Getting the Call
It started, as it always does, with a phone call.
I was driving down Sunset, it was a beautiful day in Hollywood; and I was feeling good. I had been in Los Angeles for five years, after having moved from Minneapolis. I had some great success back home and was expecting to jump right into the business when I go out here, but I was in for a bit of a surprise. I booked a guest star after only a couple of months, but then things really dried out. I spent the next five years trying to figure out what the hell was wrong and why I wasn’t getting any work.
But after flicking the chip off of my shoulder, getting my ass back into class, and spending roughly two years just working on getting my film and television skills into top shape, I was BACK. I had a new manager and agent, I had started going out more, and, more important, I had begun to book again. I was finally starting to get some discernable results in this career and I was happy.
I looked down and noticed the caller was my manager Kurt. I answered of course.
“Hey buddy. You have another audition tomorrow for Las Vegas,” he said.
This was probably the fifth or sixth time that I had gone in for them in as many weeks. I know, all the actors out there reading this are probably sarcastically thinking, “Wow, I feel so bad for you and all your auditions.” On the other hand, however, I just want to get a job already.
“You’re going in as a race car driver.”
Wait a minute, what?!? What the hell did I know about driving a racing anything? Sure, I obviously know how to drive, but I don’t even watch NASCAR on TV, let alone have any experience actually racing something. How the hell am I going to pull off a race car driver? But, our job as actors is to go in and do the best job we can, even if we don’t think we’re right. Even if we know nothing about what it is that we’re going in for.
So I replied, “Sounds good. Can’t wait.”
I mean, what else could I say?
I got home, read the sides and they were great. Not only did it not have any specific “racing” jargon that I needed to learn or know, but this particular character had purchased a car that had been stolen from series regular Josh Duhamel. On top of that, he tricked it out by putting in a nitrous system, and in the ensuing race proceeds to blow it up. After all of that, when Josh tries to claim the destroyed car, I give him all sorts of attitude.
Needless to say, this guy was not a great person; actually he seemed like kind of a dick. Everybody has a type, and typically I play a lot of cops, military and firemen, but the other roles I mainly get called in for are, well, jerks. Whether they are slimy, conceited, mean, nasty, stupid or all of the above, I seem to get them a lot. And what’s more, I LOVE playing them. I mean, when are you going to get to say or do all these nasty things in real life?
So, after making some choices and working on the scene with my wife, I was starting to feel good. I’m a huge believer in memorizing all the lines; after all, we’re trying to create reality and in reality we don’t carry around all the things we are going to say that day. But at the same time, we want to stay as loose and free-wheeling as possible. That way it’s still fresh and alive. After working it just enough, I felt I was in that “sweet spot.”
I was ready.
But before I headed off to the audition, I needed one more thing. I’m always looking for that special something that’s going to make me stand out.
At an audition, everyone is going to basically look like me and dress like me, and we’re all going to be saying the same thing. So why would the powers-that-be notice and cast me over someone else? I’ve got to do something that commands their attention. Something that makes them sit up and notice when I come on the screen, because I’m not a model who has a contract with Ford; I’m just a guy from Minnesota. I’m an actor.
I need that extra little thing. Now this could be anything … a quick gesture, a personal secret for my character, whatever. But for this audition, I had a GREAT idea.
At the time, I was riding an old BMW motorcycle, and I had bought a vintage jacket to go with it. And even I have to admit … I look like a badass when I wear it. So at the beginning of the audition, I decided to ever so coolly and confidently throw the jacket on as I began my dialogue. I was using it to create the feel of this race car driver and his attitude, while at the same time give the director something interesting to look at. It was small, but it was different. And I bet no one else was going to do anything like it, and that would make me stand out.
I had been in this office a few times before, and because they had seen me a number of times, they trusted me enough to call me directly in front of the producers. That is a great vote of confidence; but it also poses some challenges.
In a regular pre-read audition, you get the opportunity to perform in front of the casting director, get some inside information about the scene and characters, and perhaps make some adjustments before you have to perform for the “big guys.” When you go straight to producers, you don’t get any of that help, and so you feel like you’re going in blind sometimes.
Add to that some “risky” choices that I made in the audition, and there was a chance that I could fall flat on my face. But that’s the risk you have to take.
Actor Edward Norton once said, “You have to embrace the inevitable sense of fear. None of those daydreams where you imagine yourself in a movie of your own success, just happen without that period of risk and terror.” And if I could have half … even a quarter of the career he’s had, I’d be in pretty good shape.
