Auditioning for acting roles and never getting them- is it a curse? Ana Peralta investigates.
It is always tricky to find an appropriate place to do an interview; but getting to interview an actor at the legendary theatre bar/restaurant The Cut, was obviously going to be pretty symbolic. However, this wasn’t going to be one of those celebratory interviews where we look at an established career. I am going to interview an actor, who like many others, has been sentenced to an unforgiving curse- auditioning to death, without ever getting any good parts .
As I meet up with 28 year old Steven, I thank him politely for doing this and we exchange pleasantries. Steven could have been plucked straight out of a 1920s Humphrey Bogart film -short curly brown hair, with a haunting dark circled stare which disappears as his dimples pierce the side of his pale cheeks, when he smiles.
I commend his courage for talking about such a sensitive subject. I imagine this is what it would feel like if someone was to ever ask me to do an interview about how I failed as a writer and spent my days writing obituaries. As we settle on the terrace overlooking the busy street, the conversation turns to the very venue we sit on top of, The Young Vic.
“I remember being here when I was younger and just being completely in love. Sounds silly, I know, but when you’re an actor, every theatre you go to is like… it’s like your Mecca.” A waitress takes our order and asks if we would like any beverages. I choose a glass of white wine and the waitress suggests my interviewee follows suit in sing song voice. Reluctantly he accepts her childish request for an adult drink.
I am going to be testing the very reason this man gets up in the morning; wine shall be my liquid iron shield. So have you ever performed here, I ask. “No, no, no… I wish.” He laughs uncomfortably and it occurs to me for the first time that maybe the venue wasn’t being symbolic but rather ironic.
Steven decided he wanted to be a professional actor when he left college and the extreme auditioning began at the age of 17. “Almost ten years ago”, he sighs bitterly. The natural progression for someone on this chosen path is to enrol in a drama school, in order to get proper training.
However, things took a dramatic turn for the worse (no pun intended, honestly) when he didn’t make it through to the second round of auditions at all five of his institution choices. “I wasn’t sure what to do then. I hadn’t thought about what would happen if I didn’t get into any of my choices. All I thought about was what would happen if I didn’t get into my first choice Drama School, which was East 15.”
The number of applications each year for drama schools are simply staggering, so it really doesn’t come as a surprise that he was unsuccessful. For example, Central School of Speech and Drama receive an average of 4,700 applications for their drama programmes but they only have 54 places. Overall, UCAS receives on average 53,000 applications for theatre programmes for various institutions. To say the competition is intense would be an understatement. Casting agent Richard Evans, of Richard Evans Casting, agrees.
“It is tough for actors and always has been with too much competition out there. It obviously depends on the individual as to how they deal with rejection.”. After not getting into any drama schools, Steven decided he would return with a better audition strategy the following year.
Instead, he devoted his unintentional gap year to auditioning for theatre pieces and signed up with an agency to do some film extra work. “I did extra work just to keep the money coming in and had a part time job as a sales assistant at a shoe shop. It was hard to juggle everything but I wasn’t going to give up.”
Out of school and in a part time job he didn’t enjoy, what made him carry on? Had he somehow developed a special gene, which made him impermeable to the heartache of rejection? “I was auditioning constantly; sometimes twice a day. I would run from one and go straight into another. I’m not sure how I did it and I would be lying if I said that it got easier. The auditioning got easier because I pretty much knew what I had to do but the rejection definitely wasn’t.” After trying for a second time at another round of auditions for drama schools, it seemed no good luck charm could have helped deal with the aftermath of being rejected once again.
“At that point, I felt like I just wasn’t good enough and my confidence took a hit. But I am a persistent person and I just don’t know when to admit defeat. It’s just how I am.” Although his confidence took a hit, he could not stay away from the addictive acting world and a few months later he went back for more. After a couple of successful runs at some major Off West End productions (which he inaudibly skims through), he carried on auditioning in the hopes that he will one day make it and live the dream.
His luck seemed to change when, two years ago, he managed to reach the second round of auditions for the TV show The Inbetweeners. He didn’t succeed in making the final cast but was asked to stay on and do extra work.
Later, he recalls that a producer he had met on his stint for The Inbetweeners, contacted him about auditioning for the E4 series Misfits. “I remember the director’s assistant saying that it was between me and Iwan Rheon, who plays the character of Simon in the series. They weren’t very clear as to why I wasn’t chosen and even when my agent asked they just said it was because they wanted to go in a different direction.”
