On Auditioning. Part Two: Psychological Preparation

“Don’t be Nervous”

Actors are always being told: “don’t be nervous.” But how can you not be nervous when you really want the part? A paradox: you have to not want the thing you most want. Impossible. How can you not want it? I can’t play a negative action in my acting work: get him to not hate me; I have to play a positive action: get him to love me. I need to do the same thing when nerves strike at an audition—find a positive relationship to my nervousness.

I know that some actors are able to completely relax in auditions. I’m not one of them. Even after thirty years as a working actor, right before I go in to audition my heart starts fluttering and my palms sweat. I’m here to tell you that you can do your work anyway—and not just in spite of those feelings—if you transform your relationship to your feelings of nervousness, you can even learn to welcome them.

When nerves shoot your body into hyper-drive–shaking hands, knocking knees–let go of the judgment and just think of it as energy. As Shakespeare said: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” You can call the energy nervousness, or you can call it excitement. Your choice. Personally, I’d rather be excited than nervous. Think of your pounding heart, your shortness of breath, as evidence that you are excited about what you are about to do. ‘Hooray! I’m about to go into a room in front of an audience and do what I love the most–act! I’m so excited!’

If the “I’m excited” track isn’t working for you, here is another tool that I have found just as useful–sometimes even more so: find a reason that your character is nervous in the scene. They can even be surprised by the fact that they are nervous. The other day I had an audition where I was doing a tender love scene. Right before I went in, guess what? Yes. Pounding heart, the whole bit. And I wasn’t even sure I wanted the part! But nevertheless, I was nervous. So I decided that my character was so in love with the man in the scene that he made her heart pound—her knees weak. And I also decided that she was surprised at how much he affected her ‘Wow, I can’t believe how in love with this guy I am—he makes me so nervous! My heart is beating so fast! But I have to cover it, can’t let him know that he is making me so giddy. Might scare him…’ My nervousness gave me so much to play that it actually helped me to do a better audition.

So definitely see if there is a way that you can incorporate your nervousness into your script analysis—most characters have something at risk in a scene—they want something: love, power—that they are afraid that they are not going to get. Transform your problem into the characters problem–that way you can (honestly) think ‘oh good’ when you are nervous. The problem with nervousness is not the nervousness itself, but your relationship to it. “Use it” as they say—so not only do you not resist it—but you can even welcome it as part of your preparation. And here is another paradox: to the degree that you are able to accept your nervousness, it falls away….

My wonderful teacher Roy London used to say that you should be worried if you are not nervous—that if you feel nervous it means that your work means something to you—that you care deeply about it.

A final note on auditioning: a brilliant psychiatrist friend of mine, Phil Stutz, who works with a lot of actors, once said: “If an actor comes into my office and tells me that he is perfect in all of his auditions one-hundred percent of the time, I know he is either lying or a bad actor.”

You are human. Just go out there and do your best. And please–enjoy yourself! Sweating palms and all…

All rights reserved. Jamie Rose 2006.