It takes more than simply memorization of a script and an hour in hair and make-up to prepare for a film or TV role. Many actors need to consider accent dialects or detailed character traits in order to convincingly play the part.

“I always tell actors when they go in for an audition: Don’t be afraid to do what your instincts tell you. You may not get the part, but people will take notice.” – Robert De Niro

Leo Oliva

When you first receive an audition, do you instantly imagine yourself in that role?

No, actually. What we normally get first and foremost is a character breakdown. A quick blurb that’s meant to help us get an essence of who this person is. If you have great casting directors, writers, and representatives, reading this normally inspires a feeling of recognition between you and the role they want you to play. It’s then all about mining the links between me and this person. Still, my first read of the sides (scenes plucked from the script for us to audition with) and the entire script if available, is one of pleasure and discovery. I read through it as if I was an audience member watching and feeling every bit in an attempt to find all moments and turns the writers were envisioning, and every opportunity to breathe life into this person for them.

Acting is a process I see as an act of service to all the parties involved. From the casting directors to the producers, writers, directors, and the piece itself. My job is to serve all of them by bringing an honest life to the words written on the page so that ultimately, the audience (who we all work for) can relate and connect on a deeper emotional level and go for the ride they bought a ticket for.

Do you ever instinctively change the script and add your own spin?

Instincts are everything. But making changes is totally dependent on the project. Some projects come from directors and writers who are very deliberate and methodical about their word choices, and others are more loosely hoping to find improvisation. While shooting, this is something to be felt out between the actor and the team he/she is working with.

In auditions, I’ve been lucky enough to have honed my craft and achieved a level where the work I am receiving is in line with my instincts the majority of the time. A lot of the moments in a script are there as guide posts for us to follow and they were meticulously plotted out. It’s our job to find our path through the trail markers provided. Still, an open dialogue between creatives always has a potential for something amazing.

How do you emotionally breakdown the character?

Wow….I think it’s better said that I allow a role to emotionally break me down. Most actors, most people, have a masochistic side built in. We look for the things that hurt us to either avoid them or confront them. Great projects demand we confront them and great actors confront them openly and honestly. As I read a script, I allow the emotional moments to impact me, and I find where that lives within myself to then apply that within the given circumstances. It takes a lot of self-discovery and work to find moments of true vulnerability and to then be able to openly expose and embrace them while doing the work.

Do you focus on the characters nuances or accent first?

It’s an intricate dance as I work them simultaneously, but separately. I work accents away from the lines so that they become natural within me. At the same time, I work on the role and its truths within the moments provided. I marry those two once I have them both locked in on separate planes.

Do you choose your audition outfit to suit the role?

If I can accomplish a feel or an essence with an outfit I have, I will do it. There’s something about dressing up in a pair of board shorts to play a lawyer in a high stakes legal battle; it just doesn’t work. But I wouldn’t go full clown make-up if I had a role to play a clown. It’s about making it as truthful as possible for the person you are playing. This will ultimately make it more believable for the person watching your audition.

Have you ever turned down an audition because you couldn’t relate to the character?

Yes. Multiple times. We can leave it at that.

In the audition room, what do you typically do?

At the moment we are not in-person auditioning. We’ve been sent back home into our own worlds to put ourselves on tape and send in the best version of what we have been able to create. Being with the casting directors, producers, writers, and directors in the room is what I miss most. I miss the collaboration that can happen so early on in the creative process.

How are you finding the self-tape process?

I have been doing self-tapes for quite a while and I see the pros and cons to it. I like being able to work on getting the best take possible to the casting directors, but I also miss interacting and collaborating in the room with them and the amazing feedback and redirects they would offer, especially when they had a deeper understanding of the project. Before we went on full lockdown, I had built some great relationships by being in the room with many of them and showing my range and flexibility as well as my personality. Now, I feel like I’ve lost the ability to be the real me in front of them.

Do you submit multiple takes to casting directors?

The great casting directors know how to pick scenes that will allow us to show a range of emotions when the role calls for it. I tend to send the one take that represents me in the role in that scene, the best.

Do you ever wonder about an audition after its done?

I’m learning to be better with this, but the answer is yes. I am a person who works best with direct and immediate feedback. Auditions, especially self-tapes, don’t normally provide that. I wish I could receive feedback on every audition, but we normally only hear back from the ones we’ve booked. In life, we normally learn more from the times we fail. I feel like it’s a missed opportunity to not give us input. If you truly liked our work, let us know. But if there is something we need to improve on, let us know even quicker.

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