Indeed, as a casting director, it must be hard to choose between two actors who look similar. That’s when they perhaps look for experience and that certain je ne sais quoi. “I always go in thinking I did a good job and then I don’t get a call back. It’s frustrating but I can’t give up.”
Steven isn’t alone there are others out there just like him, actors who remain tenacious and undefeated, lumbering through mediocre jobs in order to make their dreams come true.
Annabelle Spencer is also a serial auditioner. She even moved to Los Angeles in the hope that a career in Hollywood would somehow manifest itself. “I know what I want even if it means going to another country to get it. I’m just ambitious. Other famous actors didn’t give up and they proved you can do it.” she insists. Starting out wasn’t very hard for Annabelle, as a friend of her father worked in a production company and she was able to find herself an agent within the first month of being in L.A. A feat which most actors trying to make it out there, find near impossible. She began auditioning for television shorts and adverts. At one point, one of directors she worked with on a screen test for a toothpaste commercial told her she needed to work on her accent, so she got herself a speech coach. Despite all of her connections, her luck ran out when her visa expired and she had to make a hasty return back to the U.K.
“It was devastating because I could have actually made it. It was all going well but then I had to leave because of a… technicality. It’s so annoying.”
So has this changed the way she thinks about the industry? Does she think she can continue in her quest for fame? “I am not going to give up. Once I can sort things out, I will definitely go back. The rejection is a part of it I just have to have thick skin.”.
I recall Steven and his struggles and ask her if she would still be as enthusiastic about moving to L.A if she still had to audition, without getting anywhere, when she is in her 30s. She laughed awkwardly then in an offended tone said: “I will definitely make it before then.”. No glass of wine to defend me there. Casting director, Richard Evans, agrees that a career in acting is no stroll in the park but remains hopeful, that if actors persevere, they will reap the rewards.
“There is no career path in acting and, like investments, careers can go down as well as up but the call that changes someone’s fortunes could come at any moment, often when it’s least expected, so there is always hope!” His unwavering optimism may be justified. Yet, back The Cut restaurant as I swirl the last bit of wine in my glass, wishing I had a bit more left because of what I have to ask Steven: Doesn’t he think it’s time to be moving on to something else and admit defeat? After all, he has been dealt a bad hand in every single opportunity he has thus far encountered with no change.
“No chance of that happening”, he answers in a defensive manner. “It’s not like I haven’t thought about quitting. I have.” He pauses, playing with the remains of his burger and stares into the streets below. “If I was going to quit I would have done it a long time ago.”. I got the impression he was trying to reassure himself more than anything else.
Admittedly it does make for a fantastic career story: the years of struggling to make ends meet; never getting a call back when, suddenly, the drama Gods smile upon you and a miracle happens. You get your break.
We appreciate an artist more, it seems, when they have made it despite their hardships. We not only buy into their talent but their story. We like the idea that someone, who appears to have it easy, has had to struggle; the prize is too good for it to just be handed over. As I pay for the bill and we part ways, I wonder if he will ever catch his break and hope that, the next time he is being interviewed, it’s for his successes rather than his struggles. It seems he has done his time on audition death row and ultimately it’s his decision whether to keep appealing his case, or give in and hang.
The names of the participants have been changed at the personal request of both parties.
List of famous actors who almost didn’t make it.
Eccentric actor, Rupert Everett, was expelled from Central School For Speech and Drama, for artistic differences with tutors. He left and went on to experiment with his acting. Despite this he is now one of the most revered British actors.
It is a shock to know that Michael Caine, one of the most respected actors, was told by his headmaster that he would be “a labourer for life”. How wrong was he?
American acting legend Lucille Ball was told by a drama school tutor to “try another profession.” She went on to be one of the most iconic faces in American Television and Cinema. She won over twenty awards, including five Emmy’s.
French actress Jean Moreu, was told at the beginning of her career by a casting director that “she wasn’t photogenic or beautiful enough.” She went on to star in over one hundred films.
Lord of The Rings star Orlando Bloom, broke his back when he was younger. There were fears he may never walk again. Despite the scare, Bloom walked away to become one of the most sought after male actors, for stage and film.