What Is First Refusal? Everything Actors Should Know

Navigating the early days of your acting career means running into industry terms you might not be familiar with. If you’ve auditioned for a role and aren’t sure what it means to hear you’re on “first refusal,” you’re not alone. Plenty of actors find the term confusing, especially when it comes to booking other roles.

Good news: It’s actually not that complicated, once you understand the concept and why casting directors like to use it. Keep reading for a full guide to first refusal and how it can affect your search for the next gig.

What Does “First Refusal” Mean?

If a casting director hasn’t made a final decision for a role, they occasionally put several of the top candidates on “first refusal.” Essentially, they are requesting the actor contact them before booking another job that would conflict with the one they are casting. The hope is that the first casting director will have the opportunity to either book or pass on the actor before they accept any other role. In other words, the casting director has the right to refuse that opportunity before the actor moves on, hence the term “first refusal.”

Here is an example: Imagine you audition for a role in a fast-food commercial filming on June 1 and are put on first refusal. You then audition for a car commercial that also films on June 1, and that production offers you the job. Before accepting the car commercial, you would call the fast food commercial and let them know about the conflicting offer. The fast food casting director then has to decide whether to book you or pass—freeing you up to take the car commercial.

Can You Book Another Project if You’re on First Refusal?

It’s important to realize that first refusal is simply a courtesy, not a contractual obligation. You are free to continue auditioning and accepting roles—technically, you aren’t required at all to contact the first casting director before you book a conflicting job. However, it is in your best interest, especially as a young actor, to not burn bridges. Even if that casting director eventually decides you’re not the right fit, you still want to make a good impression in case they wind up casting projects that interest you down the road.

You are also free to pass on the first job and accept the second in the event both projects want to book you. First refusal does not place you under any obligation to accept that job if it is offered. If the second job appeals to you more, go ahead and take it! But you should still reach out to the initial casting director first, just to be polite.

Occasionally, you’ll hear from a casting director who wants to put you on “hold” instead of “first refusal.” Are those the same thing? Not exactly. While both are similar requests that you save the date and contact the casting director before taking a conflicting job, a hold is a little more serious than a first refusal—it requires the producer to pay a cancellation fee in the event they decide not to book you.

The bottom line is that if you’re put on first refusal, it means the casting director liked you and you’re still in the running. Knowing how to navigate a first refusal situation can help you book the best jobs for you while proving to industry veterans that you conduct yourself in a professional manner. Just that basic understanding can help you stand out as the type of person any casting director would want to work with in the future.