Stars recall real-life pain seen in 'La La Land' auditions

 25 Feb 2017 - 9:36

Stars recall real-life pain seen in 'La La Land' auditions


Los Angeles: In "La La Land," the nostalgic musical tipped for glory at Sunday's Oscars, Emma Stone channels some of the pain she and Ryan Gosling experienced in their early auditions.

As her character Mia is reading for a part, someone bursts into the room and begins to discuss a phone call, while on another occasion she is asked to stop no more than two seconds into a painstakingly prepared monologue.

"People would look up at me and look back at their paper and not look at me again," the actress told Variety magazine, recalling how her own entry into showbiz echoed her character's travails.

"I remember feeling very insignificant. I would almost rather you yell at me."

It is a rite of passage any young hopeful seeking his or her fortune in the bright lights of Hollywood must endure, and stars reminded by "La La Land" of their own excruciating experiences have been speaking out.

"I absolutely hate auditions with, like, a passion. I get so nervous, I've thrown up before," 18-year-old Elle Fanning ("Super 8," "Maleficent") recalled at the Sundance Film Festival in January. 

"But I've passed out in an audition -- like, flat out, just passed out. I was young... 12 or maybe younger than that -- like nine."

All of these small humiliations are an occupational hazard, according to French actress Adele Jacques, who has plied her trade in Los Angeles for 14 years.

Jacques, who has appeared in several movies including "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" (2009), recalled being auditioned by a highly strung person who made her fall repeatedly, each time hurting herself a little more.


According to Jacques, actors detach themselves emotionally from the process, leaving their ritual humiliation behind them at the casting room door.

It gets worse though. Much worse.

Jenny Slate ("Zootopia," "The Lego Batman Movie"), who was also at Sundance, recalled an audition during which she had to pretend to lick an invisible toilet bowl, all the while keeping eye contact with the camera.

"Because usually it's kind of hard for me to say no, but yeah. Just say no to licking an invisible toilet while a pervert films you for a toilet commercial," she counseled.

Thandie Newton, star of HBO's "Westworld," told W magazine about an incident near the start of her career when a director "had a camera shooting up my skirt and asked me to touch my (breasts) and think about the guy making love to me in the scene."

The 44-year-old Brit found the experience "weird" but acquiesced because there was a female casting director in the room. Years later, she discovered the director had kept the tape and would play it for friends. 

New York-based actor Drew Scott Alexander, 26, says casting directors will often know "after 10 seconds" if a candidate is right for a part, and that this may have nothing to do with the quality of the audition. 

"You're too tall or too short, you don't have the right hair color... Since I understood this, I tend to take things much less personally," he told AFP.


It's not a question of being rude, according to Aquila/Wood Casting, a company that worked on recruiting actors for "La La Land." 

"Sometimes you see 40 actors a day and a director who's in production does have some urgent emails to answer, so an actor may take that as disinterest," said the company's Tricia Wood.

In fact, there is a code of honor that prevents Wood and her business partner Deborah Aquila from discouraging young hopefuls, they say.

"It could be an experience that shapes their life. We have a rule that even if they didn't give their sharpest interpretation, don't write that off," Aquila said.

"If you see that passion, keep giving them a chance. What I don't like is when they are not prepared."

Maia Tarin, who was in the 2011 political drama "Atlas Shrugged: Part I" and an episode of Showtime comedy "Californication," said actors are often just there for an audition to make up the numbers when a big name has already been picked.

"Even if the job is probably taken, you do your best work because that casting director will take you another time," she said.

Auditions are often a lottery, Tarin said, reflecting that her experiences have taught her to be grateful for the opportunity to get in front of a casting director and circumspect when it doesn't work out.

"It's a chance. All the stars have to be aligned," she said.

"It's kind of a miracle -- everyone has to agree you're the one for that job and there's a lot of people in that room."