Auditions can be a place where true greatness is discovered or the home of some of the most embarrassing moments for Hollywood’s biggest stars. When audition stories come out, the most noteworthy usually involve the unexpected; a chance discovery or an unmitigated disaster. In the off-chance the tryout tapes get released, they can highlight the amazing talents of the actors and show off just how far they’ve come since.
There are tales of actors taking big swings, directors throwing curveballs, and so on. While some A-listers have funny and charming anecdotes about the roles they tried out for early on in their careers, unfortunately, there are others who have been subjected to inappropriate casting couch behavior or requests that would make anyone’s hair stand on end. If there’s one thing these stories have in common, it’s that these experiences have remained lodged in the actors’ memories all these years (and many successes) later—some for good reason, and some for bad.
Here are some of the weirdest celebrity audition stories.
Bill Nighy's crazy audition
When Bill Nighy scored the part of Ray Simms in 1998’s Still Crazy, it was, as he recalled in an interview with The A.V. Club, his “first principal role in a movie” and he “was 46 at the time.” Prior to that, he found himself competing with and losing out on roles to, as he told the outlet, “the same 12 guys.” Yet, on this occasion, things worked out in his favor. “I think I got it because everybody they really desired turned it down,” he said, adding that it was “the story of most of my career.”
“I did a screen test at about 8 a.m.,” Nighy recalled to The A.V. Club. It was then and there that they dressed him in “a pair of skin-tight bell-bottoms and a pair of four-inch, fake crocodile platform heels and a top that did not meet my trousers.” He almost did not go through with it “because it was so embarrassing,” and who knows where Nighy’s career would be without that film. “You think, ‘Who arranged this? And why would I put myself through this?'” he remembered. “In desperation, I simulated sex with the mic stand.”
Nighy kicked things up a notch… literally. As he recalled on an episode of Fresh Air, “I did a high kick and pretend to hurt my back. That’s always a good one. You want to get a cheap laugh? Do a high kick and then pretend it’s hurt your back. It’s in the movie, actually.” Fortune favors the bell-bottom-clad bold.
Mads Mikkelsen was up in arms about this audition
Before his Hollywood roles in King Arthur and Casino Royale, Mads Mikkelsen was Denmark’s best kept secret. His turns in those international movies garnered him the attention of a massive new audience and resulted in a slew of auditions, but not all of those auditions gave him the warm and fuzzies. “One day I found myself in an office, trying out for a Fantastic Four something, extending my arms like a rubber man,” he said in a Rolling Stone interview. “‘This is so embarrassing,'” he remembers thinking to himself. “‘I’m standing in a f***ing office, reaching for something on the other side of the room, and I have one line. I can’t do this anymore.'”
When The A.V. Club asked him about his worst audition, the memory of Josh Trank’s catastrophic bomb of a film came flooding back. “I think I walked out on the Fantastic Four one,” Mikkelsen said.
A few months later, at the London Film and Comic Con, the actor clarified that he actually didn’t leave the audition, but he didn’t amend his feelings about the rubber arms. “When I left it, I was just like – this is crazy,” he said (via Screen Geek). “I don’t even have long arms. What am I doing in here? The audition was only about long arms. No lines. I felt a little funny.” Suffice to say, he didn’t want to go out on a limb for that one.
Wait, did Megan Fox really wash a car in an audition?
One of the more famous audition stories came from a short snippet of a 2009 Megan Fox interview in The Guardian. It revealed that she went through a very strange process to land her iconic role in Transformers. She allegedly told the publication that she had to “wash [director Michael Bay’s] Ferrari while he filmed her.” When that information and her story about being sexualized as an underage extra on Bad Boys II resurfaced in 2020 and made headlines, the actor came forward to clear the air a bit.
“I was not underaged at the time and I was not made to ‘wash’ or work on someone’s cars in a way that was extraneous to the script,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “I did ‘work’ (me pretending to know how to hold a wrench) on one of Michael’s Ferraris during one of the audition scenes. It was at the Platinum Dunes studio parking lot, there were several other employees and crew members present and I was at no point undressed or anything similar.” So, while the audition may have been a bit strange, it was not as predatory as the original story made it seem.
