Well, I have good news. There are a few things you can do that can help you to deal with nerves so you’ll never again stumble on them again in an audition or interview situation. What’s the secret to dealing with your nerves and being confident again? Change the way you think about nervousness. Learn to LOVE it! What did I just say? Learn to love being nervous! Let me explain.
UNDERSTAND WHY WE GET NERVOUS:
The first step in dealing with your nerves is to understand why we have them in the first place. Being the red-blooded mammals that we are, we have a natural God given reactionary devise built into our complex nervous system. We have an instinctual need to protect ourselves from harm so when danger approaches our nervous system kicks in and the brain sends a signal to the rest of our body. It says, prepare for “fight or flight.” As part of that action the brain tells the adrenal glands to secret adrenaline. As a result, the body readies it self for action. That’s why our palms sweat, our heart races and our five senses suddenly go into overdrive. Our body is readying itself for some serious action. Our nervous system, like a car arm, is activated when something suddenly changes in our normal environment. So, nervousness is actually a good thing. It protects us and sometimes even saves our life. Nerves let us know when we are in danger and help us to deal with it by filling our bodies with a healthy dowse of adrenaline and by heightening our awareness. But, the nervous system doesn’t just kick in when danger is near, it also kicks in when our stress level increases, even if it’s good stress. As we all know, auditioning is stressful to the nth degree. So, we have no reason to be surprised when all of a sudden our nerves kick in if we’re waiting for an audition. It’s a normal and a healthy bodily function. It’s not bad or unnatural, it’s just proof that we are alive and well and ready for action.
START THINKING OF NERVOUSNESS AS SOMETHING POSITIVE:
Step one in overcoming your fear of nervousness is to look at it in a positive light, not a negative one. Acknowledge that nervousness is healthy, natural and normal, even in an audition situation. The biggest mistake that actors make is to try to stop their nerves. There are books written, seminars taught and even hypnotherapy designed to rid you entirely of your nerves. The problem with that is: 1) it’s nearly impossible to do and 2) even if you do manage to do it, you’ll be completely lifeless and worthless as as artist. You have essentially shut down your body. That’s a mistake. The more alive and alert you are then better your art will be.
Actors typically think of nerves as a career killer. They sit in a waiting room, ready for an audition or agent interview, and suddenly the jitters kick in. The next thing you know they start to panic. They know from experience that once their nerves kick in they’ll eventually loose control and won’t be able to concentrate. The audition or meeting will be ruined. Well, here’s a little secret… every actor is nervous at auditions and meetings, just like you! It is completely normal. Actors book roles and sign with agents daily despite their nerves! No one escapes nerves (especially at Networks) so you are in good company.
ACCEPT THAT NERVES ARE A NATURAL PART OF THE ACTING EXPERIENCE:
Nervousness is simply proof that you are alive and ready to act. Embrace that perspective! Start thinking about your nerves as an indicator light that you are ready to act! You are doing what most people on this earth only dream about doing, for Pete’s sake. You’re attempting to act for a living. It’s a risky career. It is living on the edge. It’s scary.You’re risking stability and a normal life to pursue your dreams. Of course you’re going to be nervous. It’s stressful and outside of most people’s comfort zone. Starting today, welcome nerves as your friend. Learn to love them.
When you don’t get nervous at an audition, that is when you really need to worry. It’s okay once you’ve auditioned for a particular casting director ten or more times to start to feel comfortable in that room, but hopefully you always have a little twinge going on. If you don’t, chances are you won’t be as alive as you should be. If you are completely nerveless, it probably means that acting no longer matters to you. And, that’s the last thing you want. The things you want to avoid at all cost are being totally ambivalent or in a state of panic. Those are kryptonite for actors. When you can accept, and even welcome, being a little nervous you will finally be able to avoid ambivalence and panic. Did you catch what I just said? When you begin to see nervousness as a good thing, it will release you from fear and panic or complete numbness. The more you become comfortable and happy with the jitters, the better you will be as an actor.
I auditioned last week for a really nice role on “Castle.” At one point I held out my script (using it as a prop) towards the casting director. I looked down and noticed that my hand was shaking a tiny bit from nerves. I’ve been acting for nearly 20 years so you’d think I’d be past that. Well, I’m not. But, I have changed how I look at it. In fact, I got a little excited when I saw it because it reminded me that I am alive and here to act. That perspective, which admittedly took me years to embrace, has radically changed my auditions for the better. I remember well the days when I would see my hand shake and that would quickly lead to panic. It was always downhill from there. But now, by merely changing how I look at nervousness, my hand shaking invigorates me and reminds me that I’m an actor!
