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  • Writer's pictureAndi Matheny

How to nail your medical procedural TV auditions!

Grey's Anatomy - Medical Procedural TV show
Grey's Anatomy montage

Since Dr. Kildare in the 1960's, medical procedural dramas have been a TV staple. They still occupy a good chunk of network TV, including Grey's Anatomy, which was just renewed for its 21st season, and Chicago Med, where some of the actors who trained with me booked their first speaking roles. I had a recurring role on The Resident, which ran for six seasons on FOX. Chances are you'll audition for one of these TV shows at least once in your career, and if you understand the tone and the types of characters, you'll increase your chances of booking. I've listed some of the most common types of characters here, which we frequently work on in my online acting classes.

THE DOCTORS: This is the core group of characters on the show–we see them in their professional mode dealing with patients and other doctors, operating in the OR or ER, and sometimes stealing kisses with their co-workers in the janitor's closet. WHAT TO REMEMBER: You are portraying a human being, not a robot. Yes, you need to have a professional demeanor, which includes medical language, but you also need to bring your humanity to the role. Doctors are fallible, they have weaknesses, they have a sense of humor. Many of what I call the "Bedside Manner" scenes are where the doctor relates to the patient–giving them a prognosis, calming them, convincing them to undergo a risky treatment, etc. Don't just play your idea of a generic doctor, we want to see YOU as the doctor to bring your unique personality to the role. THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE: Getting overly emotional in the Bedside Manner scene. A real professional wouldn't do that. Save it for the scene after when you're crying alone in the coat closet.

THE INTERNS: Are you in your early to mid-20's? Then, yay, you have a shot at booking one of these roles. These usually fall into two categories: the Rebel or the Idealist. WHAT TO REMEMBER and THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE: See above.

THE NURSES: Anyone who's worked in the medical profession knows that the nurses are the ones who really run the show. On TV as in life, they are usually the most competent, confident, sassy and sometimes brusque. WHAT TO REMEMBER: Bring all of your Professional Mode of Being confidence to these roles, unless your character is New Mousy Nurse. You may also be multi-tasking–nurses are rarely doing just one thing–so if your audition could incorporate an activity that's logical and helps the scene, like making notes on a pad, take a shot at adding it. THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE: Making too much out of simple moments. "I'm here to take your blood pressure, Mr. Roberts," should sound like you've said that 50 times a day for the past 15 years, not an Oscar-winning speech.

THE PARAMEDICS: Have you noticed these characters who rush the patient into the ER on a gurney, spewing out medical jargon a mile a minute? My friend David Youse had one of those recurring roles on Chicago Hope. Do you know why it was recurring? Because it's hard to find actors who can do it right, and the ones who can are asked back for multiple episodes. So if you book one of these, you've possibly won a chance at a great credit and SAG-AFTRA medical insurance. WHAT TO REMEMBER: You absolutely must be able to say difficult medical jargon quickly and clearly. THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE: Not looking up the pronunciations! Find them online, or better yet, ask a doctor friend.

THE PATIENTS: Here's where the Guest Star roles usually land, sometimes recurring. You're in the hospital because, well, something's wrong with you. THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE: Playing the weepy victim! This is not to say that this human being doesn't have a dark moment if they have a bleak prognosis, but we'd rather see how you fight against it, rise above it, even crack a joke about it. That is choosing to be the Hero, not the Victim, and you're much more interesting as the former.

FRIENDS AND FAMILY OF THE PATIENT: Okay, do you want to get weepy? Now you have permission. These are the people who can break down–the parents of a sick child particularly. WHAT TO REMEMBER: You must have emotional range to play these roles. Either you can roll out of bed shedding tears, or you've done extensive work in acting class. My Personal Scene exercise is where everyone develops this skill and uses it for exactly this scenario. (If you have my book "Act ALIVE: The Essential Guide to Igniting and Sustaining Your Working Actor Career," check out the Personal Scene chapter.)

IN GENERAL: Many of these shows have a sneaky sense of humor. If you have an inkling it might be present in your scene, even if you're the dying patient–FIND IT! The actors who do have a much better shot at booking than the ones who only play sad and tragic.

ALSO: A Mantra can be a very powerful acting tool. Depending on the scene, for a doctor or other professional: "I'm here to help you," for a nurse: "I don't have time for BS," for a patient: "I need to survive this." Playing with a Mantra during your rehearsal process can be a great tool to create subtext for your scene.

Yeah, it's a long post. Good for you for reading it, it'll help raise the level of your auditions. Now, go out and book these roles!

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