The beauty of horror
by Nancy Nayor
In honor of Halloween, I share the following thoughts:
Possessed by the devil, speaking in tongues, writhing in pain, dying a gruesome, unimaginable death. They say it’s impolite to slow down in traffic to rubberneck and watch the gory aftermath of a horrific accident, yet I often feel it is my job to do just that all day, every day, while casting a horror film. It is a less bloody experience, but the pain and suffering I witness in my office can be troubling, at the least, and rather emotionally disturbing. I find myself encouraging actors, my fellow vulnerable humans, to cry more deeply, scream louder, experience gut-wrenching pain, writhe with more gusto, just so they will have better odds of winning a role.
Horror film casting brings special challenges, for sure. Your character is battling a 12 foot tall, 6-headed, fire-breathing slimy monster. Try to make that interaction real! Or you’re hit with an axe between the eyes – not exactly a sense memory experience you can recall. So you try to remember that splitting migraine you had once – okay – a million times worse! Now… action! You’re being disembowled, or buried alive, a thirsty vampire is sucking your blood – no problem. Zombies are ripping you limb from limb, a hundred piranhas are feasting their fangs on your tender flesh – now go!
Not a normal day at the office for most people. Yet actors dive into this process all the time. And casting directors, producers and directors witness the writhing, screaming, seizures, and tears. I know at those times my brain is divided into several parts. One part detached, evaluating, assessing the actor’s suitability for the role, and the other part wincing at the pain I am witnessing. It is not real, yet real, all at the same time. Perhaps the actor is calling up a prior horrific life experience. Perhaps they are simply creating a mood on the spot. But the more authentic the actor’s performance, the more rattling the experience of watching. I feel like a voyeur, but with a purpose. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I feel a chill run down my spine. Then I know the audition is going well.
So, okay, a challenging, crazy audition process, but here’s some of the upside: 1) great opportunities for young and unknown casts; 2) very intense and dramatic scenes you can add to your reels; 3) a chance to really show commitment in your auditions. And still the question arises – how the hell do I mime this? What is being described in the scene is rather unthinkable and seemingly un-doable in an audition situation. Props? Will they help? Costumes? The right hairstyle?
The key is to be bold and fearless. Horror film casting is not for the faint of heart. Not for the squeamish. It is for the daring. It requires an extreme commitment to the audition process.
No flinching. No self-consciousness. Bland or shy actors need not apply. It’s like Fear Factor for the world of auditions. It’s not pretty or delicate. It’s gross, it’s raw, it’s messy. But what a great way to strut your stuff and proudly show off your depth. Yes, depth, in the midst of a seemingly absurd and unreal situation, you can bring depth. Not easy.
One trick – use your nerves. If you ever shook at an audition with nervousness, or fear or trembling overtook you, use it now. Dive into that fear and let it be an asset in a horror audition. Even experienced actors have, at times, bouts of nervousness before they are cast. Before that validation that comes with being hired, even experienced actors can show signs of nerves. But if there were ever a chance to use those nerves, this is the time. It’s perfect.
Now keep in mind, once you have the job, the ruse will continue. On the set, that giant, 12 foot tall monster is really just a guy in a suit. The axe in the middle of your forehead is rubber, not steel. The blood is fake. The bruises are painted on. Once you are on set, the demands are the same, to make the real the unreal. The incredible, credible. The green screen is really an interplanetary space station with a giant CG reptile about to swallow you whole. An 8 foot anaconda is coiled and about to strike. You’re being burned at the stake. (Hopefully there will be a well-trained stunt person for that part!)
One can never call horror film casting “boring.” You picked this wild business of acting for a reason. Might as well enjoy those opportunities to really go wild. And although getting the job is ideal, the audition itself will always plant seeds for the future. A bold and memorable audition is never wasted. I greatly appreciate the actors who have crossed into this extreme territory and gone out on brave limbs in these completely bizarre situations. You are courageous. You are awesome.Tags: Actor, Audition process, Casting Director, Entertainment industry, Halloween, Hollywood, Horror films, Nancy Nayor