Film & TV

Samuel L. Jackson’s Top 10 Audition Tips for Aspiring Actors

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 17, 2019 • 6 min read

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Samuel L. Jackson Teaches Acting

Samuel L. Jackson is arguably one of Hollywood’s biggest actors. Jackson first achieved breakout success when he played Gator in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, then went on to earn an Oscar nomination for his performance as Jules in Pulp Fiction. Since then, Jackson has acted in more than 100 films, playing such iconic characters as Mace Windu in Star Wars and Nick Fury in Marvel’s The Avengers.

Even though Jackson may not have to go out and audition anymore, the wisdom he gained from years of pounding the pavement for opportunities is timeless. Below, he shares what he knows about the best ways to act when attending open calls, casting calls, and closed auditions. This advice applies to aspiring actors for theater, musical theater, and Broadway, as well as actors auditioning for roles in film and TV shows.

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Samuel L. Jackson’s 6 Essential Rules for Auditioning

When it comes to auditions, a good first impression is key. Remember to pay attention to eye contact, body language, and the way you hold yourself. After that, Jackson’s rules for auditioning are simple.

  1. Know your lines and don’t change them.
  2. Plumb your emotional depths and have an arc—know where you’re starting, where you came from, and where you’ll end up.
  3. Enunciate.
  4. Resist the urge to improvise, unless you’re asked to.
  5. Don’t show up in costume, but do wear something that suggests the character you’re playing.
  6. Always step into an audition with a plan of who you want your character to be. You want to take everyone in the room with you on your journey through the scene.

The most important objective is to make a lasting impression so that the casting director wants to follow your character out of the room. Remember that you’re an actor and this is a “look-at-me” business, so make them look at you—keeping in mind, of course, the given circumstances of the scene and character. Be your best self.

Remember that going to auditions is the first step in becoming an actor. Browse local theatre companies’ websites and see if any have postings for upcoming auditions. Remember: it’s okay if you don’t get the part—it’s the experience that matters.

Sometimes the outcome of an audition is not related to your performance. You might not have “the look” that the director wants. It’s a tough truth, but accept that you’re not meant for every job. Try not to dwell on the parts you don’t get.

Samuel L. Jackson’s Top 10 Audition Tips for Aspiring Actors

Jackson advises actors not to go into an audition room looking for a job. “Go in there to present your best self to those people, because if that job is yours, you’ll get it. Go in there thinking: ‘Wow, another great day to have an acting opportunity. I'm going to act for some people today— not just in a mirror or in a class. I'm actually going to act for some people who can do me some good.’”

With that in mind, Jackson offers the following audition tips for aspiring actors.

  1. Always be off-book. “It's conscientious, it's professional. It proves that you can learn the lines. If you can't learn them to try and get the job, why would they think you're going to learn them once you've got it? So prove to them that you can learn them by learning them. Be there. Be off-book.”
  2. Bring depth and range. “Have an emotional depth and range when you go into the room. Even if you're supposed to be loud, angry, and abusive—there are depths, and there are dimensions, and there are channels that you can use to make that interesting and something more than just outright shouting and aggression. Figure that out.”
  3. Have an emotional arc. “Have a place to begin. Have a place to be in the center that crystallizes it, and have a good ending for it. Know how you wanna get there. Make them want to leave that room with you because when you finish, you're going somewhere. And they might want to go with you because you're that interesting.”
  4. Audition for the format. “The rule of thumb in the theater is that you talk to the person in the last row. But you still have to be able to talk to that person in the last row with emotional dynamics, up, down, middle, all those things. In movies, there is such a thing as being too quiet. I work with actors that I've had to lean over and try and hear what they're saying or wait for them to stop moving their lips so I know it's time for me to speak. Don’t be that actor.”
  5. Enunciate. “Always let them hear what you're saying. Enunciate. Don't mumble. There's some actors who've made a career out of mumbling. If you're in an audition situation, you won't be one of them. So always enunciate.”
  6. Take direction. “Be polite and listen. If you're given a direction, try and take it even if you think it's wrong. Try and take it, and do it. Do it, and have it make sense. Don't be surprised in the moment. So before you go in that room, think about the different ways that you can do it. Try all those ways, either out loud if that's how you do it, or in your head, or in a mirror or wherever you do it, so that when they do ask you, you've thought of that possibility, and you can take their direction and incorporate it into what you've already done, or what you know to do, or what you wanna do. Don't say to them, ‘I don't think my character would do that.’ Because they're right. You know, you're right. Your character won't do that, because you won't be hired, and you won't be gettin' that check. So don't do that. Don't ever say, ‘I don't think I'd do that,’ because you won't be doing it. Not a big deal.”
  7. Don’t show up in costume. “I am not an advocate for putting on a costume to go to an audition. They have a costumer. That person will put you in the clothes if you get the job. Don't try and prove to them you understand what they have on the page. Because I'm already dressed for it. They're not gonna ask you to wear your clothes.”
  8. Make a lasting impression. “When you go in a room, what you wanna do is make a lasting impression. So no matter what you do, when you go in there, you go in there, and you go in there with a vengeance—artistically.”
  9. Don’t improvise unless asked. “It's only okay to improvise in an audition if you're asked to. There's no need for you to change somebody's writing. They gave you what they wanted to hear. Your opportunity to improvise or fix something is after you get the job. But don't try and surprise people by coming in there proving to them that ‘Not only am I a great actor, I'm a brilliant writer. I changed your sh*t to make it better.”
  10. Be on time. Be early. This one speaks for itself. Being early proves you are a reliable person who can be counted on and trusted. No one wants to hire an actor who will waste people’s time on set.
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Want to Become a Better Actor?

Whether you’re treading the boards or prepping for your next big role in a film or television series, making it in show business requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of patience. No actor knows this better than the legendary Samuel L. Jackson, who has acted in over 100 films to date, from Pulp Fiction to The Avengers. In Samuel L. Jackson’s MasterClass on acting, the Oscar-nominee shares how he creates memorable characters, powerful performances, and a long-lasting career.

Want to become a better actor? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master actors, including Samuel L. Jackson, Helen Mirren, Natalie Portman, and more.

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