Everything You Need to Be a Successful Commercial Actor
It was 9:45 am. and I was sweaty from just finishing my p90x workout, about to take a nice long shower and run errands before picking up my son from school. My iPhone dinged. Email from LA CASTING, “New Callback: TODAY, 11:30 am, Lending Tree Commercial.” This is a commercial actor’s life.
I jumped in the shower, threw on my (always set aside) outfit from the initial audition, jumped in the car, made calls from my car on my hands-free device for the 4040-minuterive, arrived at the audition, and sat down to read my book. When my name was called, I walked into the room to do my job. Here’s how you can do yours.
Be a fully focused you.
What is a commercial actor’s job? To be a fully focused you. Do not over think it, my fellow cohorts. Do not “act” for a commercial. As a commercial actor, you need to learn a few simple technical tools and trust that you are enough. They want to cast you in a commercial. Commercials are a moment in your life, where you help someone or you need help. Boom. Done. That’s it.
Embrace focused play.
As a commercial actor, when I walk in the room, I take a breath and look forward to meeting some new people and playing a little bit. Just me, fully enjoying myself in focused play for three to five minutes. What a treat! For Lending Tree, I walked into the callback room and saw numerous people, a camera and monitor, and a man holding a green Muppet-like puppet.
“You will be reading with Lenny (the puppet),” the man behind the camera said. I busted out laughing and said, “Super!” I was the first actor, so the director re-directed me to do the commercial about five or six different ways. It was a blast!! Lenny, the puppet, improvised with me (or as we say in the commercial world, “We made it our own”). I booked it! That day “my thing” was the “thething” Lending Tree was looking for.
Just after I arrived in L.A., I auditioned for Francene Slekirk (one of the best and kindest commercial CDs around) for a Hardee’s/Carls Jr. commercial. Just before the slate, someone cracked a hilarious joke. I was still laughing when they turned the camera on me to slate. I was in the moment, so I said, “Hello. I am Amie Farrell,” while laughing. I found out later that laughing slate was one of the main reasons I booked that commercial.
I’m not suggesting you create false, cheesy slates; that will not work. I do not try to laugh in my slates now. My laughing slate only worked because it was organically, authentically me in that moment. And that is attractive. That is what they want in a commercial—real.
Seek the right training.
What you learn in conservatory and studio training—which I adore and encourage—will help you to be a free, confident and open performer. For commercials, a weekend intensive or a few classes should do the trick. I am not a big advocate of long-running commercial classes. I do not believe you need 12 weeks to learn what you need to know about commercial acting. As with anything in this world, the more you practice the more your skills become second nature. When they become second nature, you can rush in and audition with a few hours notice and be a professional that they want to hire.
Commercial casting is so very much about your look, your vibe and knowing the needs of the spot and the camera. My advice as a working commercial actor and coach for over two decades is this: Learn the basic tools of commercials scripts and on-camera technique. Trust that you are more than enough. Play in the audition room. Then, get on with your glorious life.
The income I make from commercials has allowed me to do fulfilling theater, intense heart-wrenching independent films, direct, teach other actors at the AdlerImprov Acting Studio, take maternity leave to enjoy time with my baby and put pampers on his bum, and comfortably enjoy my days as a mom, wife, actor, and friend.
Amie Farrell teaches on-camera scene study at the AdlerImprov Acting Studio in Hollywood. She has 25 of experience as a working actor, director, and coach in NYC, Chicago, and L.A. For more information, check out Farrell’s full bio!