Whilst clearing out my loft recently, I stumbled across a collection of my old 10 x 8 photos from my acting days. For a minute, I sat back and tried to look at myself objectively in all my different incarnations and, with some sadness, I could understand why casting directors had disregarded me so often: I was physically indistinct; a blank canvas. I had no idea who I was back then, so how could anyone else know?
And that’s the crux of the matter: it’s always about selling a product and in the entertainment business, this product is YOU. If people have to pause and squint their eyes to understand what your product is, you’re much less likely to be offered an audition, let alone a job.
Having a distinct casting type will help you get through the door, but for many of us, that type isn’t always obvious. Here are some ideas to help you define your product more clearly.
“But I don’t want to be pigeonholed,” I hear you cry. Trust me, I hear you. That was my own declaration for many years. Many of us are drawn to performing because we want to transform ourselves by playing a range of characters. Hold onto that dream, it will come. But first you need to get established; then you begin to diversify.
A good starting point is to make a mental separation between your casting type and your personal ego. You need to be honest about your physical qualities. The more you can embrace them with confidence and conviction, the more others will too.
For example, if you’re classic leading lady, don’t try to play down your good looks. An audition is not the time to be modest. Likewise, if you’re more of a character performer, emphasise your quirky, vulnerable, edgy, urban qualities etc. with your hairstyle and outfit.
Real life vs show business
It’s important to remember that this is not about your attractiveness in the real world; this about defining your professional persona in order to work more. One actor I know has built a non-stop career playing the ‘fat, funny girl’ but is one of the most alluring women in the room in ‘real life’.
The entertainment industry is fixated on conventional stereotypes, but true attractiveness is about so much more. Don’t lose sight of that.
If you need help deciding what your casting type is, ask other people (ideally those who don’t know you that well) what words they would use to sum you up. Of course you can have more than one casting type. That’s fine as long as each one is clearly defined with your marketing materials and what you bring in the audition room with you.
The components of ‘Type’
Our perceived type is made up of several elements: physical appearance, style of dress, energy and communication style.
For the purposes of an audition your look and style need, ideally, to align with the role you’re after. This is also your opportunity to bring the right energy and communication style into the room.
If you’re up for the young, innocent lead, show that quality from the outset. If you’re up for a nervous character, probably best not to stride in with the confidence of a general. You don’t have to be ‘in character’, before you perform, but do give a flavour of the qualities required. The reality is, casting directors have too many people to choose from and will usually go for the most immediately obvious, so make it easy for them.
Once you’ve established what you think your casting type is (or types), you need to focus on strengthening your brand with your marketing materials:
Your expression should tell us, your clothes should tell us, your hair style and lighting should emphasise…YOUR TYPE. Gone are the days of being a blank canvas and here is the era of telling us who you think you are.
How to structure your CV
In my view it’s better to cherry-pick the credits to put on your CV in order to strengthen your brand. If you played an eclectic range of roles at college, pick out the ones that were closest to your casting type. Don’t feel obliged to put every credit on. Some will have been wonderful experiences but won’t necessarily add much to the overall impression, or may even detract. It’s ok to be selective and also to tailor different CVs for different types of work (musicals/straight plays/TV).
Social media is part of your brand
Nowadays we all have social media accounts and - guess what? - those of us doing the casting often look at yours to get a better idea of who you are. You may have separate professional pages and personal pages but don’t forget, we can see both, so if you’re writing tweets that you’d rather a director didn’t see, think twice before you post.
In a recent high-profile case, an actor had a wonderful role offer retracted because of a controversial tweet she’d posted a few years prior. Do you need to check your historic tweets so that they align with your professional image?
Think about the look of your media accounts. Are the images, comments and media representing you in an appropriate way? Do you have photos/videos/vocal or voice tracks posted on all of your accounts? If not, you should add those in.
I’ve searched up recommended actors many a time and because their demos weren’t immediately obvious, I’ve had to move on without considering them. Don’t miss out on a casting because your media isn’t accessible enough.
Research, research, research
Your talent is just one component of your brand. It’s worth taking the time to do some research about marketing and branding, to truly understand how important they are. The ‘packaging’ is a crucial part of the product and you’ll have a real advantage if you can get yours just right.
Read more about how to determine your brand here.