Sometimes, as an actor, it would be very easy to develop an identity crisis. Over the past few weeks I have been an ER doctor, a police internal affairs officer, a sleazy Tory MP, a museum visitor, a disgruntled airline passenger, a fisherman, a Vietnam veteran and a snooty restaurant critic. My life has been not unlike an entire season of ‘Quantum Leap’:
I am talking about auditions, of course. An actor’s existence can be bewildering, to say the least, because our impulse is to fully invest in every role, even if we only inhabit it for ten minutes in a Soho casting suite. Every good actor will have done her research before the meeting – who is the director? What’s the accent, the physicality, the context of the play? Who is the casting director and – crucially – have I met them before? (This gets harder to remember as the years go by, especially as they are often the ones you pay least attention to in a meeting, your attention being focused on the director and whichever actor is reading in.)
Inevitably, as you prepare, you will start thinking yourself into a part. Even if, on a first reading, the character might seem a million miles away from your normal casting, you can’t help climbing into it to see how it fits. After a second pass over the script, you start to find a voice emerging, and an attitude, and by the third or fourth reading you have convinced yourself that you were born to play the role. It is only a short hop from here to the dangerous waters of planning how you’re going to spend the fee, and what you’re going to wear at the premiere of the Spielberg film you will be cast in as a direct result of this two-line part on ‘Casualty’.
Acting is mostly about dreaming, after all. We were the ones who sat in class gazing out of the window, imagining ourselves piloting X-Wing Fighters or invisible planes…
…and now we we have to keep dreaming. Any performance is kept aloft by imagination – it’s like a magic trick, really, a feat of self-hypnosis. We have to believe we are the character, or the whole enterprise will fall out of the sky.
So it is only right and proper for an actor to walk into the audition room thinking he is the part – we need to be buoyed up by that fluffy cloud of imagination just to get through the door.
The hard bit comes when we don’t get the part, of course, and we have to let it go. All those half-formed characters drift away, often never to be seen again, and we have to move on and forget we ever knew them. Mostly we don’t give them so much as a backward glance, but for all of us there will be some parts it is harder to say goodbye to. I coulda been a great sleazy Tory…