Feeling motivated and inspired is one of the most important aspects of a successful career. As an actor – in an industry that is extremely difficult and is filled with rejection – motivation is arguably the most important part of the entertainment industry success equation.
Those of us who work in show business are fortunate to work among passionate individuals who are motivating, caring, kind and insightful. Casting Director Lisa Pantone (of Pantone Casting) is one of those individuals, and it is an honor to introduce Lisa to all of you here on Behind the Sign!
I asked Lisa Pantone how she originally became involved in entertainment and how she started working as a casting director. Lisa explained that she began her work in show business after overcoming certain personal challenges in her life:
“Show business, I believe, picked me. I didn’t pick it. It came at a time when I needed an escape. I had a wonderful aunt who said, ‘Lisa, you should do theater - you’re so quiet and you’re so introverted!’ I thought, well, let me try!”
Lisa gave it a try, and she went on to work in productions at her high school plays – involving herself in acting, directing and casting – which were her first experiences working in the world of the performing arts.
The entertainment industry certainly is an escape from “normal” life. Anything and everything is possible in this business! Enjoying the creative “escape” that show business offered her; Lisa continued to pursue work in the industry. After briefly working in the fashion industry in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and New York City, New York, Lisa’s work took her to Florida where she became a talent agent for a modeling agency. This experience allowed Lisa to see “the other side of the business” from what actors typically see. Lisa said of her time in Florida as an agent:
“I became an agent for a couple of years. I saw the other side of the business. It really opened my eyes to the other side. [I saw] that actors and models put their careers into the hands of other people. I started to feel very emotionally attached to the actors, saying that if there is anything I can do to help them – even if it’s just a kind word – that’s what I’m going to do.”
Helping actors and sharing kindness is exactly what Lisa has been doing since starting her work in entertainment and working as a casting director. When I asked Lisa if she could tell me about some of her most favorite aspects of being a casting director, she talked about her enjoyment of working with people:
“One [of my most favorite aspects of being a casting director] is sharing love and kindness for other human beings, because this is a human being business. We don’t sit behind a desk and clock out at 5 o’clock and just talk to the people in the next cubicle. We are constantly around humans in every aspect of the business. When I started casting, what I really enjoyed about it were the people [who were] allowing me to absorb their story and get on board with it. Casting directors really need to take time to absorb the story. I really take it very, very seriously, and I bring in actors that I believe in my heart are right for the role. It is the love of the process. I get chills when I see that an actor is so attached to the story.”
Lisa’s “hands on” approach to casting has allowed her to connect with individuals in a business that is largely based around social interactions. (As I pointed out in an article for About.com, it’s more about who knows you, rather than simply “who you know.”)
Lisa credits casting directors Judy Henderson and Joan D’Incecco with showing her what the true definition of “casting director” meant:
“A casting director directs the casting. Every project depends on the casting director to bring that story to life, to find actors that will breathe life into those words. I’ll never forget that. And to this day, I’m always in the room [directing sessions and with the actors].”
Acting is Being
One of the most important lessons that I have learned as an actor is that acting is being. Being fully present, being in the moment and being natural. Still, many actors unnecessarily worry about their lines and memorization rather than focusing on staying completely in the moment. Lisa Pantone points out that it is much more valuable to focus on listening and remaining fully present rather than worrying about lines. Lisa Pantone advises that actors focus less on the words, and more on telling the story. I asked Lisa if she would discuss the importance of fully listening. She said:
“It’s all important. If you’re not emotionally moved and if you’re there waiting for your line, that’s not acting. That, my friend, is not acting. [Acting is] reacting to what someone just told you on an emotional level. I can’t look inside of a human being and tell what they’re thinking. Acting is the ability to absorb the story and to react to what is going on in a story.
If an actor would take time to watch the performances of other actors and go, ‘That was fabulous - I have chills watching it!’ Or, ‘Wow, ok, they got all the words right.’ You see the difference? It’s a big difference to absorb a story and be so engrossed in it.” [The best actors] are into that moment. They’re never out of it; they’re responding to what each one is saying, they’re shaking their head, they’re doing what human beings do. Acting is done by humans. If you cover your human emotions, what are you going to do?
Lisa sums up the idea of “acting is being” perfectly: “Acting is being. What that means is being in that moment, being present. Jumping into the story and saying it with such conviction.”
In addition to being fully present as an actor, I have written countless articles about the importance of being who you are as actor. Lisa offers the following insight on the importance of being who you are as an actor:
“I think you have to bring yourself to the table. I believe that you must bring your emotion and yourself to the part. Christopher Walken is a perfect example of being true to who you are. You watch him and you’re mesmerized by him, but that’s HIM!”
Lisa adds that the only exception to this rule is if you’re asked to portray a character who already has lived. “If you’re playing a living, breathing person, we are going to study it a totally different way. Actors need to understand that they’re not going to be right for every role. They are going to be right for the roles that they fit in visually, age wise, emotionally.”
Next, I asked Lisa what is the most important thing for an actor to remember when coming in for an audition? She replied:
“Stay fully present in what the story is about. The emotional attachment to me is all important to the story. Whether it’s a comedy, whether it’s a dark comedy, whether it’s a death scene – whatever - if you are not emotionally attached to what is going on in that story and you’re just in there reading the lines with me, I’m just like ‘OK - next!’ Because it’s so obvious. I think giving 100% of yourself - not in any other thought, like thinking about this appointment, that appointment, your parking situation, picking up your kids - giving 100% when you walk into that casting room in front of a casting director, giving 100% into that story is the most important.”
Business: “It’s Quick!”
Auditions – especially commercial auditions – are typically very quick: in and out! It’s very important for actors to remember that once an audition is completed, we must learn to let it go. We will be right for some jobs and wrong for others. The best that we can do is to be the best versions of ourselves as possible, try our best and not take anything personally. Lisa explains:
“That’s the way business is: it’s quick, it’s either right or wrong. And that’s what I tell actors: ‘Please don’t be offended; you’re either right or wrong. Or, you’re right, but they have an allegiance to someone else and they’re going to hire them regardless of how right you are for the part.’”
Finally, I asked Lisa if she would share what she believes to be the single most important piece of advice for anyone who is considering a career in the entertainment industry. Lisa replied:
“I don’t know if there’s a single thing. Do not let anybody make you feel bad. Don’t allow anyone to rain on your parade. If this is really what you want, and if it’s a driving force within you, you might not book the first one, and you might not book the hundredth one. But if this is the path that you’re supposed to be on, stick with it, do your best. It’s a people business, and people get in good moods, bad moods. Don’t let anybody else’s emotions affect your career – and especially in your auditions. Really be true to who you are, really know that acting is reacting – acting is being – that being means being in the moment, being present, and being involved within the story.”
Lisa added about her career, “I’m blessed that I am hired by some wonderful people that trust me with their projects, and I’m super blessed by the actors that come in for me.”
Lisa, the entertainment industry is blessed to have you! Thank you for your wonderful insight and your helpful advice!
Be sure to check out Pantone Casting at PantoneCasting.com.
Jesse Daley is an actor and a writer who lives and works in Hollywood, California.