My roommate gave me Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, which I read on the train ride to my audition for The Aliens. I read the chapter on icons, which suggests that the more simplified an image is, the more readily someone will identify with it.
I wondered, Isn't acting another form of cartooning? It's true that identification doesn't work the same with abstracted images on a page as when characters are portrayed by human beings before your eyes. Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet is not only unmistakably Hamlet, it's unmistakably Kenneth Branagh.
But the abstraction of human behavior does instill varying levels of sympathy. Characters are written and performed closer to or further from real people in accordance to the objectives of the artists. For the most part acting is the opposite of cartooning - realistic characters who speak and behave as actual human beings are more sympathetic than those who don't.
Of course, a character is only one part of the whole picture of theatre. Some characters are not performed with explicit realism - their lines don't overlap, their actions are calculated - so that an audience can focus on the arc of their actions as a whole. Even though they move like dolls and don't have nervous tics, a less complex character in an intelligently structured story can inspire the same sympathy as a realistic character. Mickey Rourke's Randy Robinson and Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp are characters, but they're also devices for the story. Every character fulfills a different need. The key is context.
Along with the character descriptions for The Aliens, the producers also provided a note before the audition:
Playwright Annie Baker has asked that we look to cast "the least schmacty people you can find, the most painfully naturalistic guys out there... guys who are comfortable sitting very still and not "doing" too much.
The truth is that ever since I started acting I've been looking for a role in which I would be able to be so comfortable that I wouldn't have to put on any airs. I think I'm really good at it, as a matter of fact. This was starting to sound like it was right up my alley.
The problem with auditioning naturalistically is context. Audition monologues by nature are designed to show the biggest variations in energy and emotion in as little time as possible. They are the farthest thing from natural. So when I tried to take the edge off of Andrew's monologue, make it seem less calculated and more spontaneous, I just felt like a really boring guy talking about something really stupid.
I could've been perfect, but I had no material with which to prove it. I'm actually wondering what the hell the guys that finally do get cast will have auditioned with.
Maybe they sat still and didn't do much.
3 headshots remain.