This video is a hilarious send-up of the commercial audition process. I saw it on a guy's blog, and he seemed to imply that this was a pretty dead-on depiction. The thing is, I don't think he actually does any commercial work, so I'm not sure where he gets his perspective from.
A lot of people sitting outside the audition room will scoff at the process, saying it only really comes down to whether you've got the right look or not. I think it's partly an esprit-de-corps thing, partly a typical actor tendency to self-denigrate and devalue what we do, and maybe it also provides a little comfort -- a feeling that this is all so beyond your control anyway it's not worth beating yourself up over.
The truth is, very often they have no idea what they're looking for. Or they have an idea but it turns out it's completely wrong. It's a cliche, but very often true that they don't know what they want until they see it.
But they give you these character breakdowns in advance that vary in their actual helpfulness. I actually find that the more information they give in the breakdown, the less useful it becomes. And sometimes it's not their fault. These lengthy descriptions are likely lifted straight from the creative brief, which needs to be detailed.
Today, for instance, I had this breakdown that went on for 375 words. Adjectives included: intellectual, quirky, passionate, brilliant, authoritative, likable, authentic, charming, captivating, memorable, deadpan, witty, roguish, innocent, child-like, enthusiastic. It then went on to list eight different celebrities to possibly model the character on.
At that point you sorta take it in, but then you just put it all aside and think, "How would I do this?" Because the last thing you want to do is a half-baked impression of one of those guys. So that's what I did. I made it my own. And if it turns out I'm too Jewish, so be it.