Each September brings a flood of new shows, the best of which let us inside the world of unique and fascinating characters. But before we meet such memorable casts as those that populate Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Lost, the actors who play those iconic roles have to convince casting agents and producers that they’re the best women and men for the job. Although far too few audition tapes are made public, we’ve tracked down some of the most interesting ones out there, each telling in its own way. Now, if only we could get AMC to give us Jon Hamm’s Don Draper casting video, we’d be totally set.
Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad
We may find it difficult to believe that Aaron Paul wasn’t a shoo-in to play Jesse Pinkman, the young meth dealer with a conscience. But according to a 2010 New York magazine profile, he was considered too handsome for the role — until he started performing. At that moment, creator Vince Gilligan recalls, “I knew he was the guy.” Paul’s Jesse is instantly recognizable as the character who becomes the moral center of Breaking Bad, from the goofy nervousness to the glimpses of humor and sincerity behind his shady exterior.
Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner as Arya and Sansa Stark, Game of Thrones
How did Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner become the dramatically different Stark girls of Winterfell? It seems they put on their best snotty voices and dismissive facial expressions for the kind of petty argument that makes them so believable as sisters. Turner was prissy and condescending, Williams was willful and mocking, and the rest was history.
Josh Holloway as Sawyer, Lost
As the several readily available Lost audition videos confirm, just about every male actor who ended up on the show also tried out to play sarcastic, literate con man Sawyer. Matthew Fox, Dominic Monaghan, and even Jorge Garcia all read for the role — which, in the days before Locke went bad and Ben appeared, may well have seemed like the juiciest. But in this audition tape, it’s easy to see why the part went to Josh Holloway. All of Sawyer’s seamless manipulations are there in the sly, easy smile and self-satisfied tone.
Seth Rogen as Ken Miller, Freaks and Geeks
Now one of the most accomplished members of the Judd Apatow clan, Seth Rogen was only 16 years old when he auditioned for Freaks and Geeks. But he was also well on his way to success, having recently won the Vancouver Amateur Comedy Contest and in the midst of collaborating with a friend on a script that would become Superbad. What we’re seeing in this video isn’t a polished actor so much as a wisecracking young comedian letting his inner freak fly free. That’s the kind of authenticity that made Freaks and Geeks so great.
Lea Michele as Rachel Berry, Glee
Aside from being shorter than the other clips, the circumstances surrounding this hodgepodge of musical camp were a bit different from most of these casting videos. Ryan Murphy went to Broadway to curate his cast from the ranks of Broadway, which is where he found Lea Michele and wrote the part of Rachel Berry specifically for her. So it’s no surprise that Michele was great at playing a high-strung overachiever, but — love her or hate her — it’s still fun to watch Rachel being born.
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House, House
Partially inspired by Sherlock Holmes, Gregory House is a sort of medical detective — a diagnostician who treats each illness like a case to be solved through the estimable powers of his intellect. He’s also a Vicodin addict with a dark sense of humor and little to no empathy for other human beings, both of which make him a somewhat unusual physician, although you can’t deny his prickly charisma. Almost all of these traits are on full display in this audition tape, which Hugh Laurie so thoroughly nails that it makes sense he beat out the likes of Denis Leary and Patrick Dempsey for the role.
Blake Lively as Serena van der Woodsen, Gossip Girl
And here’s Blake Lively, looking pretty and confused as Gossip Girl’s troubled ingenue, Serena, who was the show’s central focus before everyone figured out how much more interesting Blair is. It may not blow you away, but you can’t say the audition doesn’t capture the emotional range of the character. Perhaps you’d prefer to see Ed Westwick read for Chuck Bass?