If you’re an actor in the Midwest, booking a role on Chicago Fire, Chicago PD or Chicago Med has become a rite of passage. How can you put yourself in the best position to land one of these jobs? I did a video about this, so if you’d rather watch than read, check it out.
Early in season two of Chicago PD, I snagged an audition for the role of an assistant states attorney on the show. I had already appeared as a different character in an episode of Chicago Fire, and at the time, the shows had a rule: if you had done an episode of either Fire or PD (Med wasn’t around yet), you had to wait two seasons until they’d cast you again since both shows occupy the same universe. The job was a two episode co-star, but I figured I wasn’t going to get it because of my Fire appearance. Long story short, I did book it and shot 22 episodes (I got cut out of three) over four seasons.
Nobody gets jobs like that alone. It takes a team of people to stack the dominoes just right and it’s up to the actor to tip the first one in their audition. Booking one of the Chicago shows has become a rite of passage for local actors. How can you increase your chances of landing one of these jobs?
It starts with the right agent. The shows are all union, so you need to be with a union-franchised agent, one that has a good relationship with Simon Casting (Fire and PD) and Karge+Ross Casting (Med). It’s one thing to be listed with an agent, it’s another to have an advocate in the office. I’ve found that one person can make all the difference to a career. I’ve been with agents that just didn’t seem into me, and I’ve been with those who are obviously excited to be helping.
The truth is, actors who book get the most attention. Agents need to see that you’re working. So if you have an agent but haven’t booked with them, get yourself on stage and invite them to the theater. At least they’ll know you’re working somewhere.
And that brings me to point number two. Casting loves theater actors, but you have to be willing to modify your performance for the camera. If they’ve never met you, casting will look at your resume and if they see tons of theater listed, they’ll assume you can act. Then you have to fit the character breakdown. If you do, they might call you in, especially if an agent is advocating for you. Then it’s all about what happens in the room. The acting has to be solid and appropriate for the medium and genre. If you do your scene shouting like you’re reaching for the back row of a 200 person house, you’ve screwed yourself (unless of course the character is shouting in the text). If you ham it up like you’re in a multi-cam comedy, you’re going to lose that booking. You’ll look unprepared or worse, uneducated.
The Chicago shows are all hour long dramas. Generally the less acting you can do, the better. Subtlety goes a long way in drama, unless the scene requires you to be big and loud. These shows are procedurals, meaning they focus on telling the story of how firefighters, cops and medical staff do their jobs. Most local Chicago actors will be called in to read for smaller, functionary roles. Your job is to push the story along, and/or set things up for the series regulars. That’s it. It’s not your time to shine, or for you to find a way to stand out. It’s your time to be a team player. I go into more detail in the Acting In Chicago book.
In the end, it really comes down to your audition. If you did your homework, followed the map the writers gave you and stayed true to the breakdown, you should be in good shape. You may not book the job, but hopefully you’ll book the room, and casting will bring you in again. I have a friend in Los Angeles who read for NCIS a dozen times before finally being cast. He booked the room over and over, and eventually he booked the job.