James Snyder is an actor and singer known for Broadway turns in Cry-Baby, If/Then, and In Transit. You can currently catch him at the Lyric Theatre eight times a week as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. Connect with James on Instagram and Twitter at @thejamessnyder.
Welcome to the fourth episode of Audition Secrets!
The Boy Who Lived
Justin talks with James about what it’s like to play a cultural icon and be the face of a beloved character after decades of books and movies. When the first few Harry Potter books came out, James admits thinking they were for kids, but after the people in his life convinced him otherwise, he caught up with four in a matter of weeks, seldom leaving the house. James has always had a penchant for meticulously created universes like those within Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings. He is inspired by their epic possibilities and, not surprisingly, he loves pretending he has powers.
L’eggo my ego
Justin and James reminisce about their early-career auditions. Justin remembers feeling not all that confident about his auditioning skills, while James recalls talking too much to the casting personnel (something that happens to lots of us when we’re nervous). The gentlemen agree that managing audition nerves requires setting ego aside and making it about the work, the material, the story — not about them.
Free advice from Kristen Bell
James was rehearsing a musical with Kristen Bell after she shot the pilot of Veronica Mars (but before the series was picked up). He remembers asking her for audition secrets, and she told him that she visualizes the entire audition before she walks in. She asks herself who she wants to be in that room, regardless of what will be thrown at her, and by seeing it in her mind’s eye, she sets an intention for herself and the perspective from which she’ll view the whole thing. James has run with this advice and agrees that the audition starts the moment you get the appointment.
Who are you going to be?
As soon as he can, James starts being the person he wants to be in the audition room. For his Harry Potter and The Cursed Child audition, he had a luxurious four weeks to prepare… but he was originally being considered for the role of Draco Malfoy. James jokes: “Makes sense, right? Entitled, rich guy… I guess that’s what I do?” After the audition, associate director Des Kennedy said to him, “I think you’re more of a Harry. Can you come back in three days?”
Fortunately, James’ month of preparation on the Malfoy material was not wasted time; Draco and Harry’s journeys are similar, and at the core of them both is just a dad trying to understand his son. James didn’t think for a million years that he’d get the role of Harry Potter, so a change of course that could have freaked him out actually relaxed him — and ultimately freed him up to do the work. He says executing magic choreography in movement director Steven Hoggett’s audition was pretty fun, too.
At James’ final audition with the full production team, he did two scenes and got no adjustments or constructive feedback on either. Director John Tiffany complimented his work, casting director Jim Carnahan reiterated those compliments, and James interpreted their kindness as a “thanks, but no thanks.”
As we now know, James was offered the role of Harry Potter. He recalls leaving that audition incredibly satisfied, viewing it as one of his best. “My ego wasn’t there. I was connected to the material, I did the material, I answered their questions, I was open and honest in my communication with them, I didn’t need anything from them, and I left.” James believes the primary responsibility of an actor in the audition room is to be kind and open as a human being.
Will you work with me here?
Justin makes a connection between focusing on the work and prioritizing the fun: when you enjoy what you’re doing and connect to the material, it comes through. James shares a conversation he had with a director from the San Francisco production of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child: when casting a two-part play with a fourteen-week rehearsal process, they need every actor they hire to be wonderful to work with.
Official Broadway Background Check
James and Justin recall their time together in Broadway’s In Transit, a show that had five weeks to rehearse (as demanded by its a cappella score) instead of the typical four-week process. They discuss the industry practice of “calling references” and remember composer and book writer Kirsten Anderson-Lopez doing the investigative work on their fellow cast members’ reputations as nice, good, and cool people. Since a cast is a family and all of the pieces have to fit together, Justin understands the need for this kind of background check, and the two agree that they happen more often than folks think.
Words, words, words
One of Justin’s only auditions for a straight play got him a part in Romeo and Juliet on Broadway. James observes that, when auditioning for a play, there’s less to prepare than with a musical, so he digs that much deeper into the script, scene, or sides. He acknowledges that he can (and should) do that work regardless of the storytelling medium. Justin and James find plays to be a bit more cerebral than musicals. When you’ve only got words, there’s more room for vulnerability.
I can’t walk the dog, I’ve got Quidditch
James and Justin were dressing roommates during In Transit. They wax nostalgic about the stories they’d swap — the victories and defeats of their day-to-day. James acknowledges a need for balance between the personal and professional. He credits his wife, Jacqueline, for being his chief support system and reminding him to manage his time.
James recalls at one point deciding that he didn’t want to walk his dog in the early morning hours after a two-show day on Broadway, proclaiming that “Harry Potter is not walking his dog.” James admits that his ego entered the conversation, and Jacqueline reminded him of the job he has to do at home. James realizes that his Broadway team and his family team require different things from him.
Gratitude is fuel
Sustaining a balanced life while working six days a week is no easy task, on Broadway or otherwise. James speaks to the importance of getting enough sleep and practicing gratitude (even when you don’t have time to brush your daughter’s hair). He knows that time is fleeting and kids today are teens tomorrow, so being present and thankful helps him keep everything flowing. James believes all of the energy you need to do anything is there, in the universe, ready for the taking. “It’s about how to use it, maintain it, and keep it going.”
Check yourself before you wreck yourself
As glitzy and thrilling as the entertainment business can be, people sometimes forget that acting is still a job. On the days where he might think “I don’t want to do this show today,” Justin remembers to check himself (and surround himself with people who will keep him in check) and reconnect with the younger Justin who could only dream of showing up to Broadway for work every day. He sees every performance as an opportunity to make someone in the audience fall in love with theatre for the first time. Always come back to the gratitude!
Cheers to that
Early on in his career, James remembers working the morning shifts as a bartender before audition-hopping throughout the afternoon; he had an intention for his career and carved the time out to make it happen. It’s about an openness to all facets of life, finding ways to sustain your energy, and deciding who you want to be in the world at large. James wants you to be that whether you’re in the audition room or handing someone a beer.
In 2008, James landed his first Broadway show — the titular character in Cry-Baby — and had the “best financial year” of his life. The next year, a year after he starred on Broadway and performed at the Tony Awards — his tax returns reflected a total income of $19,000. James shares that he took the closing of Cry-Baby quite personally, believing it was somehow his fault. He says he was ignorant to the fact that most new musicals don’t recoup their costs and close prematurely. “The ‘hit’ is the anomaly.” Since then, he’s learned to manage his own expectations about what success looks like: it’s not about what jobs you’re getting, it’s about what work you’re doing on the way to getting those jobs.
Kill ‘em with kindness
James fundamentally believes that a good human being makes a good actor. He recalls watching a scene between Justin and actor Telly Leung in In Transit every night and thinking to himself, “These are good people.” Kindness engenders openness engenders better performances. James acknowledges the assholes that exist in any industry, be he tunes them out.
The magic of calling your own shots
James doesn’t let his work as an actor define him, he defines it. He pursues versatility: movies, theatre, and a music career. This business is tough, but a career is a journey to finding the thing that makes you open up. Do what you need to do to be the person you want to be. Live moment to moment by being your best self. And recommit to your art every day.
PEOPLE, PLACES, AND THINGS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
Follow Justin at @justinguarini on all social media.