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Interview with Bethany Rooney

Now Casting: When you interview actors, what impact does their picture and resume have on you?

Bethany Rooney: I almost never look at them to tell you the truth.

NC: Why is that?

BR: I do not want to be influenced by their experience or lack thereof. I want to accept their audition at face value. I don't want to discriminate in either direction. For example, my last show, which is called Inconceivable, for NBC, we were casting a small but pivotal part, and it had to be really funny. I ended up hiring someone who has lots of experience, and someone said, "Should we not hire her because she's so recognizable?' And I said, "I don't think I should penalize her for being good at what she does." By the same token, I don't want to look at somebody's resume and go, "Oh, gosh, they haven't done anything and I don't want to take a chance on them." I'd rather get my own impression of whether I can work with them or not. So, most of the time I choose not to look at their resume.

The only time pictures come into play is, if at the end of a session, we're going, "I liked actor A, B and C," then you lay out the pictures of those three actors to refresh your memory as to who they are. Sometimes it's also a matter of matching people, like if you're casting a husband and wife or a parent and a child. You want to put their pictures next to each other to see what you think.

NC: Do you ever look at demo reels?

BR: The only time I see demo reels is when actors are not available to come in to read because they're out of town or working. Sometimes if it's an 'offer only' situation and I'm not that familiar with the actor's work, then I'll get a demo reel from their agent.

NC: Have the demo reels you've seen been effective or not?

BR: It depends on whether they have a demo reel that showcases their range, then usually it can be very effective. I can go, "Oh, yeah, I remember that person, and I know that they've done a lot, yeah, they'd be perfect for this part." If their demo reel doesn't have the range of experience, perhaps they haven't had that many jobs, then it doesn't help. It usually works against them.

NC: So you find the demo reels that work best for you are the ones that have a variety of roles as opposed to two or three long scenes from guest star work?

BR: Yes, because if they have a number of scenes on their reel, you can usually find one that's close to the part you're casting and so it's essentially the same as them auditioning for the part.

NC: What are the most important things an actor should know or do before walking into the audition?

BR: How to pronounce all of the words in the sides correctly.

NC: (Laughs) I love comments like that.

BR: You can't believe how it throws you out of listening to the audition when they can't pronounce a word right. It's like, "Come on, didn't you do any homework at all?"

Also, actors should be committed to the approach they're taking to their character. The worst thing an actor can do is not commit and give a very mediocre reading, because when actor leaves the room I'll say, "Well, why did this person even come in on this?" At least taking a committed approach tells me you've done some homework, you're talented, I can give you an adjustment, and we can take it further from there.

NC: So are you saying that some actors don't do enough homework or just don't care?

BR: Just don't care. When I get those kinds of auditions I feel like they really don't want the job or they didn't care to put enough effort into it to make it a good audition. And I always wonder: are they sabotaging themselves or did they just come because their agent wanted them to? But don't waste my time and don't waste your time.

NC: What are the important things an actor should or should not do during an audition with you and the producers?

BR: That's a tricky one because I do like an actor to make a personal connection but I like it to happen in an organic way, not artificially set up by the actor. In other words, don't come in and ask me a question about the scene if it's something that's already clear and you're just making conversation. If you legitimately have a question or something you don't understand, please ask. Very often that's helpful to the writer and the director in terms of clarifying the script. Talking about the material is always a good way to discover its strengths and weaknesses.

I'm perfectly respectful of an actor who comes in and we go right into the audition. They can make a personal connection with me after the read. But in this day and age-it didn't used to be this way-it is uncomfortable for an actor to come in and want to shake hands with everybody because most people don't want to do that anymore. This is something I'm personally uncomfortable with because it seems very unfriendly, but that is the accepted way to do auditions now.

Also actors should dress to be somewhat close to the part but don't clobber me over the head with it. I really resent people wearing a white lab coat into auditions, reading for a doctor, as if I can't figure out that you can play a doctor. However, by the same token, if you're supposed to be a rich businessman, don't come in wearing a sweatshirt and jeans.

NC: How are actors' nerves coming into the room?

BR: I think a person who is overtly nervous, like trembling, that works against them. That would seem obvious, wouldn't it? (Laughs) But, on the other hand, you can't help but feel so badly for them.

NC: Has that happened much?

BR: Yeah, I've seen it quite a bit, actually. Otherwise, I think actors are pretty good at covering their nerves, you know. I would just say come into the room with the brightest, most alive energy you can, that is truly you. Go right into the audition and give it a committed approach. If there's a way to make some kind of personal connection with the people in the room after the audition, do that. Then you gracefully leave. I would say that's the perfect audition.

NC: Well, it makes more sense to come in and do the role first because of the concentration that needs to be there.

BR: Exactly. If you've glad-handed everyone, then you've given yourself five seconds to focus to do the reading. So, come in already being in the headspace you need to be in. When it's over, you can smile, connect, and have a little conversation if you want.

NOW CASTING: Would you describe the best audition you ever saw?

BETHANY ROONEY: It's always a good audition when the actor leaves the room and I say, "Okay, now I see how that part can be done." When the actor embodies it to the point where I go, "Okay, it lives now through that actor and I can see it and I know what it is and we can go forward." And, needless to say, that person always gets the part.

The best example I have of that is I was directing a TV movie in the early nineties. It was a story about mothers and their children when the mothers are sent to prison. We were auditioning for the antagonist of the piece; the bad girl in prison, and it had just been a big mess. Nobody had read for the part in any way that I could see it working. I was ready to say we have to rewrite the part and then Angela Bassett came in. She delivered a powerful audition and blew my socks off. When she left the room I went, "Okay, we don't have to rewrite the role." She made me see that it can work. And she was great in that movie.

NC: What is it you look for in an actor's audition that helps you translate their performance in front of you to how he or she might appear on camera?

BR: What I'm looking for in the audition is that the actor understands the material, is able to embody the character, and understand the emotional subtext of the material so that when I need him or her to elucidate the material, it's there. Whether it's exactly what it will be on the camera, and potentially smaller, is a kind of a given. What I need to see from actors is: can they get there in the audition? Can they get to tears if I need tears? Can they get to anger if I need anger? And does it read as real and committed? That's what I'm looking for. I can always adjust a performance when we're shooting. But I need to know that the actors bring the skills and the emotional depth with them.

NC: Have you ever been surprised by how an actor may appear to you when you see them in an audition, and then how they appear on film or tape?

BR: Yes, although I can't come up with any specific example. It's very rare. Ninety-five percent of the time the actor that you see in person will seem the same on film. But five percent of the time, or maybe less than that, on film there's something else that you just can't see in person. And that's always a really wonderful surprise and really interesting. Because I'm a director who stands next to the camera, I always look at the actors' faces. I'm always looking at their eyes as they give their performance. So it's just a huge surprise to me if I see the film later and there's more there than I thought there was. So it does happen, but it's rare. Really, really rare.

Bethany Rooney is on IMdB!

Interview printed with permission from iActingStudios.com and Rick La Fond. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. - iActing Studios is a premiere provider of Online Acting Classes. They feature hundreds of hours of in-depth classes; hosted by professional instructors and coaches who've taugh some of Hollywood's most famous A-listers.