I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've had to do a cold read. Far more often I'm asked to prepare 20 plus pages of material, and I get to perform, say, two of them. However, when I am asked to read cold, I love it. It's just me and the words on the page. No time to overthink, to second guess my choices, to worry if my look matches the scene, none of it. I just let go and commit. It's one of my favorite things to do in an audition.
Apparently I'm in the minority. Most people dread reading cold. Many actors are perfectionists who could prepare for hours and still not feel "ready." And I get that. So here are a few tips that, as a fearless cold reader, I am happy to pass on. Happy auditioning!
1. Memorize the first and the last lines. If you're given a few minutes to look a script over, no one expects you to be memorized. But do your best to memorize your first and last lines. That way you can start off strong and finish strong. That's half the battle.
2. Practice by saying all the lines out loud, even the ones that aren't yours. You don't want the first time you're speaking these words to be in the audition room. And you don't want the first time you're hearing these words to be in the audition room, either. Talk all of it through. Slowly. They've given you a few minutes. Use every second of it.
3. LISTEN. I can't emphasize this enough. If you just calm down, focus, and listen to the reader, you will know when your next line is. If you're listening, you will be able to react honestly to what is said. Don't overthink it. Don't get fancy. Just listen and react. Listen, listen, listen. (This goes for when you book the part as well.)
4. Use your sides as props whenever possible. If your character is writing a list, reading a review, checking a chart or anything that might allow you to steal a glance at a piece of paper, use your sides as that prop. If you need a cell phone, use your phone. Once again, keep it simple, though. If your character is supposed to be getting dressed, fastening an earring always works for me. You don't have to mime pulling on pants. Find simple, clever ways to create the space using the props you have on your person. Keep the miming to a minimum.
5. Look down, take a breath, move on. If you completely lose your spot, just look down, take a breath, and find your spot. Look up and continue the scene as if nothing happened. Imagine that you're shooting something on film. They can edit out the crap parts. Your job is to give 100%. (Not 65% as you muddle through like an illiterate blob.) Even if you don't completely lose your spot, any time you need to look down at the line, look up to deliver it. Imagine you're tossing that line to the reader. Don't toss it to the page. Acting for the page will not book you the job.
I hope you grow to love cold reads as much as I do!