THR's Comedy Actress Roundtable: Auditions for 'Homely' Parts, 'Girls' Paparazzi Problem
Kristen Bell, Mayim Bialik, Zosia Mamet, Kaitlin Olson, Jessica Walter and Betty White on their strangest auditions, biggest onscreen crushes and (still!) battling stage fright: Says White: "Flirting with your leading man works."
THR: Mayim, you started acting very young and were a public figure even when you were still a kid. Then you left the business to get an education. What was the biggest adjustment in making a multicam sitcom again?
Bialik: The cameras are smaller now! Chuck Lorre works differently, you know, than anyone I've ever worked with. But there was no Internet when I was on Blossom, there was no publicity. I could look 14 when I was 14, and I could look 16 when I was 16. Now when I see what girls are supposed to wear -- even to publicity things when they're 15 --it's astonishing to me. Not necessarily even just sexualization stuff but what is expected in terms of your presence. No one cared what I looked like when I went out. The standards were so different.
White: Hang in there until you're 91. It gets much easier. (Laughter.)
Bialik: One thing I remember from sitcoms of the '80s and '90s was when the producers and the director would be in a booth and you'd get your notes announced over a loudspeaker in front of the live audience, like the voice of God. "That wasn't funny, Mayim. Try it again." Now, directors whisper notes to you. But, you know, Jim Parsons can't imagine that you had your notes shouted over a loudspeaker during a taping in front of 300 people.
White: "Button the top button on your blouse!"
Bialik: "We can see your underwear!"
Walter: What bugs me about the business is a lack of respect for actors doing their work. Giving someone five pages of dialogue five minutes before they're supposed to shoot the scene? It never was like this! In the old days, you'd get a script two weeks ahead. You just have to adjust.
Bialik: Our stuff changes in front of a live audience.
Walter: Yeah, I think on a multicam, having done several, it's that way. But to me, on a single-camera when they do that, and it's five pages -- no audience, you know, but five pages, here you go. I'm not happy with it. Can you tell?
White: I love multicams because you can just go ahead and do it, they're going to catch you, and the audience goes along with you. On a single-cam, you're there and then you have to go back and do it for the close-up. … We're doing comedy! By that time, you've beaten the poor joke to death.
Walter: That's why I love theater. When all is said and done, the curtain goes up, and from beginning to end, it's yours.
THR: What do you do when you're given a script and your lines aren't funny?
Bialik: Make it funny.
Olson: On my show? Change it. Most of the time it's about, "How can I just tweak it a little bit?" We have the luxury of doing that on my show. So, if I'm not funny, it's my fault.
White: Don't play it for comedy. Play it as honestly as you can. The audience makes up their minds. It's the honesty they respond to rather than the reading.
Olson: That brings me to my answer to the thing that bothers me the most about this business, which is auditions. It's a bummer because I have the nerves that you're talking about. They don't make me funny. I get self-conscious.
Walter: Also, there are people who are great auditioners, and then they come up to the set and -- nothing. And people who are really uncomfortable auditioning are really brilliant when they get comfy on the set. It's crazy.
White: And don't you always kind of get a little crush on your leading man?
Olson: You're supposed to. I married mine [It's Always Sunny showrunner Rob McElhenney].
Walter: I married mine, too. But I've had other leading men who were to die for. I've had James Garner …
White: Not too shabby!
Walter: … Clint Eastwood, Charlton Heston.
Olson: Affairs with all of them?
Walter: No affairs! Just big crushes.
White: You know something else that ticks me off is when young, newer actors complain. And a couple of times I've lost it and said, "Do you have any idea how many people on this planet would give their lives to be doing what we're doing? Get into another line of work. Don't sit here on this set and take someone else's job!"
Bell: If I walk into that hair and makeup trailer or walk onto that set and there are a bunch of Debbie Downers -- you really think we have it that bad? Because we don't! It's very troubling to be around, and it sets my vibe off, and I'm just …
Mamet: We're in the most voluntary profession. For the most part, people actually 100 percent choose to do this job, and it beats working!
Walter: Also, there are actors who come in for five lines, and they don't know them. They mess it up, and some of your stuff is dependent on those five lines. That's really frustrating.
White: That's unforgivable!
THR: A few of you have mentioned stage fright. How do you cope with it?
Bialik: I don't know. I need it! It's like brushing my teeth in the morning. It's what my body does when I get ready to go on.
Walter: It energizes me actually. I don't know what it would be like without it, honestly.
White: That's why flirting with your leading man works. It keeps your attention. (Laughter.)
Bell: Sometimes it can run away with you. And no matter how prepared I am, that lump in the back of my throat will not go away. I've actually started meditating, and it honestly sets my brain at a place -- it's just 20 minutes that I'll meditate before I have a scary day on set or something that I'm anxiety-ridden about. And it takes my brain to a completely calm and creatively cracked open space. And it lasts for like 10 hours. I feel like it's like taking a really, really good … nap.
Bialik: I thought she was going to say drug.
Olson: I do that, too. Meditate, deep breathing, a great song that you love turned up really loudly. Just reminding myself of -- I mean, I can't speak for everyone -- but I would guess that most actors are pretty insecure people, as you can tell. Everyone kind of came to this place from, like, some, whatever. I've got to remember that, you know what, it's not that important. So that wasn't the best British accent you've ever done? No one is talking about it.