Written by Malin Evita
Samantha Stiglitz has always known that acting was the field for her. Growing up in the musical theatre sphere, performance was a given. And throughout high school, summer speciality programs, and earning her BFA in acting, she eventually transitioned from theatre to film and ended up in Los Angeles. “I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know anything about the city, and so I sort of just sat around waiting for something to happen,” Sam says, “I didn’t have that self-possessed way of just go and hustle. That’s not in my personality.”
But unfortunately, an integral part of being a working actor is putting yourself out there. Making your name known. And for Sam, who didn’t carry that trait, it ended with her sitting around for about two years before she realised she had to do something. “Like my mom would always say, No one is gonna find you in your living room,” she laughs. So she started researching different career paths while still going to auditions, and one of the girls she was reading with for a scene told her about a casting office looking for interns.
“And I was like, Wow, that sounds like a cool thing! So I called every casting office in town just to see who was hiring.” After some looking around, she got herself an internship at a big and busy casting company. So busy, in fact, that she was allowed to do so much more than the regular coffee run. She got to run sessions and pick her own actors—it was truly a fantastic foundation for a career within the world of casting. Jealousy of the actors standing before her never crept in, only excitement for finding the talent.
“The more I did it, the more I realised that this is the only thing I want to do.”
After working at ten different offices throughout a couple of years, she moved from associate to director. She cast several shows, including titles such as Pretty Little Liars, Burn Notice, and Graceland. But at a certain point, casting became less and less actual casting. The industry changed, and giving the green light turned into people management and stepping on shards of broken dreams. Sam was looking for something more. Something that would let her nurture and delve into the craft with the actors—something which became virtually non-existent at the end. That’s where coaching came in, something that, with her acting background and a plethora of industry insight and connections, was a match made in heaven.
“My focus as a coach is helping actors find their unique way into scenes, [and] also helping them understand that auditioning and acting are two separate art forms. And that is part of the frustration. I have so many clients who were in a scene study class and come to me and say I crushed it in that class; I was amazing—when I got to the audition, I didn’t do a good job. That’s because those are two different scenarios,” Sam explains. The lack of connection between the pure art of acting and actually “making it” in the industry was something she recognised from her own time in training. She has made it her goal to connect those two dots and not let a future generation of fantastic actors slip through the cracks just because they weren’t prepared for and aware of the audition process.
As to why there is that disconnect, a few reasons come to mind. For one, she references the power dynamic between acting teachers and students where it isn’t uncommon for students to be fearful and hesitant in approaching their teachers for advice. She also notes that most scene study classes don’t offer audition preparation, and if they do, it’s just a lot of rules. “Don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t wear this color, don’t have a headshot like this. And actors get scared because—of course—when you are first starting your career, you’re going to listen to ‘experts’. But your job is to pick and choose the advice you get and put together something that works for you.”
It was once she figured out how to bridge the gap that she decided to start a class, because, as she says: “What good is it if I teach you how to act, how to dive into a character, how to really get there, and then that goes away the second you step in the room? I’d be failing you!” Learn more about her classes and coaching on her website, auditionprola.com.
Advice for Aspiring and Emerging Actors
1. On motivation.
“Learn to let it go.”
One of the things you will hear the most when you initially decide that you want a career in show business is that you will hear a lot of no’s. But Sam disagrees with this sentiment. “That’s not the case. You hear nothing all the time—just radio silence. So actively being rejected isn’t happening that often. It’s just a purgatory of not knowing,” she explains, “And actors should care. They should put their heart and soul into each audition, but then you have to learn to let it go.”
And while she has seen actors receive the mythical “overnight success” from one audition her and there, she does warn that those are exceptions within the millions. “And, I think most overnight successes were working or auditioning actors who you just hadn’t heard of yet. But every time you see a big star now, there are thirty casting directors who can tell you about their last auditions. And then there’s their old representation who can tell you about how they signed them before they went with CAA!” So don’t fear, and maybe go back and look at your favourite actor’s earliest IMDB entries.
2. On auditioning & mindset.
“You’re never going to be the right choice. That’s not gonna happen. You may be the choice, but it is not because you got it ‘right.’”
“One of the things actors hear over and over again is Make a choice. Make a big choice. Make a—whatever—choice. And I think that’s a scary concept to actors for two reasons. One, It doesn’t mean anything, right? Like what does ‘make a choice’ mean? Does it mean that I’m going to turn my character into a serial killer? No. Does it mean I’m going to have some emotional tension? Sure. But the other thing is, actors are trying their hardest to book the job. So when they get a breakdown and sides in a script, they’re immediately—every actor I know—is immediately thinking, What do they want? What do they want, what can I give them? As opposed to, What do I see? What do I want? What is my take on this? Because if you’re trying to jump into the heads of casting and producers, you’re going to lose. You’re never going to be successful with that,” Sam says, adding that as soon as actors realise that they can’t hack the game, a monumental shift happens in the approach to the script.
3. On using your story.
“Every actor makes their own process.”
To Sam, acting is all about what the individual offers in terms of a lens for storytelling. It is about how they can connect to the story they are telling and the different flavours their unique life experience adds to that. This is also one of the reasons she firmly believes that those coming from other vocations can be excellent actors. “I am known for helping turn non-actors into actors; that’s my speciality. So I will take a singer, an influencer, a chef, whatever, and make them actors. And the reason I can do that and why it is somewhat easy is that you are telling a story in whichever medium. If you are cooking, you’re telling a story through food. If you’re dancing, it’s through dance. It’s just a matter of helping someone translate those skills into [acting].”
“I don’t have a one-size-fits-all process. If I was coaching you, I would get to know you as a person. How you see the world, what your ticks and fears and worries are, and then [I] would use all of that to get you into the scene. There’s no right way,” she says.
4. On understanding the hiring process.
“They are rooting for you to get the job.”
“Before I worked behind the scenes, I thought the casting director picked the person, and the person went to set; that casting directors had a lot of power. And they do in the sense that they bring in the right people—but they are not the decision-makers,” Sam says as she reflects on how her view of the industry has shifted over the years. She explains that even for one-line co-stars, actors are brought in by casting, which is then approved by producers and taken through even higher tiers of approval by the studio and network attached to the project. “That’s a lot of eyes on one role—I don’t think I realised that.”
Another thing she has come to learn is that the strict rules actors are told are quite arbitrary. The Never wear this and Never shoot against this backdrop or even, No landscape headshots! are really nothing more than personal preferences. “I realised that is totally ridiculous. They’re not going to stop you from getting the job because your headshot was ‘wrong,’ because you handed them a headshot and it was facing the wrong way, or you wore a white shirt,” she laughs, “Casting is on your side. Producers, directors, they’re all on your side. They are rooting for you to get the job. That’s what I’ve learned more than anything else—to not worry about these little things and just worry about the quality of the work.”
Written by Malin Evita
Evita is the host and producer of the podcast and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and recently received her HNC in Professional Writing Skills. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.