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Success as an actor doesn’t just fall into your lap, while you passively pocket the pay cheques. Even the most gifted actors have to work at it. And to work at it, you need to be motivated. But how do you get motivated?

The leadership writer, John Adair tells us that half our motivation comes from within us and half from our environment. He calls it the 50-50 rule. In other words, you may be a naturally driven person and hugely ambitious, but unless you’re in a highly motivating environment, you’re unlikely to see those ambitions fulfilled. So you need to choose carefully the place where you want to work and make sure you get there.

Take drama schools for example. Several of my students at Guildhall got in on their second, third or even fourth attempt. That means they risked up to four years of their lives to get into what they believed was the best and most motivating environment in which to become an actor. It’s not just Guildhall: other top drama schools will tell you the same story.

The same goes for theatre companies. Have you ever found yourself in the cast of a play where nobody cared much or believed in the project? How long did your enthusiasm last? Equally, you may be lucky enough to have a director who keeps everyone inspired and motivated, and as a result, rehearsals are buzzing with energy.

There’s one other thing you can do, and this is vital: surround yourself with motivated people. Avoid the emotional vampires. Instead, hang around with the people who have even more enthusiasm than you. In that environment you’ll feel challenged, energised and inspired to achieve your highest potential.

But to be fully motivated, you must find half of that within yourself. That’s your responsibility. And like so many things in life this parallels the acting process itself. The passive actor will say to the director: “What’s my motivation in this scene?” This means they haven’t done their homework and the scene is unlikely to take off.

The Outstanding Actor – available on Amazon


10 Adopt the right mindset

In The Outstanding Actor: Seven Keys to Success, I’ve talked a lot about the importance of having the right mindset. Your mindset is your default habit of thinking. For instance, it’s very easy to regard a forthcoming audition or interview with dread: “I’m not really up to this. I’m punching above my weight. They’ll see through me. I’ll probably mess up the lines. I’m not the type they’re looking for. Everyone else will be better than me.” That sort of thing.

If you give these thoughts free rein they quickly set up a poisonous cycle of negative expectation. So when you finally walk into the room, all that self-doubt will be written on your face and your body. It’ll also be in the tone of your voice and the words you use to describe yourself and why you want to be an actor. And above all it will affect your thinking: it’s amazing how inarticulate you can become when you adopt a negative mindset.

The director or auditioning panel will in turn be affected by this because neuro science tells us that when we see recognisable behaviour (for instance someone being anxious)  part of our brain takes on the same mode and we start to feel uncomfortable just watching you.

Preparing yourself in a positive mindset – “This is a great chance to show what I can do. I’m making some valuable contacts here. I love talking about my passion for acting. Let’s enjoy exploring this piece together and see what happens.” – is going to change the way you walk into the room and the quality of your presence. Your positive enthusiasm will be written on your face and body. Your mind will function more lucidly. In turn, that is likely to make the person auditioning you more relaxed and motivated to get the best out of you. All this will increase your chances of getting the result you want.

And how to you get into that positive mindset? One way, as I mentioned in tip number 6,  is to prepare yourself in the weeks and days leading up to the audition by visualising, through all your senses, the way you want the audition to go. It’s as if you’re creating in your mind a mini-movie of the event. Keep replaying it to yourself and you’ll start to feel more positive about the audition.

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 9 Dealing with nerves

One of the hardest aspects of auditions – both in professional and drama school auditions – is dealing with your nerves. You really want that part, or to get into that drama school, and in a sense it feels as if your life depends on it. It’s accepted that you’ll be nervous. In fact if you’re not nervous, you should worry because you might be coming across as too laid back, as if you don’t really care. That can be very off putting.

It’s often struck me that many of my most successful Guildhall students got their first break when they were still in the last month or two of their training. They were rehearsing for a third year production, so they could bowl up to the audition in a relatively carefree way, enjoy the experience and then go back to their rehearsal. When you’ve been out of work for three months, it’s much harder to project the same carefree enthusiasm.

The best advice I can give is: make it about them, not you. If you’re heavily focused on how you are coming across, you’ll project mainly your anxiety. And that makes the panel feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, if you focus on giving the panel an enjoyable time, you start to take the pressure off yourself. How do you do this?

One way is to play the following trick on your mind. Give yourself the freedom to throw the audition away, rather than worrying whether or not the panel is seeing your very best work. You still aim to do the piece well, but without desperation. The effect of this is that you relax enough to find more openness and your nerves are reduced. The energy becomes more extrovert rather than introvert.

At the same time, go in with a spirit of openness, as if to say to yourself: “Together we’re going to explore this piece and see what makes it tick.” Your curiosity will relax and energise the panel, and creative work starts to happen. Your attitude becomes: “I’m enjoying being here to try out this speech. I may not be exactly the person you’re looking for, but let’s take a few minutes to explore this together and just see if we like working with each other. I’ll try to make it as easy for you as I can.”

And finally, remember that it’s also you auditioning us. The casting director or the drama school may appear to have all the power, but you’ve got to want them as well. Just realising that you can choose whether you’d like to work in this company or that drama school, without being arrogant of course – that thought alone frees you up a lot and enables you to come across with more openness and confidence.

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Here are some more of my tips on auditioning for a drama school. But for those of you already working as actors, they apply equally to professional auditions.

4. Make it yours
What I personally look for in an actor is the power of their imagination. This is one of the traits of all great actors – it’s their imagination that makes their characterisations memorable and unique. Think of Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey or Matthew McConaughey in True Detective.
What I mean by imagination is your ability to inhabit the character and within that, to make your acting choices fresh and creative. But those choices must always seem natural and truthful. If you use a bold acting choice just for the sake of impressing the audition panel, it’s unlikely that we’ll believe you.
So how do you do that? The best actors in an audition find spontaneity – being completely present in the moment and allowing themselves to discover the speech afresh. See where it takes you today, in this moment, rather than repeating something that you know worked well yesterday.

5. Be warm
Warmth is one of the most revealing qualities I look for in an actor. If an actor exudes coldness in an audition, then I’d want to know why they are locked and unable to find openness. But, it being an audition, I might not have time to work on that. It’s quicker just to say, no.
From day one at Guildhall I encourage my students to be ‘warm and generous’. Why? Because over the decades I’ve seen that warmth and generosity are the strongest qualities for creating empathy with an audience. Finding those qualities is a matter of attitude: send out love rather than hate and distain, and be generous rather than selfish to your audience and fellow actors. But remember the vital separation between actor and character – your character may be a hateful villain but you, the actor, must always relish playing that with warmth. It’s the contrast between those two opposites that excites the audience.

6. Be positive
Finally, prepare yourself in a positive frame of mind. It’s natural to feel anxious about any audition, but remember, those of us who are auditioning you are trying to guess what you will really be like to work with. We’re trying to get beyond your nerves to have a sense of the person. This comes out especially in the interview, which is usually an essential part of any audition, whether for drama school or in the profession.
One powerful technique you can practice in the days or weeks leading up to the audition is to visualise yourself doing the interview and delivering your speech with the clarity, relaxation, passion, presence and warmth that you’ve dreamed of. Give yourself time to create a detailed, positive visualisation – a little movie in your mind.
Play this over, as a mental rehearsal, several times a day, and you will start to build up a positive feeling about the event. This will help you come across in a more playful, friendly way when you walk into the room. And that in turn makes you more attractive.

Ken Rea is author of The Outstanding Actor: Seven Keys to Success (Methuen Bloomsbury)

We’re all born with fairly open faces, but by the time we’re 30 or 40, that face may have turned into a character mask that reflects our default mood.

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