Megan Foley Marra has cast iconic commercials such as the James Dean look-alike spot for McDonald’s, the Tostitos spot led by Chris Elliott (Schitt’s Creek) with the “I smell refund” tagline and the Jerry Seinfeld-starring American Express campaign. With almost 30 years of experience, which includes casting more than 3,500 commercials, Foley Marra knows a thing or two about the audition process. She took the time to virtually sit down with Casting Networks and provide her own mini-class on the topic. Keep reading for four of her key takeaways regarding the process of auditioning for commercials.
1. Have fun.
We can tell right away if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, and for me, that’s a big thing. I suggest thinking about it as a party. Let’s say you’re at a get-together talking to some people who are just kind of there but not really enjoying themselves. Then, you look across the room and see a group that’s having a great time, and you’re naturally drawn to them. It’s the same way with auditions. Casting directors are drawn to actors that are having fun with their read, as are the clients. Even if you’re not feeling it, at least try and have a good attitude. I’ve seen talent who acts like it’s a pain to audition, which is of course a big turnoff.
2. Learn the copy and understand why it’s there.
It’s your job to know the copy and to be able to properly say the dialogue. In order to deliver it well, you also need to have done your homework and dissected it. Figure out why the words they chose are important. For example, if you’re auditioning for an allergy medicine commercial in which you play a grandma, think about her dialogue. Let’s say the line is, “Now I can breathe easy.” What does that mean to her? Maybe alleviating allergy symptoms allows her to do things she wasn’t able to before and helps her better enjoy time with her grandchildren. Put your own spin on the meaning behind the words, which means making a strong choice that fits you. But, also keep in mind that your take on the copy needs to align with what the client wants to say about their product.
3. Believe you can book it.
I’m known for thinking outside the box when it comes to casting. Recently, we were casting a role that was supposed to be played by an actor who was slight in build. We had a guy come in who was around 350 pounds but just owned the character. He was fabulous and booked the role. Actors will so often psych themselves out because they don’t think they have the right look for the character that they’re auditioning for. But you don’t have to be just like what the breakdown describes. You have your individual essence to offer and can make the role your own. Embrace what you bring to the character instead of taking yourself out of the running because you don’t think you’re right for it.
4. Be ready for opportunity when it knocks.
I did a Discover commercial a while back that called for a male lead. But the client didn’t like any of the guys they saw for the role, so I brought in a couple of women, one of whom was the terrific Kathleen Bailey. The client loved her, and when I told her rep that we wanted to put her on avail for the commercial, it turned out she was on avail for another project with the same shoot date. But they worked it out so that one production had her in the morning and the other got her in the afternoon. Because she had all her ducks in a row and was ready for the opportunities that came her way, she got to shoot two national commercials on the same day. The right jobs will find you, but you have to be ready for them. I think that all actors need to be hypervigilant about their careers. Right now, that means having a self-tape set-up always fully assembled and in working order so that you can do quick turnarounds on your submissions. And in-person auditioning will return at some point, which means it’s important to make sure those skills are still sharp so that you can perform to the best of your abilities when you’re in a casting office.
The casting director welcomes people to connect on her Facebook and Instagram pages, and those interested in learning more from her can check out the Foley Marra Casting site, which offers a variety of classes for actors. You can also find information on the other half of her casting team, Chuck Marra, who has been Foley Marra’s partner “in business and in life since 1987.” As for their next project, she shared during the interview that the duo is developing a way to help actors outside the classroom as well. “A lot of people are going to be needing new material for their reels after this time,” noted Foley Marra. “We’re going to start making reels for actors because we have the casting experience and the production skills to help them get what they need.” It may come as no surprise that Foley Marra is continuing to find ways to help actors, considering her take on casting. “Our joy is to make everybody look good, to make the actors shine and to make all of our clients shine, as well,” the casting director asserts.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.