The audition request that left Emmy Rossum swimming away
When taking part in a roundtable discussion for The Hollywood Reporter, Emmy Rossum, without naming names, brought up the Megan Fox car washing audition rumor as an example of a “pay-to-play situation.” While she claims she was never asked to “do something really obviously physical” to get a role, she did tell the story of one degrading audition request. “Even as recently as a year ago, my agent called me and was like, ‘I’m so embarrassed to make this call, but there’s a big movie and they’re going to offer it to you,'” she explained. “They really love your work on the show. But the director wants you to come into his office in a bikini. There’s no audition. That’s all you have to do.'”
When fellow roundtable participant Pamela Adlon wondered why they would ask that of her, especially since she has several revealing scenes on Shameless, Rossum explained, “He wanted to know if I was fat now.” To highlight just how broken the system is, Rossum said that she even considered it. “I actually had this moment like, ‘Well, how good is the part?'” she said. “For a second, I was like, ‘Would I do it? … Send me the script. Maybe the character is in a bikini in the movie?”’ It was then that she discovered that the character neither wears a bikini or appears nude in the film, so she turned it down.
Lukas Gage received too much feedback during an audition
The coronavirus pandemic has thrust people into many new roles and situations. Many workers went remote and video conferences took over for in-person meetings. For the tech-savvy among us, this was an easy transition, but others not so much. Auditioning for a part over Zoom has to be a challenge in the best of situations, but when Lukas Gage of Euphoria fame stepped up to show his stuff on camera, he overheard something he wasn’t supposed to hear.
“These poor people live in these tiny apartments,” the director, Tristram Shapeero, said as Gage prepared himself. “I’m looking at his background, and he’s got his TV.” Quickly realizing that the director mistakenly thought he was muted, the actor responded. “I know! It’s a sh***y apartment,” he said. “Give me this job so I can get a better one.” When the director began apologizing profusely, Gage went with it. “Listen, I’m living in a four-by-four box; it’s fine,” he said. “Just give me the job, and we’ll be fine.”
The actor would eventually post the clip to Twitter with the note, “psa if youre a s*** talking director make sure to mute ur s*** on zoom mtgings.” The embarrassing video went viral and caused Shapeero to pen an apology on Deadline. “I offer Mr. Gage a sincere and unvarnished apology for my offensive words, my unprofessional behavior,” he wrote. “Lukas deserved better.” It seems, however, that better did not mean the part.
Yorgos Lanthimos knows how to keep auditions interesting
Director Yorgos Lanthimos makes some of the strangest films out there. As The New York Times wrote, his distorted vision has “drawn acclaim — but also intense backlash.” To make his bizarre films, Lanthimos uses a bizarre process. At the New York Film Festival premiere of The Favourite, Emma Stone revealed that her audition was particularly odd. “He had me pant like I was giving birth throughout the lines,” she said, according to USA Today. It is worth mentioning that her character is not pregnant and does not do much panting.
Her co-star Nicolas Hoult also had a unique audition experience. “Yorgos asked me to hum while the person I was with said their lines,” he said, according to USA Today. “Then I had to imagine force fields around the room and sculpt them into things.” Lanthimos’ unorthodox style even carried through to the rehearsals. According to The New York Times, the cast went through three weeks of games like “trying to tie themselves in knots, jumping from carpet tile to carpet tile, or writhing around on the floor.”
Apparently, there is a method to the madness. “He had us do all sorts of things that keep you from thinking about what your lines mean,” the film’s star, Olivia Colman, said in The New York Times. Rachel Weisz, who worked with Lanthimos on The Lobster and The Favourite, also shared her take on Lanthimos’ process with NYT: “The best way to describe it is, it becomes completely unconscious … completely instinctual.”
Geena Davis is fighting for change after her own audition experiences
Auditions are an accepted part of the business, but that doesn’t mean all auditions are acceptable. When speaking with USA Today in 2019, Hollywood veteran Geena Davis opened up about her own negative experiences coming up in the industry.
