Comedian and actress Janeane Garofalo (“Reality Bites,” “The Truth About Cats & Dogs,” “24″) hosted the Artios Awards in New York City on Monday night, where CSA-member casting directors are recognized annually for their work casting film, theater, and television projects. I was there before the ceremony to speak candidly with Garofalo about past auditions, the ups and downs of her long career, and why acting is always personal.
Do you have relationships with any of the casting directors being honored here tonight?
Janeane Garofalo: I mean, I know some of them. I don’t know them know them, but I’ve met some over the years. But I don’t even know if they know who’s hosting. (laughs)
What does it mean to you to be hosting the awards tonight? As an actor, these casting directors kind of control your destiny, right?
Yeah. So they’re getting rewarded for controlling the destiny of millions of young – and middle-aged – actors.
Speaking of casting directors, do you remember your best – or worst – audition experience?
My worst audition was for Oliver Stone, many years ago. He walked out of the room while I was auditioning for “Natural Born Killers.” That’s the only time I remember that happening. And I was told by others that that was not unusual. That was his behavior back in those days.
You try not to take it personally. He didn’t know who I was, and I don’t think he was even being mean. He was just being himself. I’m sure he would never in a million years remember that day.
Is it hard to put your personal feelings aside when you’re going to auditions and being hired — or rejected — by casting directors?
It feels personal. It isn’t, but it feels personal, because you are presenting yourself, even if your obviously pretending or trying – I guess pretend isn’t the right word, but you’re creating or trying to be another character, but it is you. And as you know, a lot of it is look. The way you look right when you walk in, sometimes you can tell you’re not going to get it by the look on their face.
So it’s almost better if they just tell you at that moment, then.
Yes! And then sometimes, you know it’s bad if they don’t ask you to do it again, and they just say, “Thank you.”
And sometimes you have a great audition. Like I had a great, great audition for Spike Jonze for “Where The Wild Things Are.” I didn’t get it, so it was probably not a great as I thought, but he had you do it so many times and he made you really feel like you’re getting it, like he really was kind and took a lot of time. He didn’t make it feel like a lot of people were there, even though a lot of people were [auditioning for the same role]. He made you feel like it’s just me and you who are going to do this, and I really appreciated it. That’s probably they best one, the best audition experience I can remember.
Have you been able to make the audition experience less personal at this point in your career? Does that feeling ever really go away?
For me, it doesn’t, especially because you go through cycles in your career. Sometimes you’re more in demand than others. And when you’re already in a down cycle, when its not working out, it feels really bad, because it just feels like you can’t catch a break. But its hard to complain, because no one makes you do this for a living. It’s completely elective.
But then, many actors would say, “I love acting. I couldn’t possibly imagine doing anything else.”
I’m sure I could, but I don’t have any marketable skills. (laughs) I’m sure there are other things I could do, because I don’t think anyone would miss me if I wasn’t doing this – and I don’t mean that to be self deprecating. But I’m not a good typist, I’m not great with the computer and picking up the latest technology, I don’t like to get up early – which actually you have to do when you’re working on movies, but in between I get to sleep late. Nobody makes me do it, so I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining. But yes, it does always feel personal, in answer to your question.
Does being recognized as a known talent make your auditions and relationships with casting directors easier?
Oh, yeah. In the ’90s, I didn’t have to audition. When you’re up, you just get calls, and then when you’re not as [in demand], you’ve got to go back to square one and you have to audition again. And that hurts your feelings, even though it’s not supposed to. It’s just the way it is. I’m thinking, “You actually cast me before!,” and now I have to come in [and audition]. And I would understand it if it was for a part like Grandma Moses or something, absolutely. But when you’re in a more down cycle, it could be even for just four lines, like a secretary, and you’re like, “You cast me in this huge part five years ago, and now I have to read?” It’s the same casting directors, but you have to do it. It’s like hazing or something.
But again, you can’t complain. If you don’t like it, you can get another job. There are millions of other people. So you go back to where you were at the beginning, and then you hope. There is a saying that you’re always one card away from getting back into the swing. Then when you get back into the swing, as it were, you don’t have to audition again until there’s another down swing.
Do you feel like Air America Radio [where Garofalo co-hosted the political radio program "The Majority Report" until 2006] hurt or helped your acting career in any way?
Things started slowing down, if you will, around 2001, and I didn’t go to Air America until 2003. So I don’t know. I don’t know that a lot of people would even know what that was, because it’s not like there’s tons of people listening to Air America. Probably if you asked the average casting director about Air America, they’d say, “What is that?”
I think a lot of it has more to do with the aging process for women. It is different for women. Obviously, everybody knows that. Also, it tends to be that TV is more where older women go. There’s just is more opportunity in television. Again, there is only a finite amount of parts, and hundreds of people wanting to do it.
This Q&A was posted online Nov. 4, 2009 at Blog Stage.