One of the central difficulties about acting is the sheer act of putting yourself out there—giving it your all, emoting, gesticulating, chewing on a bizarre accent. The difference between a bold and inspired performance and a cringeworthy one has to be next to nothing, right? Jodie Foster once said that “acting is about being the uncoolest person in the room—the unhippest, the worst dancer, the worst dresser.”
This problem of confronting the ridiculous is a good deal of what makes the audition process so terribly daunting—all the more so if you are submitting a tape of a scene you’ve acted solo in your own bedroom. If you have seen Master of None, you probably remember a funny scene in which the Aziz Ansari character is obliged to submit an audition via Skype from a coffee shop. This stuff isn’t easy.
As Stanley Kubrick neared production on his Vietnam epic Full Metal Jacket, he hit upon a novel way of conducting the casting process for a movie that would inevitably be filled with fresh-faced kids: he made public solicitations for audition videotapes. Kubrick’s willingness to assess untried talent in this manner was big news in early 1984. It appeared in movie columns in newspapers like the Boston Globe and the Washington Post, with detailed instructions. As John Baxter noted in Stanley Kubrick: A Biography,
Variety also noted that Kubrick would “launch a nationwide search for new faces to play the young Marines. ‘Kubrick plans to stick very closely to that age in casting the film,’ says WB.” Kubrick played on his mystique, letting wannabe actors do much of the work of casting for him. In March 1984 he told the world’s press that he wanted audition tapes from anyone who felt able to play an eighteen-year-old Marine. They should stand against a plain background in jeans and a white T-shirt with a card showing their name and a contact number, then perform a dramatic scene of no more than three minutes. After that he wanted a minute on themselves and their interests. Then they should hold up a sheet with their name, address, phone number, age and date of birth. A series of close-ups, full-length shots and left and right profiles would finish the tape, which should then be sent to Warners in London.
In his biography of Kubrick, Vincent Lobrutto picks up the thread:
Kubrick received as many as three thousand videotapes of prospective movie Marine grunts. Kubrick’s staff reviewed all the tapes received and eliminated the ones they deemed unacceptable. Kubrick personally reviewed eight hundred audition tapes, noting that the majority of young men played guitar and were involved in body building.
On a recent episode of his podcast Doug Loves Movies, comedian Doug Benson, who would have been 19 years old at the time, revealed that he sent Kubrick an audition tape. In fact, according to Lobrutto, Vincent D’Onofrio won the part of Private Pyle in the movie by submitting an audition tape in this manner.
In 2006 a video surfaced of another audition tape that was made for Kubrick that year. It was by a young actor at Juilliard named Brian Atene, and the pomposity of his intro speech as well as the over-the-top acting in a scene “loosely based upon” S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders struck a chord among Internet users.
In the intro to the video, He likens himself to “a young Alec Guinness” (the kid had taste, anyway) and calls the intended recipient of the tape, Stanley Kubrick, “one of the greatest directors of all time,” if not quite the equal of “Michael Curtiz, director of The Sea Hawk.” My favorite bit from the video comes when Atene says, “My favorite composer is Erich Wolfgang Korngold, when I was 12 years old I won a spaniel puppy for 50 cents and my favorite color is green.” Now that is a troika of facts that hangs together nicely.
The performance was not perhaps overly terrible but certainly quite histrionic. A host of parody videos were hurriedly concocted, and eventually Atene himself, now in his 40s, came out with a response video—but it only had the effect of fanning the flames. Among other things we learned that Atene made two videos for Kubrick, and the one that went viral 22 years after its creation was the one he didn’t send to the director.
I find it very difficult to be too hard on Atene because I probably wasn’t all that different when I was his age. A little pretentiousness and self-importance aren’t so bad in a young person who is desirous of leading a life in the arts, right?