ST. PETERSBURG — Egos were checked at the door of a former furniture store in BayWalk plaza, now practically empty except for 62 aspiring actors and their dreams of stardom.
They came from as far away as Los Angeles in search of "the moment" that all actors seek, when the written word becomes something true, something real — when an audience doesn't see a performer but a fully realized character on stage or screen. Finding "the moment" can be the difference between getting hired by casting directors or being just another audition failure.
Patrick Wilson was there, leading the artistic expedition by sharing what works for him, in a career dotted by Emmy and Tony nominated performances, and movie roles including Watchmen and Little Children.
The former St. Petersburg resident spent two hours Thursday teaching auditioning techniques to students in the Sunscreen Actors Track, part of the Sunscreen Film Festival under way at BayWalk. Each student paid $125 for two days of instruction from casting directors, acting teachers and a bona fide thespian like Wilson, who immediately made it clear he wouldn't be the star of this show.
"The last thing I want to do is talk at you," Wilson, 35, said at the outset. "The whole goal of this isn't for me to say: 'Well, I do it this way …' It's about getting you ready to find acting jobs.
"I auditioned for probably 30, 40, 50 (television) pilots and never pulled one. My not doing TV wasn't out of any arrogance, I assure you. It was just because I didn't audition well, so I went back to the stage."
On Thursday, Wilson went back to auditioning basics, re-creating the dynamics of meeting with casting directors. Several students were handed three brief, two-character scenes, and given a couple of minutes to familiarize themselves with the dialogue. A videocamera and stick microphone was trained on one actor at a time, with the feed shown on a nearby television set.
First up: Jeremy King, 31, of Clearwater and Maddy Curley, 27, an actor from L.A. whose credits include Stick It with Jeff Bridges, and an episode of the TV cop drama Cold Case airing Sunday night. The scene: a video store meeting between a man and the woman hired to make him pay for past transgressions against women. "Steve" doesn't know that his flirtation is playing right into "Linda's" hands.
The first run-through, with King on the hot seat, played flat. "Do we get the feeling that he really likes her?" Wilson asked the class. "No," they replied in unison, leading to a theme Wilson returned to time and again:
A brief discussion of "Steve" and "Linda's" underlying relationship, two more tries and King found his "moment," a smiling sigh suggesting self-satisfaction without complete awareness. "That's it," Wilson said. "It's about being yourself. Awesome."
Through several pairings, Wilson offered freely associated hints: Carry your script through the audition ("Know your lines but when you toss them aside, they expect perfection."). Realize where the scene is heading to make earlier moments count. And make informed choices in gestures and line deliveries.
After the class, it was suggested to Wilson that someday he might encounter a Sunscreen Actors Track student on a stage or movie set.
"That would be great," he said, grinning like a proud father. "Are you kidding me? That would be so awesome."