Louise: Yeah, for me that’s sort of the first rule of thumb. You go in pretending you’re like the person in the script. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten hired where they say, ”God! You’re just this girl!”
Jane: Exactly. I do the same thing. I’ll go shopping before an important audition and buy stuff that the character might wear. Just so I’ll feel more confident, if nothing else.
Mary: I always go in as myself. Because the main thing I try to convey is the change. This is who I am — and now here’s who I can be.
Movie Star: I think you have to try to convince them that you’re a little bit like the character. You just try to accentuate that part of yourself that might be something like the character. But you don’t transform your whole personality or anything.

Are there any little tricks you use to give yourself an edge?
Jane: I always do a little research on the director. I’ll go on the Internet and find out what sort of actors he usually hires, that sort of thing.
Louise: Or rent their past movies.
Mary: The directors aren’t as important with TV auditions, though. It’s the executive producer who’s in charge. So you should study up on him? or her.
Jane: Also, I always memorize the scene and rehearse it with friends. But then I bring in the script pages into the audition anyway and pretend I’m reading them for the first time. Like it’s just all off the cuff.
Louise: And you have to flirt with the director — but not too much.
Mary: Yeah, the f—ability quotient is very important. Sad but true.

The what?
Louise: The f—ability quotient. I think it’s from an Elia Kazan line: It’s not enough to be a great actress, they also have to want to f— you. Something like that.
Jane: Yup. ‘Cause you can go in for a drug addict character?
Louise: Or a nun?
Jane: Right, or a nun. But you still have to have a little womanly flirtation, a little sensuality. It’s important for him to know that when you walk in the room he’d want to f— you. That the people he works with want to f— you. That the people who see the movie would want to f— you.
Louise: A lot of these directors were geeks in high school, guys who could never get girls. So now they’re in the position of power…
Mary: It’s especially true with TV. The main consideration for casting female roles on TV is the f—ability quotient. It can get really depressing.
Louise: But you have to make sure they know there’s a boundary. You have to make sure they know there is no way you’re going to sleep with them — but you still have to play a flirty game. Flirty but unavailable. It’s a bit of a tease. It’s the mystique that drives directors crazy.

What about when you’re auditioning for female directors?
Jane: That’s a different story. When it’s a woman, you want to make them feel like you can be friends.
Louise: Absolutely. It’s a totally different dynamic. You want to seem nonthreatening and sort of malleable. Like they won’t have any problem controlling you.
Jane: That you would respond to them as an authority figure, that you’d believe in them. Because so many female directors are fighting so hard to be where they are that they want their actresses to be supportive.
Movie Star: I don’t know. I had an audition once with a female casting director and she was like, ”I want you to try to seduce me. Just do anything you want to me.” So sometimes the dynamic isn’t that different.

That audition wasn’t put on videotape by any chance?
Movie Star: Actually, it was.
Louise: A lot of auditions get put on videotape, which is another nightmare. Your worst auditions are out there on tape. But sometimes that can help you. I did this taped audition where I dressed up as this S&M chick. I went out and bought a leather bikini, a pushup bra, a dog collar. The sort of stuff I didn’t have in my normal wardrobe. I didn’t get that part but then I got this other movie later on where I played a totally different sort of character. And the director of that movie told me he hired me because he saw my S&M audition tape. So you never know.
Mary: There’s a famous tape of [she names a well known movie actress] auditioning for the part of a Russian character and it’s supposed to be hysterically bad. It sometimes gets played at parties in Hollywood.
Movie Star: I know that when Stanley Kubrick was casting for ”Eyes Wide Shut,” he had some of the actresses audition by sending in videotapes of themselves in their underwear.

It sounds like there are a lot of head games involved in the audition process.
Movie Star: Oh, yeah. There are lots of stories about Oliver Stone holding auditions and pretending not to pay attention. Making phone calls and stuff.

Do competing actors ever try to psych each other out before auditions?
Mary: Absolutely. There are a couple of actresses who are notorious for that. They’ll do stuff like come out of the audition and announce that they’ve got the part — even when they haven’t — so that the other actors feel like they don’t have a chance.
Louise: Or they’ll say stuff like ”Are you really going to wear that outfit?” before you go in for your audition.
Mary: They’re evil. Pure evil.

So what advice would you give aspiring actresses on how to deal with it all?
Louise: Lie about your age. Always lie about your age.
Mary: And get therapy. You’ll need it.

Read the confessions of a casting director, get advice from a superagent, or meet the winners of EW’s Screenplay Contest.