A few months ago, I had the opportunity and privilege of taking casting director David Cady's commercial workshop. I had heard from other actors, whose opinions I respect, that not only was David a great teacher, but an all around charming individual... This made me excited to sign up for his workshop and begin to learn the process of mastering... drum roll please! The Commercial Audition.
Commercials, although they may seem like they are incredibly easy and are foolishly pooh-poohed by some, can actually be tricky little buggers, even to very skilled actors. After all, the copy is only a few sentences, there isn't exactly a character to dig into, and you have to sell a product clearly, but without being sell-y, aggressive or annoying... Producing a successful commercial is actually quite the balancing act and I was excited to get to the bottom of the process.
During the workshop, David said many insightful things, not only about the process of commercial work, but also about the craft of acting and the actors' mindset. In one class, David began to speak about some actors' deadly need to be perfect... I wrote down what he said in regards to this because I felt that it was incredibly helpful insight and advice... A few days later, I emailed David and I said, "Ya know what? I think what you said could be really helpful to A LOT of actors, and I'd love to share it with the acting community on my blog." It was out of that exchange that this interview was born. I hope that you find David's words as helpful to you as I have found them to me... And if you are looking for a great commercial class, I highly recommend his. Enjoy!
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Dani Baum: David, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
David Cady: I grew up in Manhattan, obsessed by old movies and the theater from a young age. My parents were very much into the arts, particularly music, but were not in the profession themselves (although my mother did get a degree in voice from Eastman.) I was introduced to the cultural life of the city early on, and knew when I was 5 or so that I wanted to be an actor.
DB: Ahhh, so you started out as an actor yourself?
DC: I didn't work professionally as a child, but did a great deal of theater all through school. When I was 19, I got my first Paying job as an actor, in the original Broadway production of Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along," directed by Harold Prince. I continued to work for the next five years, in NY and regional theater, until I decided to transition into casting.
DB: What was it that made you decide to get behind the camera?
DC: I did an internship at Playwrights Horizons during college. One of my responsibilities was to read with actors during auditions, and I became intrigued by the process. It was fascinating to see how different actors brought their own sensibilities to the same scene. A play could actually change in meaning and dynamic given which actors were cast, and that was extremely cool to me.
DB: What is it that you love about casting? Any favorite projects that you have worked on or particular experiences you would like to share?
DC: I love the creativity of casting. It's like putting a giant puzzle together without exactly knowing what the end product is supposed to look like. As I said before, the feel of a play -- or musical, or even a commercial -- can pivot dramatically on the casting choices. Good casting choices will be invisible; bad casting choices always stand out. “Dirty Dancing” was an interesting experience; it was my first casting job, and none of us thought it would amount to much! I loved working on two student films for Josh Marston before he hit it big with “Maria Full of Grace,” and I actually had a great time casting a super low-budget horror film. The script was intelligent and the director and producer young, smart and very grateful that our office was on board. We felt passionate about the project, so were able to get some great actors interested.
DB: You are currently a casting director at Donna DeSeta Casting... Can you tell us about your office?
DC: We’re a small office that’s been around for many, many years. We cast everything: theater, ﬁlm, TV and all manner of commercials. I’ve been there 21 years. If it ain’t broken, don’t ﬁx it.
DB: What kind of projects do you work on? Do you solely cast commercials? Or do you cast legit projects as well?
DC: I cast mainly commercials, but have cast many of the “legit” projects that have come through our door.
DB: You mentioned in class that auditioning for a commercial is different than auditioning for ﬁlm or TV... What do you think the main differences are? What is the best way for an actor to approach the commercial audition?
DC: Actors generally have more time to work on theatrical auditions prior to their actual appointments than on commercial auditions. And they will be working on clearly deﬁned and (hopefully) well-written characters with psychological depth. On commercial auditions, when the actor is seeing the script for the ﬁrst time with 10 minutes to spare, he or she needs to make strong choices very quickly. And they’re not choices based on character, but on energy and the “feel” of the 30-second script. Commercial auditions hinge much more on the actor being relaxed, open and just having fun.
DB: If an actor has never been called into Donna DeSeta, can you offer any advice of how they can "break in?
