I've spent this week auditioning the final hundred out of 2,600 applicants for drama school. So the big question is: What makes someone want to take this actor rather than that one? Part of the answer, I'm convinced, is in the eyes. I'll explain why.
In most cases the actor will deliver the speech with unbroken eye contact and yet often, you simply don't believe it. Why? They won't have ownership of the text. The words may be taking them on an emotional roller coaster and yet those unflinching eyes remain unchanged.
The reasons for this are understandable. Imagine what it feels like in that audition. You're under huge pressure to knock my socks off in three minutes, however much I might try to make you feel at ease. Adrenaline is pumping through you, your heart is pounding and strange things are happening to your breathing. Also, your concentration is distracted by the notes I'm making as you talk.
All this pressure puts the focus on yourself: "Am I getting it right?" And the energy becomes more introverted – inward. Whereas, if I ask you to focus totally on changing the person you're speaking to in some way, forgetting about yourself and your performance, suddenly it all comes to life. There's animation in the face, your eyes register changes of thought and there's more ownership of the text. The energy has become extrovert – outward.
This is all obvious, of course. It's exactly what an actor should always do. But under the extreme pressure of an audition, or an opening night, it's so easy to forget that.