How to Analyze Scenes for Smaller Roles

Co-Star, Actor, One-liner–These are all ways to describe one of the hardest roles to audition for. These are the roles that generally don’t have names. You are a character “server”, “barista #2”, “worker 4”. But make no mistake–if you weren’t pivotal to the story, they would’ve cut you out.

Now, you might think–“It’s just one line, how hard can it be?” But as actors, we’re always expected to do a full scene analysis, taught to have a backstory, a motive, goals. You might be tempted to be the sullen taxi driver who just found out their mother has cancer and you’re pulling extra shifts to pay the medical bills. And you can still have that story–But the audience doesn’t need to see that in your line.

So what do you do? You have one line (or maybe no line at all), how are you gonna show them that you’re the right person for this role? Your job here, is to lend reality to the scene.

You can definitely still do a scene analysis, but the answers you seek will be different than that of a larger role.

Ask yourself these three questions to learn how to analyze scenes for smaller roles:

  1. What purpose do I serve?
    Why did the writers put you in the story? If you are a barista, who’s getting the coffee, and why? If the lead character is getting the coffee while waiting for the love interest to show up–is this scene to demonstrate that they are nervous? Maybe it’s to show they are a very particular person depending on what they order. Your job, is simply to lend reality to the scene. I’m sure a real life barista deals with particular people ALL THE TIME (hello double shot, 1/2 sweet, vanilla latte with no whip and caramel drizzle), but that doesn’t mean they roll their eyes every time.

    If in doubt, head to a nearby Starbucks and watch the barista to see how they handle it.
  2. Am I here to help or hinder?
    If you’re the receptionist at a doctor’s office, are you helpful and get the lead an appointment, or are you the one turning them away because the doctor’s fully booked? This is very important to figure out because it will determine how the plot moves forward.
  3. What other clues are there in the rest of the sides?
    Even though you’re playing a bank teller who’s only line is “Next!” there can still be a few different ways this can be done. You can still have a scene surrounding your line.

    Has it been a busy day and you’re calling “Next!” as you’re finishing up with the last customer?
    Has it been a slow day and you’re waiting around for your next customer to show and you’re happy to see them?
    Has the bank just opened up and you’re sipping your morning coffee when the customers arrive?
    Maybe you’re on your phone scrolling while no one is looking when the customer shows up?

    You can gather these clues simply by reading ALL the sides provided. Most actors just skip to their line, but if you are sent scenes that are crossed out–You should definitely read them.

    Something as simple as knowing what time of day it is can give you important clues to how best to play the scene. Having these possibilities in your own mind, doesn’t mean you have to make a big deal out of it, but having a small action to do just before your line gives more context to your scene.

    Because these scenes are short, feel free to submit a few different takes to show your range.

    When you ask yourself these 3 questions, you’re gonna end up giving dimension to your line, lending reality to the scene. Picking up on the details written on the page that may not seem to directly affect you, is what can set your audition apart from all the other submissions they get.