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TBA Online: News & Features: April 2018

The Business of Show Biz: Getting Compliments But Not The Job

Wednesday, April 4, 2018   (2 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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Q: Okay, it happened again. I read a scene for this audition. When I finished the director shook my hand, told me what I great job I did, was so complimentary, actually used the word “fabulous” to describe my reading, thanked me profusely for coming in. I left feeling great. And then...nothing. Why do they do that?! Why do they tell you you’re “fabulous” and then not cast you? It’s confusing and like you’re being gaslighted. Do you think they’re being sincere when they say all that stuff? What’s the point?

Actor and career consultant Velina Brown.

A: Yes. It is confusing. And yes, I think casting folks are being sincere when they compliment actors and then don’t cast them. The reason being that talent is not the only consideration when casting. At a certain level, everyone who’s auditioning is good. Some are amazing. But everyone has the ability to play the part if they get it. So how do they decide who gets the part?

Sometimes it’s as simple as who fits the costume if they are looking for a replacement actor. 

 Most often it’s about the combination of actors they are putting together and who they consider the “tent pole” (the person on whom the show hangs). If you’re the tent pole, the other roles get cast based on who fits best with you. Once I auditioned for a show with the understanding that I would be available to come into the show later in what was expected to be a six-month to a year-long run. I was very clear if they needed me to start immediately I wouldn’t be able to do it because I was already cast in another show. The casting director assured me that this would not be a problem. She urged me to just come in and read so that the director would get to see me. I did. He liked and wanted to cast me immediately. Flattered and mortified, I had to reiterate that I wouldn’t be available to start for at least two months. At which point, the folks who were lined up to be my cast mates were not hired! I didn’t know this until years later when one of the actors who lost the job told me what had happened. I felt terrible to realize that my not being available immediately (as I had clearly stated before I auditioned) had cost other actors jobs. But that artistic choice was not mine. The director had an idea of how a certain combination of actors fit together. He apparently felt if one of us was not in the mix then he had to put together a completely different group. The “un-cast” actors were probably told they were amazing (because they were) but they still ended up without the job.
Another time I was on the other end of such a situation. I had the chance to audition for a play that I immediately loved, for a part I thought was perfect for me. I went in and had a great time reading the part. But there was an odd vibe in the room. “Hmm,” I thought. “What does it mean?” As actors we have our “spidey sense” turned up high to read the room at auditions, right? The casting team asked me to step outside the room. Then I was asked back in to read again. After my second reading, there was an awkward pause. The writer came over to me and said that despite the “vagaries of casting” I read the role the best and he literally said I “made the words sing.” “Uh oh,” I thought. “The vagaries of casting?” Long story short, they cast a busty blonde instead. I was a bit heartbroken since I’d fallen in love with the script. But looking back, I appreciate the writer letting me know how much he liked my work even though I didn’t get the role.

As an actor, I agree with you. It can be confusing when compliments from the casting people are followed by crickets. But as a director, I urge you to absolutely take the compliments as sincere. Sometimes they already know that they won’t be hiring you and they just want to let you know that it’s not because they don’t think you’re good. Totally take the compliments. But understand that they are completely separate from whether or not you’ll be cast. Casting folks don’t do this to gaslight and confuse you. They do it because they want to at least give you the gift of positive feedback even though the kind words won’t be accompanied by what you are truly there for — a job.

Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at


sharon huff says...
Posted Monday, April 16, 2018
I've been on both sides of the table, and agree with both the article and Erin's comment. I do think, however, that auditors should be more careful in how they compliment. One time I had a director say my audition was "perfect," and then not only didn't cast me but didn't even call me to let me know I wasn't cast. A superlative like that implies that you're the 1st choice. Also, with actors you see over and over again, complimenting them but don't end up casting, after a while they assume your compliments are BS, because it just doesn't seem believable that the casting puzzle should exclude them every time if you really love their work. Compliments are a good thing, but transparency is even better.
Erin Merritt says...
Posted Thursday, April 5, 2018
Director (and former actor) speaking here—as an actor, I noticed I only got compliments like that when I wasn't being cast, and sure enough now that I'm a director, I often make sure I compliment actors particularly when I know or suspect I won't be able to cast them, because I want them to know they didn't do anything wrong. If we compliment you, know we won't forget you—it means I may not cast you this time but will keep an eye open for a chance to cast you later. That may not feel great in the moment when you lose this job, but it means I'm on your side the next time and you should come read with confidence for me every chance you get. I hope that helps a little...