Each month Joe McGann explores the ups and downs of an actor’s life…
Actors and the self-tape
It’s become a part of every professional actor’s life. The call from the agent comes; a casting director would like to look at you for a part, but they’ve asked you to self-tape the audition for them, is that ok?
I have to admit that my heart always sinks a little. I’ve sent off at least 15 of these and have yet to get the job. I have tended til now to complete and send these tapes under sufferance, disdainfully even, so as not to get my own hopes up unrealistically. The constant existential tussle of the jobbing actor; the thin line between confidence and self-delusion.
The call came 10 days ago, I was on holiday in Goa. Could I please self-tape the scene that they had emailed and get it back in 24 hours? It was for a part in a US TV mini-series about the men behind Harley-Davidson; a good gig, in other words, so I resolved to give the self-tape thing another go, and to do it in good heart.
I had three A4 sides of a scene to learn, with three other characters involved, so I knew I’d need a friend to read in from behind the lens. I would also need to hint at the character and the setting (1920s America) so I needed to find something in my suitcase.
I plumped for a blue chambray shirt and a vintage Paisley bow-tie, with a linen jacket. I would shoot the scene in medium close-up anyway, so my beach shorts and flip flops would be out of shot. The daytime temperature was reaching 35, so I’d shoot it in the cool of the morning, and the light at about 8.30am on my balcony would be perfect, a nice bounce off the river too, to light me kindly.
Next morning, after yoga and breakfast, I arranged the chair and asked my friend Mollie to sit in it while I set up the camera and framed the shot. This involved me fiddling about arranging books, cushions and various toilet bag items in such a way as to keep my iPhone steady so that I could shoot the scene. After a few minutes and some swearing, we were set. Action.
We did three takes and I picked what I thought was the best. This is tough in itself but I plumped for the one in which I thought I looked least needy, and sent it from my phone to my agent in London. Went off to the beach and put it out of my mind. Que sera sera, as Doris wisely sang.
I arrived back my agent emailed informing me that I’d been offered the job. Two weeks filming in Romania in March. Well, woo-hoo! I’d broken my self-tape duck. I was glad, but also curious. What made the difference? Was it my delivery, my accent, the cleft in my chin? Was it the beautiful setting, or respect for my 35 years of experience? What had I learned?
Ultimately I reckoned it was the Paisley bow tie. There’s something about a man who ties his own bow tie, I like to think. A solidity; a trustworthiness alongside cool savoir-faire that harks back to the great days of Hollywood. Perhaps, anyway. It’s just as likely to have been that I was cheaper than others considered for the role. But I shall take it as a sign to maintain both a positive professional outlook, and my habit of shopping for quality vintage gentlemen’s accessories.
Hi diddle dee-dee…