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Auditions: Betty's Audition in "Mulholland Dr"

Our new series from Ginny O'Keefe, who knows from auditions as an actress in Los Angeles...

One of the more iconic audition scenes in the past 20 years of film comes from a film that gives you a great sense of security and comfort before ripping the rug right out from underneath you. It’s David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Naomi Watts plays Hollywood hopeful, Betty Elms, fresh off the plane from Ontario, Canada. She dreams of being a successful actress and is staying in her Aunt Ruth’s awesome apartment (rent-free I might add) while she is away filming a movie. She’s got a big audition coming up for a movie (with some really cheesy dialogue) and has been practicing like a beast in order to land the part. One of the things we admire about Betty is that she actually puts in the work in order to make her dreams come true. Cut to...


Betty Elms is in an office with the producer of the film, his assistant, the director, Woody (the actor she will be doing the scene with), and some people from casting. Everyone is sitting in the formation of a half-moon and Betty and Woody have to perform in the corner of the room for some reason. Everyone seems to have a big smile on their face and is pretty friendly. Right off the bat Lynch makes you feel fenced in. As an actress I would be pretty thrown by the setting that we’re in. I’m in the producer’s office and if there weren’t so many people in the room, I would feel very vulnerable. This reads a little Weinstein-ish but I guess that’s the point?

RED FLAG: The old producer has his hands over Betty’s waist and his holding her a little too close for comfort. He even kisses the hand of the woman who works at the front desk. In the age of #MeToo this is the definition of cringe.

The producer then asks Betty if she’s ready to begin and if she would like some coffee or water beforehand (um what?). Betty says she’s ready to get started. She goes over to her scene partner Woody who immediately grabs her hands and starts rubbing them (RED FLAG).

Don't play it for real until it gets real."

I go for shaking someone’s hand and formally introducing myself if I have a scene partner, so call me a stick in the mud. The director then gives puzzling advice to Betty and tells her don’t make the scene “real until it gets real”. Everyone in the room looks at him like he just said the Earth is flat. Betty graciously takes his directions.

RED FLAG everything Woody is and stands for. He starts off by saying, “Tell me where it hurts baby,” (vomit). He also fights the director on critique and then insists he and Betty do the scene “nice and close just like in the movies” and pulls her in by her waist. Betty keeps her cool but is a little startled. He doesn’t even care if she’s comfortable with this.

The director calls action, and the scene starts. Betty already seems to outshine the veteran actor and knows all of her lines to a tee and is giving as much as she is taking from Woody. It’s a pretty steamy scene (even though the context is gross) and a bit of cat and mouse. Woody’s character is trying to seduce her and she’s fighting him off as best she can, but then, she takes the reins and it gets good. She takes his hand and places it on her thigh and starts kissing his face telling him to get out and if her Dad finds out then they will arrest him and put him in jail. They then kiss passionately and she says that he has to leave before she kills him.

She then tearfully says she hates him and herself as she backs away from him. The scene ends. The producer is so impressed he gives a round of applause (which does not happen) and the casting director is so impressed she even recommends Betty for another gig.

RED FLAG Woody didn’t really give her any warning that he was going to go in for kisses and be so affectionate and you could tell it threw Betty for a second. Typically, when a scene involves intimacy or violence I like to talk with the other actor and ask him or her what is and isn’t okay to do. I want us to be on the same page. But this is a Lynch movie; no one will ever be on the same page.

What is so excellent about the scene is the turnabout. Woody automatically thinks Betty is some no-talent young actress who cannot be on his level. But Betty completely goes beyond his level and by the end of it, she is looking down at him from high above. You can tell the minute she grabs his hand and puts it on her thigh that she is not just playing the game but a worthier player than he is. There is a shift in the scene and it gets juicy real fast.

Ultimately, Betty doesn’t get the part (that is a whole other can of worms that Lynch opens up in the third act of the movie), but she does get another gig recommendation from the casting director which is the best thing that can happen in this business if you get rejected. You want people in the business to remember you and to think about your audition even if it wasn’t the “best” one. Betty did that.

Previously on "Auditions":
Emma Stone in La La Land 
• Takashi Miike's terrifying thriller Audition

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Reader Comments (12)

This is the point in the movie where it became instantly clear that Watts and Lynch were on to something really special. The hagiography of the Betty character suddenly shifted and what we got was edgier, more taut and dimensional. I'll never forget seeing this in a nearly empty theater in, fittingly enough, L.A.

June 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Congratulations Mr. Lynch!

June 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I love that scene. It just shows how great Naomi Watts is and Lynch finding a new muse in her.

June 3, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I can understand (though not agree with) why the Academy snubbed this film for Pic (too unconventional, off-putting), but snubbing Watts in what I believe to be one of the greatest female performances. Unforgivable.

June 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

This scene is the equivalent of a first orgasm. Something so evelatory that you can't help but stare at what just happen in disbelief.

June 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterWithering Looks

Watts is sensational in this. It's a shame she wasn't nominated for this work (personally, I'd say she should've won).

Btw, I was rewatching some of Twin Peaks: The Return over the weekend and I don't thinking Watts, Dern, and Lee got enough attention for how good they were in that.

June 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

Before everything: I need to talk about Chad Everett's irresistible charm. A man/actor/person/human being who knew how to get old without losing his appeal.
What matters: Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive and Nicole Kidman in To Die For. What the 》Academy《 was thinking?
David Lynch is this director we'll be talking about till the end of times and beyond.

June 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFeline Justice

Here is Naomi Watts at her best. I realize i just have seen her in movies where she play actresses (Mulholland Dr, King Kong, Ellie Parker and Birdman) The only exception is Fuckabees! She should do more comedies.

June 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCésar Gaytán

Nice! Enjoying this series, very much appreciate your perspective as an actor.

THIS is the scene I always think of first when I think of this movie. Never having seen Naomi Watts in anything before, I remember scratching my head at the really stilted, "wholesome girl from the prairie" performance she was giving up to that point and wondering if this was an affect or if she really couldn't act. Then...this scene.

This is the girl. Yes, it IS.

June 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Lee

Honestly might be one of the best scenes of all-time. It really GRABS you and pulls you in.

June 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

The intensity here is truly captivating. One of my favourite scenes of the past 20 years.

June 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEoghan McQ

Watts is the clear Winner for most of the film fanatics (deservedly so), but I want to know which 5 would you pick that year. I mean Halle Berry, Sissy Spacek, Nicole Kidman and Judi Dench are great in their roles also and dont forget about Audrey Tatou and Isabelle Huppert that year! ANd some will argue that Kidman could ad should be Double nominated fpr Moulin´Rouge AND The Others that year. Too many GREAT female Performances and only 5 Slots to fill! Heartrenching!!!

However, why Renée Zellweger was nominated that Year over Watts, Huppert und Tatou is beyond me!

June 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

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