Understanding your Casting Look as an Actor trying to get jobs.

by TheHeadshotAssistants
March 4, 2016 12:10AM

Two Crucial Things To Know As An Actor: Know Your Look And Know Your Place

Hollywood casting directors can potentially have up to 10,000 headshots at any given point in time to sort through and pick through to cast a single person in a single role, not to mention all the undiscovered talent there is out there for them to find. Out of those 10,000 plus headshots and hopefuls, they may offer auditions to 20 of them. So, before you can even get an audition, you have to actually attract the interest of a casting agent or talent scout. 

While the choicest roles for actors are generally characters that are not at all like them, which is why it's called acting, it's important to understand that first you have to prove you can play a character that is like you. Remember that studios and investors pour a massive amount of money into making films and television shows that come with no guarantees they can be sold once they are made. Until you have an established reputation for doing great work, you are probably not going to be entrusted to do a lot of actual acting. Initially, you will most likely be cast in a lot of roles that you fit very naturally into. If you want to have a long and successful career as an actor, there are two crucial things you need to know: your type and your place. 

1.) Know Your Type

When you are first trying to break into the business, you are most likely to be given roles that are very similar to each other. For instance, if you book a soap commercial as a "sexy guy" and do well, you are very likely to then be given a number of roles as a "sexy guy" - because you have already proven that you can pull that off. Believe it or not, as frustrating as it may be, it's actually a wise idea to accept a number of roles for the same type of character at first. Then, when you have built up a good reputation for being able to pull off that one thing again and again, you can begin to branch out. And industry professionals are more likely to give you those opportunities when they know you have a good track record of at least doing one thing well. 

To start with, you want to pursue roles that fit in will with the look you already have. If you have a very strong physique, you may want to pursue roles like "dumb jock." You might be 25 years old, but if you have youthful features that make you look much younger, you might want to pursue teen roles. Keep in mind that how you see yourself and how others see you are often two different things. The roles you are looking for to start with need to be roles that fit in well with how others see you. But how do you figure out how others see you? Well, here are some ideas that will help you narrow that down and figure that out.

- Ask some close family and friends what TV or film character they think you are most like. If you hear again and again that they remind you of a certain actor or actress, then look at the types of roles that actor or actress appears in most frequently and pursue those types of roles. 

- Use the web. There are websites available where you can upload a picture, and they will tell you what Hollywood celebrity you most look like. There are also websites where you can upload a headshot and they will have random people answer questions about you such as what age you appear to be and what kinds of roles they think you are suited to play based on your photo. 

- Ask the people that know you well to define you in three words. If they consistently use words like cute, perky or sweet, then you may want to look for "girl next door" kinds of roles. If they use words like smart, intellectual or calculating, you might want to pursue bit parts in crime dramas or other dramatic roles. 

Once you have figured out your type, then get some headshots using some fairly cliched looks for those kinds of characters. If you are told you look like a young "dumb jock" then get some headshots in a letter jacket or athletic gear. If you look like the "girl next door" get some sweet, pretty shots that accentuate your innocence and youthful looks. If people tell you that you look like a soccer mom, get some headshots in a cardigan, hoodie or other younger mom-type clothes. 

Knowing your type will also help later on when you want to pursue roles that you are not naturally a good fit for. To pursue those roles you will need to make changes that will help you come across differently than how you naturally do. Here are some examples of how to make those changes when that time comes.

Pretty Girl to Hard Nosed Executive
The key here is harsh, angular lines, tones and gestures. Wear a dark, plain colored, suit with some subtly bulky shoulder pads or harshly tailored to follow every curve and line. Makeup should be heavy and include dark lipstick with the "cupid's bow" harshly outlined (the point of your lips just under your nose) and dark angular eyeliner. Practice walking with a military bearing and use crisp decisive hand gestures. Think Jessica Pierce in Suits, or Dr. Lisa Cuddy from House.

Dumb Jock to Computer Nerd
In the 21st Century the computer nerd has become the new leading man, so having an athletic appearance is no longer a drawback to playing a geek. Basically think "rebel against authority" - long messy hair or the fresh out of bed look, glasses and an ironic t-shirt under short sleeved button down shirt are all quintessential staples of the geek. The big difference is mostly in the demeanor, however. Jocks tend to play sports and most often team sports at that. They are a part of a team and follow rules. Computer nerds are lone wolves that flaunt authority and often don't play well with others. 

Teen to Mom
One of the key differences between teenagers and moms is that teens want to show everything off, moms want to cover everything up. Shirts buttoned almost all the way up, high waisted long pants or capris and minimal tailoring are all hallmarks of the quintessential mom. 


2.) Know Your Place

A little known secret about being a successful actor is that talent will only carry you so far. Being a person that others want to work with will actually carry you far further than the greatest acting talents in the world. If you were to ask some of the top acting coaches in the business who the 20 best actors in Hollywood are, Keanu Reeves would probably not make many of those lists. If you were to ask directors, producers and other talent who the top 20 best people to work with are, he would frequently be on many of those lists. 

Knowing your place is about keeping your head down and working hard. If you have a bit part or a walk on role, it's not appropriate to attempt to take up 20 minutes of the director's time - or any of it, really - to discuss how your character might deliver your one line. In both movies and television, time is money. Shoot days can be up to 18 hours long and because of union regulations, location contracts and other variables, they can sometimes have as little as 15 minutes to shoot a specific sequence or scene. It's your job to do your acting homework and come prepared to deliver your one line 12 different ways. 

If you have a bit part or walk on, let the makeup and wardrobe people do their jobs. They too have many people to outfit and make up and the central characters are far more important to take additional time with than extras or bit players. If the director doesn't like the makeup or wardrobe, they will take that up with the makeup and wardrobe people. The bottom line is, don't be difficult. That means not being difficult with the crew or the other cast members as well as with the director or other people in charge. When you build and develop a reputation as a person who comes prepared, is easy to work with and both versatile and flexible, you will start to find yourself being given more and more work that you didn't even audition for. 

"Hollywood" - which these days includes New York as much as it does California - is a very small community and word travels fast. Industry professionals rely as much, if not more, on word of mouth and personal recommendations as they do on headshots, resumes, reels and audition tapes. The first thing you want to do is get the attention of a talent scout or casting director by having exactly the look they are looking for to play a certain role. Then, once you have the role, you want to make sure you don't lose any future work by gaining a reputation of being difficult to work with.

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