DEAL WITH THE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS THAT COME WITH NERVES:
One of the worst things that comes with nerves is negative self-talk. If you’re like me (and pretty much every other actor on the face of the earth) you probably have a million thoughts racing through your head while you’re waiting for your audition. Thoughts like: “What was my first line again?” “Why did I wear this stupid shirt?” “That actor is gorgeous, I have no chance.” Why am I sweating so much?” “Maybe I should wash my hands.” “I am totally not ready for this!” I’m sure we could go on for hours listing all the horrible things that go through our heads before we walk into an audition. Just like you did with your nervousness, start to see those thoughts as absolutely normal and healthy. Our body naturally likes to avoid stress so it tries to talk us out of it.
Most actors will get angry at themselves when a negative thought races through their head. They will try to focus their mind on getting rid of those thoughts. But, it is impossible to do that. You can’t rid yourself of your nerves and you can’t stop negative thoughts from entering your mind. You know the minute you tell yourself not to do something it’s only a matter of seconds before you’ll do it again. It’s just how our brain works. Don’t believe me? Do this little exercise. Close your eyes. Now, DO NOT think about a pink elephant. Refuse to let yourself do it. Not a big one, not a small one. Don’t think about a pink elephant no matter what. How’d you do? Did you think about a pink elephant? Of course you did. We all did. That’s how our brain works. Tell someone not to do something and naturally they’ll do it.
Next time you’re nervous and a negative thought enters your mind, acknowledge it. Tell yourself it is proof that you are alive and normal. Then move on and think about your job as an actor. I like to think of my negative thoughts as a pessimistic little man who sits on my shoulder. He whispers things in my ear like, “You’re going to screw up the lines.” When he does, I simply think, “Oh, there you are. Good! Thanks for reminding me that I’m alive and normal. Now excuse me, I have work to do.” We all know those negative thoughts aren’t true anyway. They’re just silly thoughts. By acknowledging them you’re finally able to move on. So, no matter what that little voice tells you, you are able to finally ignore it and focus your attention on the things that matter. It’s not a problem whatsoever if that little man stays right there with you, chiming in from time to time. It’s just proof you are in a stressful situation, living life to the fullest. You can choose to believe those thoughts and let them control you or you can laugh at the irony and know that you can be absolutely amazing despite them. The latter is what the great actors do.
PUT ALL YOUR FOCUS ON YOUR ACTING AND HAVING FUN:
The last step in this process is to stay focused on your acting, your job. Do what you have been trained to do all these years to do. Focus on getting what your character wants from the other character(s). See what chemistry you can develop with the casting director during the read. Show them who you really are. Let them know how you cast. And, most of all, HAVE FUN! That’s your job as an actor. If your attention is on work and having fun then you will succeed where most other actors have failed. Acting is hard work. We have to get all our lines right, hit all our marks, get the intentions of the writer, get emotionally involved in the scene, be fascinating and make the unreal real. But, if you can do all those things and make it look effortless, certainly you can learn to act while you’re nervous. Not only is it possible, it is exciting! It is what acting is all about.
Now that you know there is nothing you can do to rid yourself of nerves and self-talk (nothing healthy anyway) stop trying. Simply change your perspective. The more you practice acknowledging your nerves and embracing them, the better everything will be. Like I said, I love when I get nervous. It’s a great thing. I know that in that moment I am completely alive, ready to show the world what it is to be truly committed as an artist. Like a new coat or a fancy pair of shoes, learn to wear your nerves with pride. Let them make you smile. Let them invigorate you, not tear you apart. They have the power to do either one. The choice is yours.
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Mark Atteberry is an award winning actor, teacher and photographer. As an actor his work includes features like Miranda July’s "The Future” and Ang Lee’s "The Hulk.” His recent TV work includes “The Newsroom,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Luck,” "House M.D.," “Justified,” "The Closer," “The Mentalist,” "Dexter" and “Criminal Minds.” Mark is internationally known for his commercial advertising and headshot photography. His clients include NBC, CBS, A&E, Bravo, CAA, ICM, WME, and Big Lots. Mark regularly teaches and lectures on the topics of "Branding, Marketing and Type" and "How to Succeed in the Entertainment Industry." He has authored or co-authored several books on the business of acting including the best selling, "Working Actor's Guide to LA." For more of Mark’s acting credits go to: www.imdb.com/name/nm0040992. For Mark’s headshot photography go to: www.idyllicphotography.com. And, for Mark’s classes go to: www.beaworkingactor.com