Costumes in the Audition: To Dress, or Not To Dress?

As a professional actor, there are certain rules that one must follow, such as bring your headshot and resume with you to every audition, arrive early, etc. There are some rules an actor may not be sure of, however, such as to dress in costume or not to dress in costume, and how far is too far? I’m going to tell you a story about one actor who took the costume idea to a whole new level.

In 2010, I was interning for a well-known casting director, and had earned the privilege of reading with actors in their auditions. We were casting a blockbuster film with very high-profile filmmakers that called for Native American actors. This particular role was for a Native American tribesman during the cowboy era circa 1865. To start off, the actor in question showed up twenty minutes late to his audition, forgot his headshot, and did not have his lines prepared. Needless to say, he already has a few strikes against him. He walked into the office wearing a heavy wool coat (in 75 degree weather) and was (understandably) sweating profusely. When we called him into the audition room, he began asking a slew of questions to the casting director before she could even open her mouth. Once the Q&A session was over, we prompted him to slate and begin. He swiftly unbuttoned his coat to reveal what he considered an “appropriate” tribal costume. He exposed nothing more than a necklace made of animal bones down his bare chest and a flap of leather material, or loincloth, over his front and back tied around his waist with string. Nothing more. Needless to say, the casting director, her associate, and I were stunned to silence for an uncomfortable moment before we urged him to proceed.

He slated and jumped right into the scene, in which I had the unlucky task of reading. As the three of us tried to suppress awkward laughs, the actor gave an overly dramatic performance of half the scene before cutting off mid-way and begging to start over. As he began again and I read my lines, he aggressively got in my face and continued to invade my personal space throughout the duration of the entire scene. (Need I remind you he was a 40-something year old sweaty man wearing nothing but a flap of leather over the front of his waist?) As the CD and associate were trying to contain their laughter and discomfort, I was simply trying not to be spit on. When he finished the scene, he asked for another go, to which the casting director assured him we had seen enough. The associate swiftly ushered him out the door. After we all burst out laughing, the CD asked me if I was ok and apologized for having to withstand such an uncomfortable and unusual audition. She told me that unfortunately, some actors come in to an audition fully decked out in costume and are unprofessional. After I uploaded his audition to our account on Cast It, we never looked at it or called him in again. While I could point out many of his faults as examples of what NOT to do in an audition, the one overwhelmingly obvious wrongdoing was his costume.

It can be confusing and stressful for actors to know what to wear to an audition. When going to an audition for a role that is more specialized, always check with your agent before showing up in a full costume. Dressing in a way that hints at the character is recommended as the casting director has to see you as said character, but make sure you are not crossing the line to ridiculous and amateur. For instance, the man who showed up in full tribal garb could have saved himself some serious humiliation, as well as perspiration, if he has worn a simple shirt and jeans. He could have even worn the bone necklace over his shirt and we would have loved it. Actors also come in wearing clothing that has nothing to do with their character. That is another confusing aspect for casting directors. Why would you not take advantage of wearing appropriate clothes? It only helps you get into character and helps the CD picture you as that character. (Which leads to you scoring the role!) Make sure there is still a hint of you in there too. We want to get to know you as an actor and as a person as well as see you in character. If a casting director wants to see you in a full costume, they will usually note that in the breakdown or when they confirm with your agent. If, for example, you are auditioning for Big Bird, you will be asked to bring or put on a costume so we can see how you move and act in it. If you are reading for Hot Bikini Girl #1, they will specify in the breakdown to wear a bikini to the audition and that you will have to show your body in said bikini. You don’t want to show up looking like you just hopped off the bus to Hollywood and don’t know the basics about audition etiquette. What it comes down to is this: If you are reading for a biker chick, do not show up in a sundress. But do not come rolling through the door riding your Harley either. When in doubt, ask.

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lauren began her casting career as an intern for Sarah Finn Casting on films such as Captain America, Cowboys & Aliens, TRON: Legacy, and Faster. After her six month internship, she returned for her final semester of college, where she went on to become a casting director in Wilmington, NC on various independent films. She also spent over a year as a casting assistant with an independent casting director and acted in multiple films. She is currently working with Marcia Ross & Erin Toner Casting and also works as an actor and in production.

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