So off we go…
I got to the audition, which was at the studio, and for some reason they had us wait in a hallway, but whatever. I sat and waited. After some time, the associate casting director brought me into a large conference room. Only a couple feet away was the head casting director, and then all the way on the other end of the conference room table was the director and producer. I greeted everyone and chatted for a half second about whatever, no one really cares or listens really for that matter, so I just keep it light. After the introduction and pleasantries, we got down to business.
The scene went well. I felt good. There were no hiccups or mistakes … great, but ultimately, the question for me is not, “Did I feel good?” because who cares if I feel good. It’s the people over there that matter. Were they influenced, did they feel something?
Nor is the question ever, “Did I get the job?” There could be a million reasons why I didn’t get that particular job, and most of them have nothing to do with me. I’m too short (or tall), I’m brown-haired. Who knows?
I always ask myself “Did I do what I wanted to do?” If the answer is “yes”, then I can go home happy; but if my answer is “no”, then I have to look at what I could do next time to make sure that I have done my job to the best of my abilities.
You can’t judge yourself on whether you got the job or not, there’s already enough negativity in an actor’s life. You don’t need to bring even more into it. As an actor, it can be hard to invest all this time and energy and then let that audition go. If you think about it, ideally you’re going to have hundreds, if not thousands, of auditions over the course of your lifetime, so why stress about just one?
So, I did what I wanted to do and went home happy. I tried to put it out of my mind.
I always assume that I don’t get a job, that way, I don’t stress and hope, and put all that pressure (and negativity) on myself. And when, and if, they call back, it’s a pleasant surprise.
Later that night, they called me with the job. Icing on the cake.
Finally, the day of my “Las Vegas” shoot arrives. We were shooting on the drag strip in Irwindale (Calif.), so I drive way out there, and no offense this is literally the middle of nowhere.
Honestly, this is coming from a guy who was born and raised in a town of only 500, but this place? We’re talking brown and gray industrial buildings and this track … middle of nowhere.
But I have to admit; I was really excited. Hey, any day that you spend on set is a treat. I’ve stood outside all night in the freezing cold, I’ve been stuck on bleachers for 23 hours (my very first gig), and I’ve certainly spent a lot of time just sitting around reading or waiting, but everyday that you get to do what you really love doing, well that’s a good day.
Not only was I going to be doing what I love, I was going to be paid to do it, and at some point over the course of that day, I was supposed to race a car down a track and then blow it up. All I could hope for was that I would at least get to be around the explosion, maybe even drive.
What? Even though I’m in my thirties, I’m still a little boy inside.
I found my trailer, just the typical closet on wheels, and changed into my costume. Now I was hoping that they would give me something that had a little flair. You know, this guy is supposed to be some kind of badass, or at least he thinks he is. But alas, I’m wearing a orange shirt and a jeans jacket. I kept thinking, “Come on! I might not get a chance like this again! You have to put me in something cool!” Maybe next time.
I made sure I signed all the contracts and paperwork, then went through hair and makeup. Fingers crossed I get a free haircut. No such luck. I’m striking out. At least I should be able to get behind the wheel of this car and drive really fast, even just for a minute. Let’s do this!
And that’s when the waiting started. If you’ve ever been on set, you know the meaning of the phrase “Hurry up and wait.” Your call time is 6 a.m., and you arrive almost jumping out of your skin. By 7 a.m. you’ve run the costume/hair/makeup gauntlet and you’re ready to rock. But then you got nothing to do but hang out until about two in the afternoon.
It’s a good problem to have, I’m working, I’m getting paid, free eats, etc. I know, I know, but you’ve got to admit, it still can be a drag.
So, I hung out. Worked on my lines some more, chatted with the AD, with the background performers, hit up crafty, the usual. Until my time came; they were finally going to race this car down the strip.
Now, this was a pretty amazing looking car. Like any other show where impossibly beautiful people get to do and say impossibly beautiful things, Josh Duhamel’s car was beautiful: a 1965 yellow and black Mustang. This thing was badass, and I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel.
Walking over to it, I was salivating to put the pedal to the metal. And then it happens … I was introduced to my stunt double. He was going to do all the driving, He was going to be the one who ran away as the car blew up. He was going to get to have all the fun while I watched from the really, really safe distance of, like 75 yards.
This is not shaping up to be my day.
So they sped the car down the track a few times, shot the stunt guy running out of the car, then set up a fake car that looked similar, filled it with flash powder and, literally, blew the top off of it. And I was right there … watching the action from the stands far, far away.
