How much of a script should I learn for a casting?

Do you need to learn all the lines for an acting audition
Auditions and castings can come at the very last minute.
Its pretty usual practise for your agent to call you with an appointment for the next day and then send you your ‘sides’ to learn. If you are lucky you will perhaps get the weekend to familiarise yourself with the lines, or you will get a few days. We all have other work going on in our lives, be it temping in an office, waiting in a restaurant, or maybe you are currently in a show. Just how much of the script do you learn and how important is it for you to be ‘off book’ at a casting?
I honestly feel that you must not worry about learning the lines at all for a casting. This doesn’t mean I am giving you carte blanche to go into an audition blind, to go to a casting unprepared. What I am saying that is if your energy and worry is focussed on knowing the lines off by heart then your audition will not go well, you will NOT be acting, you will be in a panic and it will show.
I spend my time before any casting familiarising myself with the script, with the lines, but most importantly with the character. I learn what makes him or her tick, I actually focus my energy on getting inside of the character. I figure out my take on playing him and the scene, I make some choices on my interpretation of the material, whilst still keeping my mind open enough to play the scene in different ways.
The whole essence of learning lines is to forget them so you can make them sound like you thought of them that instant
Glenda Jackson Actor
I always try to learn the first few lines, so that I will begin the scene looking like a real person, looking like the character and not looking like an actor who is looking down at the sides and searching for the lines.
It is important to remember that casting directors are used to seeing actors holding the sides and are used to seeing actors look down for their lines during a casting. Try to look down for your line whilst they are speaking so that you are looking up and they get your face during your lines. Your face needs to be on screen when you speak as it will probably be these shots which get used during a scene. Think about TV shows and films, when the director chooses to use a close-up it is usually on the character who is speaking. As one acting coach puts it “No one won an Oscar because they were good at listening”
this is just the audition, and that you haven’t had a lot of time with the material. They understand that if you book the job then you will memorize it completely.
Jack Plotnick Acting Coach
I also never worry about paraphrasing for a TV or film audition. I have never had experience of a casting director getting upset because I changed a few of the words, if they really want you to say the words exactly as they are written then they will point out where you have paraphrased and get you to do it again. The pressure you can put on yourself to ‘get the words right’ really will destroy you and destroy your characterisation. The character isn’t concerned with ‘getting the lines right’ so neither should you be. You should be in the moment, if you have to search around for the next line or word to say, stay in the moment, stay with the given circumstances and your reactions will seem genuine. We all in life search for the right words. Freeing yourself from the worries of learning every line, frees up your acting, and takes a huge amount of pressure off you for the casting.
Memorising the lines before a casting or audition
If the writer is present, they will know the script a lot better than you will ever know it at a casting, they will defiantly know if you are paraphrasing. Don’t let this worry you, they will understand that you have only had the material for a few days, they know that if you book the job you will memorise it completely, don’t apologise for your paraphrasing at a casting, stay confident, they know that with rehearsals and preparation you will speak the words as they have written them.
By freeing yourself from the shackles of having to memorise every word for an audition, you are going to appear as a more lighthearted and confident actor, the kind of actor who has a busy life, has prepared to the best of his or her ability and is open to having some fun with the scene or scenes. By worrying and learning every single line and beat you will turn up looking like a bit of a swot who has had nothing better to do than sit up learning his lines in a desperate attempt to impress. I know this goes against what you have probably been taught in every class, but believe me it works.
NO ONE ever booked a job because they got all the words right!
Jack Plotnick Actor & Coach
I repeat again, you are not going in unprepared, you are prepared, but you have done it for you not for them, and you are ready for the audition to be a good experience for you and not a stressful one.
A callback or second audition is a different kettle of fish. I always try my best to learn the lines for these. The pressure is off, you have already made the first impression you have already got over the stress of the initial meeting, so go in to these knowing that you are good enough and now it is just a case of are you exactly right physically for the part and will you fit in with other cast members. At a callback you will have had feedback on your audition, you will know a little more about the director’s choices and the mood of the piece. You should have some time before the recall to get more and more comfortable with the material, with the pressure being off a little you will find the line learning easier and you will be more comfortable, again don’t overdo it and go in changing what was good about your first readings of the script.
You don’t have to learn all the lines
Remember these few basics if you are worrying about learning a script for an audition or casting:
  • No director, no casting panel, no auditioner of any kind is going to expect full memorisation of an entire script for a casting
  • At an audition they want to see your best work. It’s more likely you’ll do your best work with the script in your hand, however you are familiar enough with the lines that you don’t keep your head buried in the script
  • The pressure you can put on yourself to get all of the words right will destroy your audition!
  • Having the script in your hand isn’t a bad thing, if you forget a line it is right there in front of you so you won’t miss a beat looking to the page to get the line.
  • If you have learnt the script off by heart it can send out the message that you are now giving your “final” performance. It can send out a signal that if you are hired this is exactly how you intend to play the part. Wouldn’t you rather have the casting person thinking if you are this good in the casting, just think how great you will be when you actually shoot it!