“There’s probably a million examples,” Davis said. “One was very early on: I was auditioning for a part where in one scene, my character was going to be sitting on the lap of the male character. The director said, ‘Just act the scene out with me’ and made me sit on his lap.” She, like so many other young women trying to break into the industry, went along with it because she didn’t know what else to do. “I didn’t want to do it, and I was very uncomfortable, but I didn’t know you could say no,” she said. “It’s pretty standard that you don’t meet alone with a man in a private room or hotel suite anymore, but plenty of that stuff goes on and has gone on for a long time.”
While promoting her gender equality documentary, This Changes Everything, at the Deauville Film Festival in France, Davis explained that the #MeToo movement has opened people’s ears. She told reporters, according to Reuters, “that earlier in her career female actors were discouraged from speaking out by being told there would always be someone else willing to take their roles.”
Charlize Theron left an audition that turned inappropriate
Many stars have cast light on the ugly truths about the rampant abuse of power in Hollywood. Sadly, so many of the horror stories happened to young aspiring artists when their position in the industry was in flux. This is how it went for Charlize Theron on her very first audition. “I had just turned 19. I might have still been 18. I had never been for an audition,” she said on The Howard Stern Show. She was pointed in the direction of a famous producer—or more specifically, to his house—on a Saturday at 9 pm.
“I knocked on the door, and he opened up the door and he was in his pajamas,” she said. “I should’ve [left]. I didn’t. I went in. He had a very healthy ego. He felt very good about himself. There was some kind of Muzak playing in the house,” she said. “Then we sat down and started talking. He sat very close to me, that was strange. The drinking bothered me, I was like, ‘This doesn’t feel right.'” After he let her know he didn’t care to hear her read any lines, he put his hand on her knee. “It’s crazy, and girls talk about this, where you just go blank. Like, you don’t know what to do,” Theron said. “I left. I don’t even know how I got out of the house, but I left.”
George Lazenby's personal life was part of the audition process
In the many years since playing James Bond, star George Lazenby has spoken about the audition process he was subjected to as an unknown actor at the time. As noted in Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury’s Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films, Lazenby, who’d come up in the modeling world and had no acting experience, was put through various trials before he landed the role. According to the book, he was judged on his abilities as an actor, fighting skills, and sexuality.
Apparently, producers wanted the actor to prove that he was heterosexual. “They sent a girl up to my apartment to make sure I wasn’t gay,” Lazenby said in the Everything or Nothing documentary (via Daily Express). “A little while later they had their answer. I sure as hell wasn’t.” It doesn’t appear that Lazenby was too put off by the request either. “Suddenly I was James Bond and you can imagine what that did to me,” he said. “I don’t want to brag but I had at least one girl a day.”
The claims shocked even the director of the documentary, Stevan Riley, who was sure he wouldn’t get approval from Eon Productions to keep the quotes. “I had no way of confirming if the story was true,” he said. “I just left it in the edit and waited to see if Eon approved it.” Evidently, it was deemed okay for the final cut.
George Clooney sure did tank this audition
These days, George Clooney probably doesn’t have to audition for any role, but back in 1992, he went out for a smaller role in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Evidently, the future Hollywood megastar got a little too into character for the tryout. “I was supposed to play a drunk guy and I got really drunk to do it,” he divulged to Channing Tatum and E! News in 2016. “I thought that was the best way to do it.” Well, he was wrong. If you’ve seen the Francis Ford Coppola film, you can probably guess that Clooney never got the part.
“Coppola called my agent and said, ‘He was drunk!'” Clooney said laughing. “That didn’t work out.” No, it did not work out, but Clooney’s career sure did. By 1994, he was on ER, and he wasted no time in becoming one of the most sought-after stars in Hollywood.
Years after his failed Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Clooney did get to work with Francis Ford’s daughter, Sofia Coppola, on the Netflix original movie A Very Murray Christmas. Talk about an utterly batty full-circle moment.
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