Joe Mantello spoke about auditions with Carol de Giere during a backstage interview at the Gershwin Theatre in New York City. The award-winning director helmed the hit Broadway musical Wicked, the Assassins revival, and many other shows.
Carol de Giere: What’s the biggest mistake people make during auditions?
Joe Mantello: I think the biggest mistake people make in the room is not being relaxed. What I’ve learned being a director, which I didn’t know as an actor, is generally a person walks into the room, and they’re in the zone of what we’re looking for or not. And quite often the best person doesn’t get the part.
I always tell every young actor that I know, try to be a reader. Come in and watch auditions, because when you’re on the other side of it, you see fantastic actors come in and not get the part because they’re two years too old, or they’re too tall, or any number of reasons. I always encourage people to come in with the attitude of: This is what I would do if I played the role. This is what I bring to the table. I hope you like it. If you don’t, see you next time.
Too often I see actors trying to second guess what the team or the writer or the director are looking for, and so they are not really in their skin, they are projecting something else. They need to walk in and go, “Hello, how are you?” And win confidence sort of saying this is my take on the role at this point, do you have any adjustments? And sometimes if I see a person is great and they’re going off in another direction, I’ll give them an adjustment and see if they take it.
Often I want someone who comes into a room who I want to be around for a year or, you know what I mean? It’s all those kinds of things.
Here’s the thing that bugs me sometimes, and I was guilty of it myself as an actor. When an actor leaves, and they come back or have the agent call and go, they really felt they didn’t do a good job and they want to come back. I would say 9 times out of 10 it’s a waste of everybody’s time. Because sometimes the reason you’re not being called back has nothing to do with your audition. Your audition could have been perfectly fine. You just might not be what we’re looking for.
We live in New York City. If I’m looking for a 12-year-old Hispanic kid with braces, and ya da ya da ya da, someone’s going to come in. I think sometimes as actors we’re taught you should be able to do anything. You should be able to be a chameleon and be able to embody anything. And sometimes it’s just, no, the real thing is going to walk into the door. Do you know what I’m saying?
CD: Totally. Not to take it personally.
JM: Don’t take it personally. Come in, say hello, do your thing, walk out, and whatever happens, happens.
Come in, say hello, do your thing, walk out, and whatever happens, happens.
CD: So people can come to be a reader? What does that mean? Can you come to auditions and watch?
JM: No. But usually what happens is that there is usually an actor in the room that reads. So if someone is going to come in and read for Fiyero, right? They’re going to come in to do the lion cub scene, so the actress playing Elphaba is not going to be there, so an actor is hired. All the team is sitting behind the table. Hello, hello, hello, nice to meet you. So now I’m going to read. There’s usually a person sitting to the side who will play the scene with them, that’s hired to do that.
CD: What a great idea. How do you get those jobs?
JM: You have to ask, you have to know a casting director. It’s a very hard thing though. Because I think to be a good reader at an audition can make all the difference. Because you’ve got to do enough to give the person who is auditioning something to work with and yet it’s not your audition. So you have to hold back a little bit. You have to stay on top of it. You know what I mean? You have to really be there.
I’ve seen amazing readers at auditions and I’ve seen people and I’ve said to casting directors, they can’t come back. They are sabotaging people.
Being Compelling and Authentic
CD: One of the criticisms this author [of Auditioning for Musical Theatre: Fred Silver] says is that people will come in and bring a song and they will just stand there, that you have to actually work a song, and act it. Do you feel that, in your first experience with musicals?
JM: I want someone that is going to be compelling. You either are when you walk in the room or you’re not. I’ve seen people just stand there and they’ve blown me away, and I’ve seen people come in and TRY to be interesting and they aren’t.
CD: It’s about being authentic, isn’t it?
JM: That’s it. It’s knowing that you have something to offer. It’s believing in yourself and, I don’t want to say not taking it seriously because of course you have to take it seriously, but generally most people could lighten up.
It’s knowing that you have something to offer. It’s believing in yourself and, I don’t want to say not taking it seriously because of course you have to take it seriously, but generally most people could lighten up.
That having been said, I also feel like it’s my responsibility as the person in the room who is running the audition, to create an atmosphere where an actor feels safe, an actor feels welcome. I remember going into auditions with people who wouldn’t even look at you. They wouldn’t shake your hand. They wouldn’t say hello. You’d just walk in and the casting director would be like, okay, we’re on page ten. And that’s jarring. So I have a responsibility, it’s like being a host. You want someone to come into your house and have a good time and be relaxed and be themselves and show you the best part of themselves.
Read more about Joe Mantello and Wicked in Carol de Giere’s Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked