The American Theater Wing Seminar
Taped on April 19, 2001
He appeared with Faith Prince, Lily Tomlin, Maximilian Schell, Heather Headley, and Alan Cumming.
Interviewer: How do you get through auditions? Are there techniques that you have to master to get through that process?
DD: I think itís the worst experience in your life, sort of like public execution. I think thatÖ what I try to do always, I try to go in with a very strong idea of the character and the material. And I try to have in my mind a fairly strong objective to play. I say all of this so that I have something to do when I get in the room and then I at the same time I try to keep myself completely open and available to a director who may, you know, like where Iím coming from but wants me to go another way and I have to keep myself facile and able to do that, but I think that itís different auditioning for the theater, than it is auditioning for film and television, at least that is for me. And I think thereís an adjustment you have to make, that you know, youíre either going to fill the stage or youíre going to fill the screen and thereís a difference in your energy and in your approach to doing an audition based on the media. But I think that itís an unnatural thing to have to do to go in and convince somebody that after 35 or 40 years of acting that you know what youíre doing. Itís just completely unnatural.
Ö.If you can persuade them to not to have to do the material at allÖ itís the best.
(audience and panel laugh)
The way the process works these days in terms of getting employment, particularly in movies and television. If Olivier was alive they would make him come in and audition. Itís like, they donít know who you are because theyíre 22 years old and theyíre running a studio and they have no idea your history or what you bring orÖ and plus that side of the industry more and more is being sort of run by people who are primarily businessmen and make business decisions so they are looking at artists who make artistic decisions and theyíre trying to evaluate an artistic decision from a businessman point of view and the two worlds just collide so you have to go in and convince them in person that you are what they are looking for. Because 9 times out of 10 if they want a plumber they will go and hire a plumber not an actor who can play a plumber, but an actually plumber.
Interviewer: Itís interesting that Daniel, some of us, this is a television crowd, thought you were English for years and sort of surprised to hear that youíre not.
DD: No, I was born in Arkansas.
Interviewer: So you trained in this country, yes?
DD: I trained in this country, yeah. I actually went to a Conservatory that was started by the Rockefeller foundation in Arkansas for native kids of Arkansas, the first class was offered scholarships toÖ had four years of training in this Conservatory. But because our, my training was all, we were a performing school. We were on the boards with a play every night for a paying audience and thatís how the school subsidized itself somewhat through the Rockefeller Foundation and ticket sales, (chuckle), and so all of our classes were geared toward the performance. So class work was all about rehearsing and being ready to go on that night and we did a sort of small rep of plays, 6 plays a season so all of my, from the very beginning of my training was all geared towards performance. But I really felt that I learned a lot, but I didnít learn as much as I did when I actually came into the professional world, in the first company that I was a part of was when Michael Caan organized the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford in the late 60ís. And I was working the night, the first company of actors I was in was Eva Le Gallienne, Morris Carnovsky, Kate Reid, Len Cariou, Roberta Maxwell. I mean quite a long list, Brian Bedford, and we were doing the classics. And that, keeping my mouth closed and my eyes open and watching these people work was where the first, where I first really knew what it meant to be a professional actor and where my training really began. But because I wanted to do the classical theater thatís what I was prepared for and trained to be part of. So you could not say, 'Soft, what light from yonder window breaks.' (done w/Southern accent) So you have to learn how toÖ which is how I spoke when I was growing up. So we had very good teachers who, my early teachers were Kristen Linkletter and you know Liz Smith, and amazing peopleÖ and Edith SkinnerÖ
Alan Cumming: Gossip Columnist? (re: Liz Smith)
(DD grins) No, no Ö the voice coach. And you know I got to perform 6 classical roles with Edith Skinner as my voice coach so after awhile you donít sound like youíre from Arkansas anymore.
On the internetÖ
DD: This is going to probably sound very old fashioned and not in keeping at all with what you are all talking about with the web, but thereís this thing Iíve always felt about being an actor, that the less people knew about me personally, the more effective my work could be. Because I could disappear, I mean one of the reasons I wanted to be an actor when I was a child was to disappear and I still think thatís a very interesting thing about a relationship between the actor and the audience that you are more acceptable. Itís one of the things about doing the television series which was kind of nervous making for me and why I was happy to play a character that was so far removed from the normal things that I did. First of all, I felt, it sort of became a reverse trap because it got me, it got the world thinking that thatís who I was, that character. And itís just a character so you then have to come along and undo some of, not damage, but you have to control your image all the time as an actor so that you can move from part to part and be accepted in other roles. Because itís not the audience who has trouble accepting you in other roles as much as it is sometimes the people on the other side of the table whoíve decided ĎNo, youíre the butler and thatís what we want to see you from now on.í So I like to keep my personal stuff to myself so that my work so that it doesnít get into the work and they donít know about that. And it makes, to me, it makes the work more interesting.
Audience member: Have you ever given a bad audition then asked for a second chance? And did it work out?
DD: Yeah, I have actually. Iíve come into the room, something that I wanted so desperately that I blew it. And I, I walked out of the room and the stage manager was coming to get the next auditioner and I turned around and went back into the room and said, ĎI blew that completely, can I have another shot?í and they said, ĎSure,í and they will usually give you another shot, yeahÖ got the part too.
The thing is that is important for actors to remember that they want you to be good. They want it to be you. They donít know sometimes what theyíre looking for until it comes into the room. Unless they have some sort of mandate to have a name in the role or something, but if the part is actually open and they can actually cast whoever they want to cast in it then they want it to be you and they are as anxious for you to be good as you are to do well for them. And so you know, donít feel shy or hesitant about asking for your fair shot because itís the only shot you may get at this so you want it to be right and usually I think they are pretty accommodating.