Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome to my Blog!
I created it so that I could share acting tips with you; things I've learned over the years, working on set, teaching classes, coaching actors, auditioning actors, etc.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cold Readings

OK, I’ll try not to rant but this is one of my biggest pet peeves!

It's the one part of the business that, after 30+ years as a working professional, I still don't really understand. Maybe you can help me with it. 

First, let’s define the term. A “cold-reading” is when you are asked to read out-loud from a script and you have not had a chance to prepare, so that someone can judge your ability to act. So, for example, you’re auditioning for a movie or TV show and the sides are not available in advance, on Showfax. At the audition, the casting director hands you a scene and says, “Here, try this”.  You ask for a few minutes to prepare (15 minutes of prep and I would call it a "warm-read") and they say "No, we need you to read it now."  Ok, now for the million-dollar question: 

Why, on God’s green earth, would a casting director need to see you do a cold-reading? Go ahead and come up with a reason, I’ll wait…
Come up with anything? NO! Because there IS no reason that a casting director (or a director or an acting teacher) needs to see you do a cold-reading (unless the job actually requires this skill, such as a newscaster reading from a tele-prompter). When casting people use cold-readings to audition actors, it tends to be because either:
  1. They are too lazy to print up sides and make them available before the audition.
  2. They are new to casting, have heard the term “cold-reading”, thought it sounded "cool", and they want to look like they know what they are doing.
  3. They are totally ignorant.

Think about it. When they audition with cold-readings they are going to find the best reader not necessarily the best actor. If an actor has a vision problem or they happen to be dyslexic or they just aren’t very good at reading out-loud, they won’t get the part – even if they are, by far, the best actor! How crazy is that?! What does the act of reading out-loud really have to do with acting?!

They won’t be reading on the day they shoot, so what difference does their ability to read out-loud really make?! Am I all alone in not understanding this?!

Sorry, didn't mean to shout. (Okay, yes I did!)
I remember once, while I was directing a show, we were holding auditions for the male lead and this actor came in to read and he was absolutely terrible. In fact, he was so bad that it was obvious he couldn’t read beyond about a third grade level. It turns out that he happened to be dyslexic.  He'd just heard about the audition that morning and decided to try to crash it (he succeeded but he only got the sides a few minutes before he entered the room). Now honestly, if he had read a little better I would have sent him on his way. But, because he read soooo badly, I asked him to learn two scenes and come to the call-backs. Everyone in the room (producers, casting director, etc.) thought I was crazy. Was I deaf? He was terrible! Well, I’m sure you know how this story ends. He not only got the job (after the call-backs, he was everyone's first-choice), but to this day, he’s one of the better actors I have worked with. Although I did tell him to be sure he NEVER cold-reads for anyone again!

Now, I know there are still casting directors and beginning directors that haven’t figured this out yet and the bottom line is – THEY are the ones doing the hiring, not me. So I'm including some tips that I use to help actors improve their cold-reading skills. I still recommend that when you are asked to do a cold-reading for a role, you ask the person for a few minutes to look it over – suggest that perhaps they can see someone else in the meantime so they don’t fall behind… If they won’t give it to you, (usually they will - good casting directors want you to be good) and you aren’t very good at reading out loud, I would say something like, "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were looking for a reader, please call me if you decide you want an actor. "  And before you write me to protest; I know that won't help you get cast - but neither will giving a bad audition!

Cold-Reading Tips
Ok, so after reading this far, you might be asking yourself why you should bother with these tips. The fact is, some casting directors and agents still use cold-readings. Right or wrong, doing well at cold reading can still get you the job. So:

1. This one is rather simple. First, shoot some video of yourself doing a cold reading. Then, analyze the mechanics – Look for these common mistakes: burying your head in the script, waving the script around, shaking the script (nerves), rushing, rocking back and forth, leaning out of frame, holding script in frame or to one side, looking at the script while you're speaking…etc. Most of these are easy to identify and to fix. 

2. Here's another one: You should never speak to the page.

If your mouth is moving your eyes should be on the other person. Always look at the line(s) and then look up at the other actor (or casting director) before you begin to speak. It may slow the pace a little but that's okay because everything you say will be believable—and that’s what gets you the job!  

3. Another thing I watch for is what I call “hiding-in-the-page”.  I see this a lot. Often an actor looks down more than he needs to or they look down two or three times to get one, three-word sentence. Often, when we play back the tape, you can tell that the actor isn’t even reading on many of the looks down at the page. Nobody thinks they do this until I point it out, so watch for it

4. If you need to wear glasses, I suggest you either remove them when you are speaking and only look through them when you're looking down at the page.  If this is too difficult then I suggest you place the glasses at the end of your nose and look over them at the person you are reading with.  Only look through them when you are actually reading and not while you are speaking (see the tips above).

Your eyes are all that you have with which to communicate emotion and by covering them with glasses you shade them at best and, depending on the reflections of the lights in the room, completely hide them at worst.

Many years ago, I worked with a wonderful character actress named Pat Crawford Brown, a little old lady who you've probably seen a hundred times in various roles. Pat used to have a pair of glasses she called her "auditioning-glasses" and she only used them at auditions.  They consisted of a pair of glasses with the stems broken off.  They were duct-taped to a chopstick and she held them up to read and then lowered them to speak her lines.  I remember her fondly as adorable, talented, and old (and this was 25 years ago!). And I see by her 173 IMDB credits that, as of 2012 she was still working (and that doesn't include all her Equity theatre credits!).

Bottom line: if you're good at reading out-loud then follow these tips.  If you're bad at reading out-loud, for whatever reasons, then following these tips won't help you enough to make a difference, so don't cold-read!  Why humiliate yourself?  You won't get the job anyway, so have some self-respect. Thank them and, with a smile, say "No thanks. But please call me when you need an actor".  Remember, don't be afraid to say "No".  "No" is the most powerful word in Hollywood.  When you say it (and mean it) they often come running to make you a better offer.  And at the very least, you may actually teach them that great actors don't have to be great readers!
As always, I share these tips for free.  If you like what you read, please share this blog and follow me on Twitter - @SRSactorsso you get all the latest posts!


  1. As always huge THANK YOU for all you do for us!

  2. Couldn't agree more. For someone who wears reading glasses AND doesn't have a photographic memory (I've met one or two in the business), cold reads are the worst. I go so far as to send the whole script out when I am casting if I can so people know who the heck they are supposed to be playing.