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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.

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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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It’s that time of year when over 10,000 people will be auditioning to get into a British drama school. Of that 10,000, maybe a few thousand will get through to the second round and of those, several hundred will get through to the third round. And of those …
So, what does it take to succeed and get through to that last round, or indeed to win a place in the drama school of your choice? Over the decades I’ve auditioned thousands of young actors for a place at Guildhall. Here are three tips that will help you. These are my personal views and not necessarily the views of my audition panel colleagues, but feel free to pass them on if you know anyone who might be auditioning. They also apply to auditioning in the profession.
1. Relax
Yes, you will be tense, because you’re under huge pressure. But the game is to make it look easy and relaxed, otherwise your visible effort will get in the way of your performance. If you are relaxed, the panel will relax. Then we’ll be more likely to focus on your strengths.
Before you go into the audition, concentrate on your breathing and try to get it under control. Long, slow breaths from the diaphragm – that’s one of the most effective ways to relax quickly.
2. Trust the text
Your instinct will often be to do something flashy with the text – something that will make you look different and memorable. For example, being very loud, or physically dangerous. This will almost always lead to ‘pushing’ – where you force the energy and emotion through tension rather than relaxation, and the voice becomes harsh. This usually has the effect of pushing the audition panel away rather than drawing us in.
In your preparation, go back to find the accuracy of the text. Be absolutely specific. What are the words actually saying? And why do you say this particular word, or that particular phrase? Trust the text and it will do a lot of the work for you.
3. Find the truth
I’ve seen very spectacular auditions which didn’t appear to cost the actor anything at all. This is where your imagination is vital. You need to tap into the feelings of the character, be unafraid of expressing your vulnerability and let your imagination fly. What does it honestly feel like to be that person, think those thoughts, say those words? Get inside the character, with uncompromising truthfulness and let your imagination fly.
Some more tips to come.

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I’ve spent this week auditioning the final hundred out of 2,600 applicants for drama school. So the big question is: What makes someone want to take this actor rather than that one? Part of the answer, I’m convinced, is in the eyes. I’ll explain why.

In most cases the actor will deliver the speech with unbroken eye contact and yet often, you simply don’t believe it. Why? They won’t have ownership of the text. The words may be taking them on an emotional rollercoaster and yet those unflinching eyes remain unchanged.

The reasons for this are understandable. Imagine what it feels like in that audition. You’re under huge pressure to knock my socks off in three minutes, however much  I might try to make you feel at ease. Adrenaline is pumping through you, your heart is pounding and strange things are happening to your breathing. Also, your concentration is distracted by the notes I’m making as you talk.

All this pressure puts the focus on yourself: “Am I getting it right?” And the energy becomes more introverted – inward. Whereas, if I ask you to focus totally on changing the person you’re speaking to in some way, forgetting about yourself and your performance, suddenly it all comes to life. There’s animation in the face, your eyes register changes of thought and there’s more ownership of the text. The energy has become extrovert – outward.

This is all obvious, of course. It’s exactly what an actor should always do. But under the extreme pressure of an audition, or an opening night, it’s so easy to forget that.

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The idea of visualising your goal is incredibly powerful and it seems to work for all kinds of people. Take for example the director Tom Hooper in this week’s Sunday Times. His acclaimed film, The King’s Speech has just opened at the Odeon Leicester Square. This was his favourite cinema as a child. “I remember having this ritual, “ he recalls. “As I left, I would do one glance back at the credits and make a vow to myself that I would have a film on that screen eventually.”