You realize in those moments, how much trickery is used in TV shows. Yeah sure, every once in a while, they actually blow something up or drive a car off a cliff, or whatever, but I’ve been blown up now, and shot several times, and it’s almost always “movie magic.” The audience does the work for you; just give them the show.
So after all the stunts were done, they were now ready for my part. I walked up to where the scene was about to take place, guided by the AD, and met the director.
I was lucky, that week the director was also the creator and executive producer of the show, Gary Scott Thompson. All this time and I still remember his name. Why? One, he was a nice guy. And two, you never know when you might audition for this guy again, and it will pay off to remember his name when you see him again, even if he doesn’t remember yours. So make it your job to remember their names.
Very graciously, Gary came up to me and said something like, “Hey, thanks for coming.” Like I was going to refuse, right?
We shot the scene probably about 15 times, maybe 20 times, getting all of the angles we needed. And to be honest, we shot almost exactly what I did for the audition. Almost exactly. Down to the number of steps I took, the looks to the paramedics, everything.
This is exactly what you want to have happen from your audition to filming. As an actor, I strive to create a complete scene in all of my auditions. I want directors to say when they are watching my performance, “I have to hire that person. He’ll make my day easier.” Remember, everyone is inherently lazy and directors are no different.
At one point Josh - who by the way, was also a very nice guy, and I hate when really good looking people are nice, because it’s harder to secretly hate them - was having some trouble getting a particular moment at the end. Over the course of the scene, we get into a bit of an argument, and I challenge him. Even though his car has been stolen and then he has to watch me blow it up in a drag race, I tell him that he can’t have the car back because, “I paid for it.” Josh was supposed to immediately come at me like he was going to break me in two, and I back down right away.
But for some reason, it just wasn’t hitting right for him. So Gary took him aside and they talked for 15 minutes, just walking back and forth while they discussed what Josh’s motivation was or what he should be thinking, or whatever. Then, they came back everything was fine and we continued shooting.
Soon enough, I was wrapped. I got the awkward applause moment that they usually give to the day player who’s wrapped for the day, and then Gary came by to say the only other thing he said to me all day, “Thanks. Have a nice day.”
And that day was one of the best days that I have ever had as an actor. I had done my job, I was confident that the director got what he wanted, and now I could go home happy.
Because when you’re just coming in as a day player, directors don’t want to have to worry about you, they don’t want to fix you, they just want you to do your job and go home.
As actors we forget that it’s not about us, it’s about the “machine.”
My old mentor, Wendy Davis (star of “Army Wives”) talked about how the producer and the director are trying to build a machine and they need a cog to make that machine work properly. They don’t want to have to fiddle with the cog. They don’t want to have to jam it in there. They don’t want a cog that only works sometimes. They just want a cog that fits and does its job, so they can go to work. Those of us coming in as hired guns, whether it’s as a co-star or guest star, we need to be the cog that works perfectly without a thought or worry every time.
If you give the director and producer a consistent, quality performance, they’ll know that they can trust you, you are professional, and they will be happy to sit back and watch you do your job (and theirs sometimes). Next time you go out there, make it your goal to have the director say, “I have to hire that person. He has done all my work for me.”
If you do that, I guarantee you’ll be more effective in your auditions, which means that you’ll get called back more, then obviously work more, and most importantly, no matter what they throw at you, you’ll be more confident and in control when you’re on set.
No go out there and go get ‘em.
About Jamison Haase
Jamison Haase attended the University of Minnesota Duluth, received a BFA in Theatre with an acting emphasis and moved to Minneapolis shortly after graduating. After joining SAG and AFTRA the same day, he struck out for Los Angeles, in January of 2000. L.A. On-Camera Training Center was founded by Jamison Haase in 2007 with the intention of giving actors real, tried and true camera technique and audition skills. Using techniques developed by himself, other working actors, directors and producers LAOTC teaches a very simple hands-on approach to creating amazing on-camera performances, whether in the audition room or on set. Jamison has been seen in several different films and television shows, most notably 24, Mad Men, Prison Break, True Blood, Without a Trace, Heroesand Cold Case as well as the features Crossing Over starring Harrison Ford and Murder 101 which premiered last year at Cannes. Jamison strives through his teaching and philosophy to take the fear and mystery out of working in front of the camera and putting the actor back in their rightful place in the process of filmmaking, as a Creator.
Jamison’s Stage 32 profile can be found here.
You can find out more about L.A. On-Camera training Center, it’s classes and Jamison by checking out the L.A. On-Camera Training Center website, or by calling (323) 687-6054.
Jamison is also available to answer any questions you have about the audition process, the craft or anything acting or business related. Just leave a comment below.
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