I polled a handful of actors recently about something that's been on my mind this fall - Direction. These are all veteran actors whose ability and awareness I respect. They are speaking from experience.
Specifically, I was interested in how they approach both auditioning and working on set with regards to direction. Everyone who's taken my class knows I'm all about preparation, and a huge part of that is learning how to direct yourself until you are hired. But more often than not that continues onto the set. In the ratio of fending for yourself vs. relying on direction, most actors understand the concept but not all know how to put it into practice.
Here are a few of their responses:
"It REALLY depends on the show and people involved. I ALWAYS show up assuming that I might not get any direction beyond the basic blocking. In TV there is usually very little time to rehearse , so you really need to arrive with an idea of what you would like to do with the scene. ESPECIALLY because if you are the guest star , they tend to shoot your side first, so that the "stars" can work on their lines and find what they want to do with the scene. This means that you are sometimes acting with someone who is not sharp with their cues and is not really giving you what they will ultimately end up doing when the camera turns around on them. It can be really tricky. Obviously,you have to be in the moment and react to what they are giving you BUT make sure that you also do what YOU want to do. This is a really hard dance."
"PREPARATION IS FREEDOM. That is my motto. I would rather be over prepared than lose an opportunity because i am underprepared. AND I believe there is always opportunity - even when you are just given the basic blocking and told to go. Connect with the prop man before rehearsal starts, if you have an idea for a prop that might help the scene. Talk to the script supervisor about a line that seems weird or one that you might want to add. GET TO THE SET EARLY. You are not being "difficult' if you gently inquire about something BEFORE the ball gets rolling. Even your costume fitting is an opportunity to talk about how the scene might go."
"I always prepare for any audition as if i will get zero direction. Similar thing goes for a role...I never want to rely on direction to get me there. Its my character. I should own it. But I am certainly always open for more inspiration and good direction. you gotta always want to continue to seach and explore. For me, taking this approach free s me up to take direction in a way that works for the character vs just trying to do what someone wants you to do...that to me, makes a flimsy performance."
"My experience has been that it mostly is a fend for yourself situation and the rare but welcome exception is when a director asserts themselves in the process. I try to prepare as thoroughly as I can then throw away any attachement to choices I've explored in order to be responsive to the conditions in the room. When I've attempted to dictate my own sense of the tone the resulting performance is generally insensitive to the reader and lacking chemistry. In the few instances where a director is either hands on or has taken a special interest because of my performance it's typically a relief. There can be times when, instead of a relief, an assertive director is an audition killer because their personality or take on the material can collide with mine. But by and large the rare director who will work a scene is an encouraging sign of their interest in what I'm doing or have the potential to do."
"I worked with (Insert TV Star) on (Insert Primetime Show) and she didnt' know ANY of her lines. She had them all on cue cards on the floor. She didn't even look at me most of the time, she was too busy searching for her line. I sucked it up and played the scene as if she was giving me what i needed. In the scene we were in an argument , so it was really important that the energy stay intense. There were a few times when she was slow on her cue and i lost the energy on my side. I just backed up and said the line again. I did that several times. I knew the editors could piece it together. When we turned around on her , I actually did the same thing. She would deliver a line and if she was wobbly on it, i just repeated the line again. This enabled us to keep the energy of the scene up, instead of cutting and picking up the line. It was a risk - she could have gotten annoyed but it worked and she actually thanked me. The scene when it aired was great. I was REALLY PREPARED for this scene and that is the only reason i was able to do what i did."
And finally, two thoughts:
"Bottom line - don't expect anything but be prepared for everything."
"Bear in mind that most auditions are finished within the first 4-7 seconds."
(I don't entirely agree with the latter, but I think it has hyperbolic value.)