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Auditioning For NBC’s Chicago Fire

The start on 2013 has been full of a great deal of excitement. One of the headlining events was an audition “and” callback I had for NBC’s Chicago Fire. It truly was a thrilling experience – one that I’m grateful to have gone through.

I’ll get to all the details of those few days in a moment, but first some backstory. Since acting became a career focus, my Mom has continually told me, “You need to get in front of those ‘Law and Order’ people. You’d be perfect for that show.” Every time, I’d simply smile and tell my Mom, “It’s not quite that simple.” The again, my old childhood friend Jeremy Sisto had a stint as one of the leads on that show before it went off the air. Maybe being cast in another cop show is in the cards.

Flash forward to the Fall of 2012 and a call from my agent. “Charles we have an audition for you for Wednesday at PR Casting… for Chicago Fire.” Woohoo! Talk about some uber-exciting news. What I haven’t shared so far is that, for those who don’t know, the guy who produces Chicago Fire – Dick Wolf – is the same guy behind, you guessed it, “Law and Order.” Now, that’s something. It was nice to call my Mom that day and tell her I’m getting in front of those “Law and Order” people after all.

The role I got called in for in 2012 was a one-liner – a party guest who walks in on two of the main firefighters getting intimate. The audition got pushed and then, unfortunately, canceled. They cut the role. My agent told me, we’ll get you back in there for something else soon. Disappointing: sure. Of course, my attitude in situation like this one is there’s something bigger and better in store. As the saying goes, God’s delays are not denials.

Time passed. Casting for Chicago Fire changed hands from Mickie and Jennifer at PR Casting to Claire and the ladies at Simon Casting. At the time, PR called me in pretty regularly, Simon not as much. The likelihood of another Chicago Fire audition didn’t seem too promising in the short term.

Of course, you read the opening, you know what happened next. I got the call – an audition at Simon Casting on Thursday April 4 for the role of Dr. Ken Farrah. Just before the opportunity struck, I was in a pretty tough spot. Lots of great things had been happening in my life, but, nonetheless, I felt a bit stuck and frustrated. I needed something and asked the universe for help. Some may call it a coincidence, but, for me, it was one of those instances where I felt someone out there is looking after for me. One of my core beliefs is that I am guided, but, like everyone, sometimes I need a reminder. That call helped affirm my faith and gave my the juice I needed to keep treking through the peaks and valleys of life as an actor and artist.

Different from the Fall, this role was a bit juicier. It was a whole scene, a bunch of lines and (perhaps) the potential of the character coming back in future episodes. As mentioned, Ken Farrah is a doctor. I have long since joked, all the acting related work I do at Northwestern has been preparing me to be a TV doctor. Maybe that statement was about to become a reality. Either way, clearly, this was a tremendous opportunity. One I wasn’t going to take for granted. Right away, I went to work.

My work included getting down the script; asking myself every possible question – acting or otherwise – about the character and the circumstance of the scene; running it hundreds of different ways; rehearsing with my girlfriend; deciding on wardrobe; devoting hours on mental preparation, relaxation and visualization; and listening to a self-recorded version of the scene on loop while I got a full night’s sleep. The amount of time and effort a professional actor puts in just for the opportunity to work can be staggering. Anyone who ever has issue with the sizable paycheck an actor may earn for a big job, needs to check themselves.

The day of the audition, I showed up 30 minutes early at Simon Casting. I was relaxed, confident, prepared and, most importantly, ready to have some fun. I walked into the room wearing a doctor’s coat that I owned and did the scene one time with the Intern/Reader while Claire sat in the back and watched. No cameras or anything like that. In the blink of an eye, it was over. I smiled, thanked everyone and walked out. As I exited, I caught Claire scribbling something on her notepad and felt some a good vibes.

As with any audition, as soon as it’s over, it’s out of sight, out of mind. On to the next one. I felt great about my performance and thought I made a good impression.

