I can't recall the number of times I've heard or read interviews from producers and casting directors who claim they love when an actor takes a "risk." Yet, my experience at an audition for small part in an episode of a network TV series reminded me that this is more propaganda than reality.
Since parts like this come with just the pages, or sides, required but not a whole script or any explanation of who the character is, other than a short sentence that sums up if they are looking for any particular physical traits, they tend to be open to interpretation. In other words, they're just looking for an actor who can breathe life into the part, but not try and steal the scene from the series regulars. Often I'll audition for parts like this against a woman and a white male actor, so it's clearly not about the acting but what type they think will be right.
Sometimes there's not much you can do with parts like this, other than be real. But yesterday, I decided to take a risk and play the part against the stereotype, against the expectation. Why? Well, in fact when I read the sides, my risk was actually what I thought when I read it. I didn't actually think it was a risk, it was just a possible interpretation given I had nothing but a page of dialogue to work from.
When it came time to audition, I did what was admittedly an off-beat take on the part. The director acted very positively - as if it had never occurred to him to consider that the character might be gay, (the risk I took in the audition), but it was "really great." The casting director, however, was clearly upset and immediately asked if the director wanted me to do it normally. But he didn't. Clearly, the casting director was not happy that I'd not given the straight and obvious take on the character.
And if TV was art, then I'd be right. But it isn't. It's really about delivering a commodity to an audience who know what they want and they don't want their expectations confounded. They want what they got in last week's episode with a slight variation on the plot but with the appropriate buttons pushed. It's important for actors to remember this because taking the risk should also be followed up immediately with an acknowledgement by the actor that they knew it was a risk but they'd be happy to do an alternate , more conventional version. Don't want for the casting director to ask the director to make you do that like I did. Because it doesn't respect their needs, it just makes you look precious.
Sometimes you have to take a risk to learn a lesson. Lesson learned.