Keeping it real

...or When To Say 'No!' and Run Like Hell.

Acting Coach, Peter Carroll, gives his Top Ten Tips on how to keep it real...

Top Tip 1

Casting Calls and Cold Readings

Casting can be very last minute. This isn’t due to the Casting Director’s lack of organisation - it’s a response to late communication from the production company.

Sometimes, there can be too many creative thumbs stuck in the pie. It’s wrong, but it’s something we live with. If you’re invited to a casting and you’re thrown sides or a copy of the script, ask the casting assistant about Given Circumstance - without it, you’re left eating their soup without a spoon - and d’you know what a mess that can make?

The Casting Director who throws a 'Magic if' or 'What if' scenario at you, that bears no resemblance to how you see the scene, is simply testing to see if you can take direction. Go with it.

When you're reading for a part, don't worry about glancing at the lines that they've just given to you. However, do place the script right down by your side and focus on 'Listen and React' with whoever is reading in for that other part.The most interesting element of acting is what a character is thinking - and their response to the world around them. Casting like to see this.

Don’t participate in anything that is casting today and filming tomorrow eg the eleventh hour shout out project, the ‘exciting’ shared post on social media or the ‘last minute let down’. It should trigger immediate alarm bells. It means that the project is under-planned and that actors and good casting - an essential for filmed drama - are a mere afterthought in a director’s vision of pan shots and close ups.

Top Tip 2

Be Punctual

Arrive on time. Always. People need to know that you’re reliable. Respond to your email.

Top Tip 3

Check Your Lines

So, you’ve been sent a script?

Generally, don’t agree to a project that consists of visual description and no dialogue. It worked for Charlie Chaplin but times have changed. This will be great for the Director of Photography’s showreel - but won’t function that well for you as an actor.

I have come across some projects eg. The Truants (Dir. Aaron Dunleavy) that have been developed from a carefully detailed narrative combined with extensive workshop improvisation and character development work. This is where a director can truly shine - by demonstrating an investment of time; developing a working relationship with actors that enriches the experience and outcome for both parties.

Never forget, a poor script or overly generic narrative should always lead to the actors’ mantra of empowerment “No!No!No!”.

Actors must be their own guard at The Gate of Quality.

You won’t be remembered by how much you’ve done but by what you’ve done.

Top Tip 4

Be Good To People

Be kind and generous of spirit. The chances are that you’ll meet them again - and it could be many years later.

Top Tip 5

Stop Working For Free

Today. Aujourd’hui. Este Dia. I dag. Heute. Cегодня.

In the words of Peter Pan, "Every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies’, there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.”

In the words of Peter Carroll, “Every time someone agrees to a no pay deal, someone else (production crew/writers/directors/producers/make-up/set builders/editors/foley artist/coffee maker, ACTORS etc.,etc.etc.) will be put out of paid employment”.

It can be a tough cycle of addiction to break. Here’s a little advice…

Only agree to work for free/low budget on the following projects:

  • Student projects providing you with well shot and edited showreel material. Ask the director or producer if THEY have a showreel before you agree.

  • Political or social issue/charity projects that you personally would like to get involved in.

  • Showcase / 'time challenged' projects to raise profile.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Remember, the minimum wage act makes it illegal to work for free - unless for a registered charity and with some exception within training and education.

Talent must be respected. The arts - that includes film and theatre makers - are no exception or have any entitlement to special privilege.

Professionally made means professionally paid.

Top Tip 6

Your Screen Credit

Ask what your screen credit will be and get it confirmed in writing. People look at credits. They matter. I recently met up with an actor I know who received no screen credit for a scene involving his essential voice-over. It was an unpaid project. This indicates the filmmaker’s complete lack of basic respect for actors.

Whenever you are offered these types of projects, remember the mantra: “No!No!No! I don’t want your sweets!” And then run like hell.

Top Tip 7

Take Acting Lessons

Work towards mastery. Be open, be willing to learn. Refine. Develop. Always. At Thinking Actors, based at MediaCityUK near Manchester, we offer Acting Classes for emerging through to established talent. We're the real deal.

Visit the theatre. Find out about new writers. Most theatres offer free tickets through involvement with their artists’ engagement projects eg Open Exchange at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Seek out new voices and fresh writing. Manchester and Salford are the zeitgeist. The Kings Arms in Salford, Take Back Theatre and the new home to JB Shorts - 53two Theatre in Manchester - are an absolute must. Now, get off their website and visit them!

Top Tip 8

About Your Showreel…

Occasionally, a casting director may declare that they don’t view show reels. This is nonsense. Secretly or not, they do. Now, what they don’t do is look at the full thing. Has that surprised you? It’s true.

Here are a few tips:

Cut it down. Right down. Dirty low down. No more than two and a half minutes (you can post it directly on to Twitter for autoplay - as opposed to just a Youtube link - if it’s cut to a maximum of two minutes and twenty seconds).

Juxtapose style e.g. Kind and Caring cut against Mean and Bad. Drama is about conflict and contrast. Make sure that your showreel shows it in pace, character and mood.

There is nothing wrong with a well chosen monologue. You just don’t use it all. Ten seconds. It’s great for showing what you can do. That ‘two hander’ in the thriller clip that you’ll cut it against will function to show casting how well you can listen and react.

Don’t add a montage at the start; it’s not the opening titles of a game show. Black caption with name, contact and, if you have it, representation at the start (5 seconds) and repeated at the end.

Keep it on your phone - ready to email the link or show.

Top Tip 9

Know Your Brand

Embrace your casting type. Casting type will change with age. Keep your headshots updated. Open a Twitter account. Don’t tell the world about your drunken night out - or twitter a private conversation that reads nothing to anyone else. Be selective in who you follow. Keep it professional. Get yourself a decent email address: will give the wrong impression.

Top Tip 10


Be gracious. Show gratitude. If you’re made a great offer, say ‘thank you’. It shows that you care about the person that you’re dealing with and place value in the project and you've chosen to get involved with.

…And there we have it!

Peter Carroll

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