Actors are a notoriously touchy bunch. Whether engaged in jealous rivalry with fellow thespians, or insisting that Macbeth be referred to only as "the Scottish play", they can be relied upon to bring theatrics to almost any walk of life. And behaving like a diva is not just the reserve of stage players. Even the Hollywood elite are prone to the odd outburst - just ask Christian Bale. But more than any other environment, it's the audition that provokes drama and surprise. From Burt Reynolds allegedly throwing his toupee at the wall to get a part, to an early Fred Astaire screen test that inspired the comment: "Can't act, slightly bald. Can dance a little", auditions are an unrivalled way of revealing the unexpected.
So imagine the uproar among the theatrical community when it was discovered that a senior New York casting agent was making critical Twitter posts about actors during a lengthy day of auditioning this month. "If we wanted to hear it a different way, don't worry, we'll ask," Daryl Eisenberg ranted in one tweet. "Holding your foot above your head IN YOUR HEADSHOT is a BAD IDEA!" she said in another.
Although she refrained from naming names in the posts, many actors were so enraged at Eisenberg that they took to the web themselves, calling her behaviour unethical. Having been present during several lengthy and awkward auditions, where sweaty palmed actors vie to impress dozing directors, I am inclined to agree. On one occasion, I witnessed a wannabe literally jump for joy after getting a callback for a film role. On asking him what it was (the lead perhaps?), he replied: "Husband at BBQ", an uncredited part.
Eisenberg, who twitters under the name DECasting, has nearly 2,000 followers on the social networking site and has been responsible for casting actors for several TV shows, including Gossip Girl and Altar Boyz. After the furore broke on blogs and news sites around the world, Eisenberg tweeted in her defence: "There is NO rule/guideline against Twitter/Facebook/MySpace/Friendster. Freedom of speech. Ever heard of it?"
But the row led to a sit-down between Eisenberg and the Actors' Equity union, during which the casting agent was urged to stop tweeting from auditions. "By mutual agreement, future tweets will not be coming from the audition room regarding the actors auditioning," Eisenberg said in a statement. "I apologise to the actors and professionals who put themselves on the line every time they audition, and will continually strive to make the audition room an inspiring, nurturing place for creativity and talent," she said, with her tail hidden firmly between her legs.
While new technology is causing some actors in the US major headaches, it is beginning to have the opposite effect in the UK. The producers of the low-budget coming-of-age comedy Submarine have begun trialling a website that allows would-be stars to upload auditions to the web. Some have begun to ask whether this could be the beginning of the end for long, drawn-out casting sessions packed with nervous thespians frantically memorising their lines.
Almost 100 people have submitted video auditions to www.thecastingscene.com for the three junior lead roles in the film, which is due to begin production in the Welsh town of Swansea this autumn. The website allows users to download a scene from the film script and then upload a video clip of their audition. Submarine will be the first film to make use of the site in the UK. Although the producers Warp Films have embraced the new technology for Submarine's three teenage characters, it looks like traditional methods of casting are safe for now. The Frost/Nixon actor Michael Sheen has signed on for the film, alongside Paddy Considine of The Bourne Ultimatum.
But whatever new dawn technology brings to the machinery of show business, it's unlikely that actors will ever allow the audition process to become a sterile environment. Perhaps one of the most memorable audition stories of recent years surrounds the British actor Max Beesley, who once attempted to win over a casting director with his favourite impression: Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter. She was unimpressed by the impersonation, however, and only later did Beesley learn that the casting director was something of an expert on Walken impressions ... having been married to him for 25 years.