A few days ago, I spoke with my good friend and actor, Adam Shapiro.
I first met Adam in 2007 when I cast him in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and I again in 2008 when I cast him in House Bunny. When I was auditioning actors for these roles, Adam stood out because he not only made smart choices, but he was so darn funny and made me laugh. Adam has acted in roles from guest stars to the leads in over 60 television shows and films including Grey’s Anatomy, The Mindy Project, Sense 8, Kingdom, Now You See Me & Steve Jobs.
Adam is a talented and accomplished actor as well as a talented and skilled director. He is one of the founders and directors of the Los Angeles-based IAMA Theatre Company.
I asked Adam to share his experience and advice about getting started as an actor and successfully working in the TV and film industry.
How did you get started as an actor?
In high school, the musical auditions always lined up beautifully around the day I would get cut from the basketball team try-outs. I guess that is where I started to dabble. But when I went to the University of Maryland to study Government & Politics, I ended up in a comedy group called Sketchup, and really fell in love with performing. It became the most important thing in my life, and naturally I switched my focus from political science to theatre. Not as much of a jump as one might think. It was in those classes and plays where I got my start as an actor.
What has been one of the defining moments in your acting career so far?
There are so many moments to point to when I think about the course of my career and finding my way as an actor.
One game-changer was an audition I had at FOX for the director, Jason Winer. It was for a pilot and I hadn’t been working that much at the time. I was auditioning to play a guy in a group of friends and this guy was written as the nerdy, neurotic type. I went in and played that scene with that “type” in mind. After the read, the producers and Jason all said thanks and I was on my merry way, until just as I’m walking down the hall, Jason pops his head out of the audition room and says “Adam, good job, but I have a major note for you for when I bring you back, and I didn’t want to give it in the room so I’ll call you tonight…”
Well this was a first. So he calls, and in full disclosure we’re good friends and have worked together a bunch, and he said “no offense, but for this role, you’re nerdy enough. What I mean is, you’re enough. I don’t want to see acting, or a “nerd character”, leave the fake glasses at home, don’t change how you talk, don’t push the jokes…just be you. This is a tough note to take, because just being yourself is really hard to do…know that you deserve to be in that room. And you deserve a part like this.” He talked about how this was always a note he had difficulty with when he was an actor, but that if ever there was a safe room to try it, it would be at that next audition with him.
I’d heard variations of this note before “smaller” “less”, but this was the first time I really understood it. Walking into that audition felt scary. But I tried it. And it was incredible. The laughs came easier. It didn’t feel like so much work. I was looser and more impulsive. After the audition Jason poked his head out the door once again, and this time just gave me a thumbs up.
I didn’t get that part, but I haven’t stopped working since.
You are very pro-active in your career with social media – what advice or tips do you have for actors regarding social media?
I love it. I’ve literally gotten jobs because of social media. And you don’t have to post every little thing. A lot of actors are uncomfortable sharing their personal lives, while they want to be believed as whatever role comes their way. And I totally get that. But there’s still room to use social media to your advantage without tweeting that you’re eating an arugula salad.
My advice would be to, at the very least, use it to make business connections and to stay informed. It’s such a useful tool to be able to follow the actors and filmmakers that you admire
When I moved to LA, there was no glimpse into the work or lives of actors I wanted to be like. Now I can follow them on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat, and I get to see how they work, what they’re working on, who they’re friends with, what they like, etc. and I can even interact with them. That’s an amazing chance to basically see how it’s done.
It becomes less distant, the dream doesn’t seem as unattainable as it once was 15 years ago, when the only glimpse of an actor or director I’d see is when I was catering their party. Also, sometimes writers and directors want to contact you without having to go through an agent: a social presence gives them an easy way to contact you.
Advice for those who love social media: live tweeting is really fun. Live tweet your shows, other people’s shows, whatever…it’s a great way to build an audience.
Any advice you can give to new actors?
Every audition counts. A lot of times you get an audition for a role you feel like you’re not going to get. Either the description of the character in the script is nothing like you, or you’re just not quite feeling the character for you. My advice: put the work in anyway. The chances of you getting the role you’re auditioning for are really, really small. But if you put in the work, and give a great read, the chances of you being brought back to that office again for another role, one you may be perfect for, are really, really good.
Do not think of an audition as simply a long shot chance of getting that specific part, but a great opportunity to perform for a director or a casting director that you may establish a career long relationship with. Leading to many more jobs in the future. I once auditioned for an attorney general role in the film Side Effects. There was no way I was getting it. But the read went great. Carmen Cuba’s office brought me back in after that and they cast me in Now You See Me, Sense 8, Looking and Full Circle.
Any funny stories in the process of auditioning, on the set, in an acting class, or in the process of becoming a successful working actor and what did you learn from the experience?
Before I learned the lesson I talked about in the question above, I went to an audition that I didn’t think I’d get, so I didn’t put the work in and gave a really bad read for a casting director named Kate Caldwell. I didn’t know the scene. I didn’t know my lines. I wasn’t even close to being prepared enough. I left the audition and just figured I wasn’t going to get it, and I didn’t. But then I never got called back to that office, either. I didn’t make any fans.
Once I realized how big of a blown opportunity that was, I took it upon myself to invite Kate to any live theatre I did in the years that followed. And she came to see me in a few plays. Once I had won her back, she began to bring me in again. Since then, she’s cast me in one of my favorite recurring gigs on Kingdom, and recommended me to another casting office that ended up casting me in Steve Jobs.
So yeah, EVERY. AUDITION. COUNTS!
Thanks so much Adam for your awesome interview!!
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