Less Is More

By Dino S. Ladki

In preparing for this piece I gave some thought about what advice I could give to actors about auditioning and booking roles and came to the conclusion that, really, the best advice I can give is pretty simple. Two things: Do LESS. And read the stage directions.

Dino S. Ladki

Many actors, because they are human, tend to want to chew the scenery. They really want to PLAY the scene. But that is counter to what you really want to be doing which is recreating real life. It’s all the subtle body language and life in-between the dialogue that ‘s interesting.

The advice I would give to any actor approaching a dramatic scene is to think about ways that they could do LESS than they originally envisioned.

For instance, If you have an argument scene, think about how you might be able to do it effectively without yelling. In real life, people don’t scream as much as they do in soap operas – and they certainly don’t get slapped as much!

To paraphrase Robert De Niro “It’s simpler than you think. It’s very hard for actors – and I get caught up in it myself – where (you think) you have to do “more” you have to do “something” but you don’t have to do anything – nothing – and you’re better off. The way people are in life, they don’t do anything. Say I’m talking to you and looking at your expression and you could have been told the most terrible thing and you’re still going to have the same look on your face. That allows the audience to read into it as opposed to telling them how they should feel.”

And always take note of the scene’s setting. If it takes place in, say, a car or in a photo booth. Then, most likely, your tone of voice should be low – which is another form of LESS – you’d be surprised how subtle you can get when you simply speak in a quieter voice.

Comedy, however, is a different story. Subtlety is not king. Comedic timing is. And you have to be willing to go for it and look silly.

Truly great timing is a gift. But pacing can be learned. If you’re doing a comedic scene, be wary of the scene moving too slowly. Eighty-percent of comedic scenes play better at a brisk clip. There are, of course, exceptions. Slowness is sometimes essential. Think of cringe-humor type comedies, for example.

But, if you’re auditioning for a multi-camera sitcom with a live audience and/or a laugh-track, like “The Big Bang Theory,” then a brisk pace is a must. Think of it like throwing a ball back and forth as the scene plays out. You must never let the ball hit the ground. Keep it moving at all times.

If, however, you’re reading for a single-camera sitcom like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or “Arrested Development,” then you should be very aware of subtlety. For this genre, both restraint AND comedic timing are necessary.

In general, whether you’re auditioning for comedy or drama you should be aware of where the piece will be shown. Is it network television? Is it Netflix, Is it HBO? Basic Cable? A major motion picture with big stars and a big director? A silly low-budget comedy? This will tell you a lot about the tone you should be hitting.

Before we got off the topic of LESS, let me paraphrase another great actor, Dame Judi Dench: “Don’t think you have to come in and play the whole of the character in one scene. You have to play an aspect of the character. By the end (the sum of the scenes) will add up to the whole of that person.”

This is yet another way of saying: LESS. You don’t have to try to stuff everything about the character into one scene.

Now, to reading the stage directions:

It might sound like a simple thing but you would be surprised how many actors don’t do it. That’s not to say that one has to perform everything that’s written in the stage directions (especially in an audition), far from it. Or that you can’t decide to perform the scene differently than written. You absolutely can, and sometimes should. But you can understand a lot about what the writer’s intent for the scene is if you read the stage directions. They can give you clues to subtle touches that you can incorporate into your performance.

Other Pieces of Advice:

– Auditioning is a completely different thing than acting on set. You are contending with the fact that the casting director and/or director/producers are seeing the same scenes over and over again. So, in this setting, it would behoove you to find ways to make your audition unique. Think of clever ways to play the scene that other people may not have thought of (but that are still in keeping with the character, of course). This tends to get their attention and, if it’s a comedy, makes them more prone to laughter because of the element of surprise.

– Think of your audition as perhaps your only opportunity to perform the role. Not the chance at a job or a paycheck or advancement, but a single performance. Go and enjoy yourself. Play that role the way you would if you had your druthers. Don’t worry about what you think they want to see. Instead, concentrate on how you would like to play it. Have an opinion on who the character is, what they want and how they would go about getting it.

– Read the whole script whenever possible! Context is everything.

– Get completely off-book (memorized)! It’s hard to overstate the freedom this allows you.

And lastly, please don’t sell the profession short. Acting is an art form. And nothing less. You’ll be well served to treat it as such and with as much care.

Dino S. Ladki is a private acting coach, a former casting director and an audition taping expert. Among his accomplishments as a CD are originating and heading MTV’s casting department (scripted series), two pilot-to-series projects for ABC / Carsey-Werner, the critically acclaimed independent feature films “The Lost,” based on the popular novel by Jack Ketchum, and “Baby,” an Asian gangland drama set in the mid-eighties. He has worked for Warner Bros., Universal Studios, Showtime, NBC, and FOX. Other projects include the independent film, “Harrison Montgomery,” starring Academy Award Winner Martin Landau and Melora Walters, and the Sony-Tristar feature, “I Know Who Killed Me,” starring Lindsay Lohan and Julia Ormond. 

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