Since I was in the neighborhood, I stopped next door to visit my friend Bethany Schreck at her place of employment – the wonderful, child enrichment center: Bubbles Academy. While touring the facilities and catching up with Bethany, I got a call from my agent. Hmm… I wonder why she’s calling? As usual, I let it go to voicemail (always nice to have a message with the details of any audition, etc.). As I was about to leave Bethany and Bubbles, I listened to the VM. Callback for Chicago Fire! Excitement molecules, let’s get busy! After some brief celebration with Bethany and a few select phone calls, it was back to work. The same drill as the day before. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Before I continue, I must say the amount of preparation and intense focus that went into those two auditions was something else. I’ve had long stretches of my life where I’ve felt in the flow, if you will. For a while, the formula I was using on a daily basis would get me to that special place every day. Consistently getting “there” takes work and, despite my best efforts or desires, doesn’t happen all the time. Those two days though, I was certainly in the zone.

The callback was the next day, Friday, and like the day before I was ready. I showed up early and, on the way to Simon Casting, bumped into another actor who auditioning for another role – LaRoyce. He had a great energy and we had an instant connection. We walked and talked for a few minutes, verbally imagining a scenario where we’d be on set together. His audition was at 12:00. Mine 12:25. I had some time. So, I went to one of my sanctuaries to chill before checking in at the casting agency.

When I arrived, I saw LaRoyce still sitting and waiting. They were behind schedule. I looked around the room and was fascinated by the assortment of behavior from all the actors. Some were so nervous they were changing color. Some were physically prepping their bodies to stay loose. Some were rehearsing their lines. Typical audition scenario. Still fascinating. I enjoyed it all. I just sat there relaxed, smiled  and appreciated the moment. As time passed, I discovered who the other actors who were also auditioning for my role. Two other white guys. One bald. One with a big bushy beard. There was another guy who was Asian and the last guy was ethnically ambiguous. In other words, we were all quite different. My focus, just give ’em the best me. Ultimately, I knew I would either fit the image of what they were looking for or I wouldn’t.

Finally, close to 1:00, I was called into the room. Claire and Shelby from the casting agency were there along with one of the Interns. Five folks from the “Chicago Fire” production team including the Director were there as well. After some brief instructions, I ran through the scene. The Director gave me one note. I listened, took it in and did my thing.

I knew I made a strong impression and had a solid audition. I left happy and, unlike other auditions, full of anticipation. As mentioned earlier, much like a baseball closer, you have to forget about the audition once it’s over. Of course, this was a big one. So, that was harder to do. I wanted it.

The remaining hours in the work day ticked away. Still no call. For those not in the biz, you typically don’t hear about an audition unless you book it. Friday ended. No call. I didn’t know the timetable for decision making, but figured it was quick – given the shoot date was a week away. In my mind, if I didn’t hear on Friday, I didn’t get it. While not the result I wanted, I was fine with that outcome.

Of course, both my Girlfriend and Mom were quick to remind me that I don’t know anything. They could make the call next week. Monday, maybe Tuesday. Who knows? That made me think of Dhoom 3 – the Bollywood Blockbuster I booked last Summer. It took a week or two before I got offered the role. I agreed with the ladies in my life and kept the window of opportunity open in my mind.

Monday passed. Nothing. Tuesday… nothing again. Curious, I happened to go online and see my agent’s Facebook page. There was a post congratulating some actors on the Big Mouth roster for booking Chicago Fire. None of whom were cast in the role of Dr. Ken Farrah, but this was the last piece of evidence I needed to close the window. Decisions had been made. I didn’t a call. I didn’t get the part.

That’s not quite the storybook ending to this post, but it is an ending. I wanted to share my experience so that people who don’t know the acting world could get a taste of what an actor goes through. Also, for my fellow actors, my experience in one you probably can relate to or perhaps learn from. I can only hope those also living the dream get to experience moments like this one – full of excitement and rich emotions.

Now, don’t feel bad for me because I didn’t book the job and make my network TV debut. Instead, be happy that I got to go on such a wild ride and know, like I do, that bigger a better things are yet to come.

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  1. […] was a callback I had for NBC’s Chicago Fire (as Dr. Ken Farrah). I actually wrote about it (click here) way back when. It was a nice scene in the episode that spun-off Chicago PD. They cut the role, but […]

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