DC: There’s no real way to “break in,” so to speak, beyond meeting one of us around town or starting to work with an agent whose taste I respect.
DB: I recently took your commercial workshop and you mentioned an issue that seems to plague lots of actors, "The need to be perfect." Can you speak a bit about this?
DC: Perfection doesn’t exist, and yet it’s something that some actors are always striving to achieve. Because it’s unachievable, those actors will always be unhappy with their work. In striving for perfection they’re setting themselves up to fail; they’re pulling the rug out from under themselves in the name of “perfection.” Just try to be as good as you can be on any given day, and don’t try to achieve the impossible.
DB: I have also witnessed, from my own experiences as an actor that a lot of actors suffer from self-sabotaging habits. Why do you think this is? What do you think the correlation between actors and self-sabotaging is?
DC: How much time do we have? Actors are, by nature, sensitive people. And I think that through the course of an actor’s career, he or she is always working through his or her own issues. With each new role they’re approaching a part of themselves that needs to be addressed. All human beings self-sabotage; actors are simply more aware of the practice, and luckily have outlets through which they can overcome the tendency.
DB: Also, actors tend to suffer from self-doubt... You said in class, the hair and makeup people don't show up to the job wondering why they were hired... Which is true! So why do you think the actor does?
DC: Actors tend to equate self-worth with how much they’re loved by other people. Much of the time, actors feel better about themselves the more they work. (For the truly screwed up, one thing doesn’t affect the other, unfortunately.) And what actors do is emotional by nature, it would be surprising if they didn’t feel more than the other people on set. But being on set and worrying that They will discover They’ve booked the wrong person is self-sabotaging silliness. No one put a gun to Their heads to hire you. You earned it, so own it.
DB: What are some steps that actors can take to begin to move away from these behaviors and leave these plaguing issues behind for good?
DC: As I said before, I think that can be a career-long process. One doesn’t just decide one day to be a more emotionally healthy person. And again, this is human behavior, not just actor behavior. Self-worth -- or lack of it -- is tied to many personal issues and experience. But here are some thoughts, all of which are related:
A) Be more truly collaborative. Listen, participate, let other people in. Defensive actors put up... well, defenses. Walls and barriers can get in the way of you hearing criticism as constructive, useful information that can be processed and help you be a better actor. And negative, destructive criticism (and behavior) is always about the person giving it, not about you as the recipient. Assholes are assholes generally, to everyone, not just you speciﬁcally.
B) We all want to be loved. But love yourself ﬁrst and we will follow. I really feel that we as human beings deﬁne ourselves for others. If you go into an audition thinking, “I don’t really deserve this job or aren’t talented enough for it”...well, we can only take your word for it. And we have no interest in hiring people who will need a lot of emotional coddling on set and/or suck the energy out of the day. We’re hiring you for a job, there’s work to be done.
C) Don’t go around taking on other people’s energies. See the comment about assholes above.
D) This is an important one: You must give yourself permission to do this. Without reservation or listening to that voice in your head (very often a parent’s) that says “Be careful, you might get hurt” or “How do you know you’re good enough?” Guess what, you don’t. But you can’t be in this business one foot in, one foot out. This is a career choice, not something to dabble in. If you’re dabbling, it’s a hobby. If it’s a hobby, you won’t make a living. And you’re not going to be able to compete with the people who are crazy ambitious. In fact, you’ll be chewed up and spat out. So make some choices about whether this is truly what you must do with your life. A wait-and-see attitude is the surest guarantee that you will not have a career as a professional actor. Bette Davis famously said, “Old age is not for sissies.” Neither is this business.
DB: If you had one overall piece of advice that you would say to actors, what would that be?
DC: Read answers A through D nightly! :)
DB: Tell us a bit about your commercial class... What do you cover? Who is it for? When is the next one? How can we sign up?
DC: For info on the class, I invite everyone go to davidcady.com. There you’ll ﬁnd more information about myself as well as the class syllabus. And feel free to e-mail with any questions at email@example.com.
Thanks so much for the forum, it’s greatly appreciated. Break a leg, everyone.
DB: Thank you so much, David!