This is the first of five posts about working on episode four, Paradise, during season four of Criminal Minds. I spoke with CliqueClack.com about some of my production experiences, and I have a gallery of images from the shoot at Flickr. Please note that I've done my best to recreate my interactions with the cast and crew, but this isn't a perfect, literal translation of the entire experience.
Working on Criminal Minds was one of the greatest experiences of my professional life. Over the next couple of days, I'm going to publish a series of posts here, in which I will attempt to document, as accurately and thoroughly as possible, what it was like to work on the show. I will begin with the audition.
When I was in the room, I didn't think about the people there, I didn't think about what was at stake (directly or indirectly) and I just focused on the person I was reading with. I didn't do anything fancy, just gave them my simple-but-deliberate take on this guy.
I felt better than I felt after I sucked out loud last week. I didn't know if I nailed it, but I'd made my deliberate-but-risky choices, and I'd committed to them entirely. Whether I got the job or not, at least I had that to take home with me and keep in a box on the shelf for the weekend.
A few hours after I got home, my manager called me.
"Well, I have some feedback," he said.
"That was fast," I said.
"Yeah, I guess they wanted you to know right away that you're hired."
"Really?!" I said. I always say that, even though I know that my manager is never going to call me up, tell me a got a job, and then say, "Ha! PSYKE!"
"Yes, really." He said.
Now that the show has aired, I can talk more specifically about the audition process. I prepared two scenes, the scene with Hotch where I totally fool him into thinking I'm just a normal, non-killing kinda guy who owns a spooky motel, and a scene where I'm about to do very bad things to Abby.
The audition was in a one room trailer at Quixote studios in Glendale. It was probably 30 by 50 feet, with several conference tables arranged around three sides. The writers, producers, casting people and the director were all behind one of them. The size of the room could have made it very intimidating, but everyone in it was friendly and welcoming as soon as I walked in. I should note that auditions are not as frequently like this as you'd think.
The audition scenes were very short and fairly simple, and I'd been able to memorize them. After I said hello to everyone, I put my sides in my pocket, and began the first of the two scenes. They weren't taping the audition, so I was free to move around and, as they say, "use the space" as much as I wanted.
In the first scene, I was friendly, I was concerned about these two people, and I made a genuine effort to be helpful, because that's what I figured this guy would do if he was interviewed by an FBI agent. I felt the scene went well, and my Spidey sense told me that the other people in the room were pleased.
We moved to the second scene, where I do Very Bad Things to Abby. It was different in the audition draft of the script than what we eventually filmed, but the essence of the scene was the same. I was cruel, I was sadistic, and I enjoyed her suffering.
There was much less dialog in the second scene than there was in the first. I think it was just under a page and a half. I figured that this scene would really live in the gaps between the words, so I took my time when I performed it, and didn't rush my reactions. Because I didn't have the sides in my hands, I could move around a little bit, and I could be physically menacing.
There was one exchange where I ask her, "Are you ready?" and she doesn't respond, so I ask her again, a little more forcefully. When we got to that part of the scene, I looked at Erica, the casting associate who was reading with me, and asked her the question. In my mind, I was planning some very awful things. I mean, I was disturbingly committed to this character. I could see the things I was planning to do. I could feel the excitement and satisfaction. It really lived in me, and I could tell that it made her uncomfortable. As Floyd, I enjoyed the hell out of that. It turned Floyd on. When she didn't answer, I took a couple of steps toward her, crouched down close to her, and leaned in, so she was forced to look at me. This was an incredibly risky thing to do, because it nearly broke an unwritten rule about auditions: actors can interact with casting, but only to a point. But at that moment, I had let Floyd take over me.
"Are. You. Ready?" I said, Floyd's pure evil flowing freely through me. She shook her head, and I saw tears forming in her eyes. As Floyd, that was awesome. I forget precisely how I reacted to it, but I let the moment linger, and then the scene was over.
"Very nice," said Scott David, who is the casting director (and, coincidentally, one of my favorite casting people in the industry. He's up there with Tony Sepulveda.)
Scott turned to the director, John Gallager, and said, "Would you like to see anything else?"
"No," he said, "but why don't you tell Erica something nice about yourself?"
The entire room laughed, like a huge release of tension. I was thrilled that I'd been able to create that moment. I smiled at her and said, "I'm really a nice guy! I'm a total geek, I have two kids, and I'd never hurt anyone, especially you."
She blinked back tears and joined in the laughter.
I thanked everyone in the room, and Erica walked me out. As soon as the door closed, I said "I'm really sorry. I couldn't have done that if you hadn't given me so much to work with."
"Don't be!" She said. "Thank you!"
I walked back to my car. I felt good. I felt satisfied. My job as an actor is to go into that room and make an impression. I was pretty confident that I'd done that, and that the impression wasn't "oh man, Wil Wheaton sucks!"
On the way home, I deconstructed the experience. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my friend David Lawrence for inspiring me to take such a big creative risk in the audition. David Lawrence is playing Eric Doyle on Heroes this season. He plays a very creepy, very evil, very bad man. Kind of like the character I played on Criminal Minds, maybe without the raping and torturing.
David had his Heroes audition right before I had my Criminal Minds audition. David and I rarely talk shop about acting, but when someone you know is on a show like Heroes, you kind of want to know how it all went down, you know? He told me how he created a very lucid reality in his head for his reading. He'd seen and felt what it was like to control people, and let that inspire and guide him through his audition. I thought about that level of total commitment a lot while I prepared my Criminal Minds audition. When I saw that I wouldn't be stuck in the obligatory audition chair or tied to my sides for the reading, I decided to commit to the role completely, physically and emotionally, in ways that usually aren't possible in auditions. I took a huge creative risk, and it paid off.
I've written extensively about how I believe actors have to find a way to enjoy themselves whether they book the job or not. I guess it's kind of twisted to say that I enjoyed myself by being such an evil man, but committing to something completely, and refusing to look back until it was all over, was tremendously satisfying.
I would soon find out that I had the job before the door had closed behind me.
Next: The Read Through.
 We call this being "off-book" and though it's not required, I prefer to be as off-book as possible when I audition, so I can make lots of eye contact and give something that's closer to a performance than a reading. Sometimes, though, this just isn't possible because there's a lot of material or real life doesn't give me enough time to rehearse it enough to feel like I can do it without referring to the sides. It can also really suck if I'm reading with someone who isn't giving me anything to work off of, so even when I am off-book, I usually keep my sides in my hand.