Casting Directors: Insights and advice on dealing with them – and nailing that audition
Brian and Joe look at the role of the casting director, with tips and guidance based on their own personal experiences and anecdotes from acting greats – to give you an in-depth understanding of what makes casting directors tick, how you can make their lives easier – and clinch that role!
9 things you will learn about:
• What exactly is the casting director’s role?
• The importance of walking in the casting director’s shoes
• How the casting director is the buffer between director and actor
• Casting crunch-time: Who has the final say?
• Self-belief: Am I really right for the role?
• The importance of attitude, preparation and relevance
• Big no-nos: Things that drive casting directors crazy
• Trust: Why gaining the casting director’s trust is vital
• Casting directors are project-orientated: The importance of timing
Brian: Hi everyone, it’s Brian here. I’m joined by – joined with – I don’t know. What’s the terminology? I don’t know – I’ve lost the plot.
Joe: Yes – joined by/joined with/joined along.
Brian: Yes – with Joe! Joe, welcome, Joe!
Joe: Hi Brian. Hello everybody out there.
Brian: Right, so, what we’re going to be talking about today is casting directors – you know those ones, Joe…
Joe: Yes, I do, I do. I’ve met quite a few in my day, yes [laughs].
Brian: We’re going to talk about how to deal with casting directors because I think, as actors, there can be this, you know, you build this up in your own mind that they’re important people, and the whole process of getting cast is…
Joe: Yes. And they are important people in terms of like the whole process of filmmaking nowadays, and theatre-making, or TV-making; they are quite important people.
Brian: Oh, yes.
Joe: Because they’re the stepping stone, due to the fact that nobody’s got time, so they become even more important. They are – and this I think like, to begin with, let’s sort of think about breaking down like their hold on things. You know, they’re important – right? They’re the buffer between the project…
Brian: They’re like the bridge, aren’t they, between the director and the actor.
Joe: Yes. But, you know, everybody thinks like they’re some secret key-holders – do you know what I mean? Like they’re some mystical lot who have “the potion” to do something. When actually, as we know because we’ve met so many of them, me and Brian professionally in terms of going out for jobs, and Brian does bring in a lot of people to talk to students, to help them in the year programme; we go to a lot of effort to bring in the top casting directors so that the students get first-hand information. Because I and Brian and all the other teachers bang on about it all the time – you know, about casting directors and about being in the room and knowing how to be in the room with a casting director, and what you need to do, and how to film, and how to self-tape now and all of that. And generally you don’t believe us! [laughs] You have to hear it from someone else! We keep going banging on about it – and, you know, they then hear it from somebody else and they come back going, ‘Oh, Joe, you know, it was exactly like you said it was,’ or, ‘Oh, Brian, yes, the casting director was – yes, it went exactly like that.’ And we just go, ‘Well, we told you,’ you know? These casting directors have an important part to play, don’t they, Brian?
Brian: Yes. I mean, actually, just to clarify what a casting director does, because there’ll be some people listening going, ‘Yes, I know exactly what a casting director does,’ and other people might be going, ‘I’m not quite sure.’ So, basically a casting director will get a remit from a director/production company; they’ll get what we call a cast breakdown. And they have the job of trying to find the right actors for those roles.
Now, ultimately they have an influential power on the director and the producer in a production company, but they won’t actually have the final say – although some of them might have very close to final say.
Brian: But ultimately that rests with the director and the producer. So if they want somebody, at the end of the day, especially the producer, they’re putting the money in so they have a lot of weight on who gets cast. But the casting director is there to make the director/producer’s lives easier by shortlisting, through the process of relationships they’ve already got with agents who have particular actors on their books, and they basically are given the job of organising those actors and bringing them into audition for those roles.
So, they have a relationship with the director, producer but also with the agents – and that is the kind of bridge that they go between the two. And they then, when they’ve got their cast breakdown, they then go to the agents and they put a breakdown to the agents and say, ‘Look; we’re looking for a short, fat, hairy guy – have you got anybody on your books like that?’ – whatever they’re looking for. Then the agents will submit back to the casting director, and then the casting director decides who they’re going to see, who they’re going to bring into the room.
Joe: Yes – based on the photo or their information, their CV…
Brian: Showreel, whatever.
Joe: …showreel, yes, whichever.
Brian: And they will bring them into the room and in front of the casting director, in front of the director, producer, et cetera.
Joe: Not always now, Brian.
Brian: Not always, no. Sometimes it’s taped and…
Joe: Yes, because the way that it’s sort of broken up now, the casting director is the kind of the ears and the eyes and the nose and the search for the producer and the director, because invariably, like I’m going onto a job – I can’t really tell you what it is – but I’m going onto a job, and I haven’t met the director; I’ve only met the casting director and I’ve been booked on the job through the casting director. So, you know, somewhere above them, they sent off my tape that we taped at their studio, at the casting director’s studio, and then the director’s seen it and the producers have seen it, they like it and they’ve gone, ‘Thumbs up – let’s bring in Joe.’ So that happens a lot at the moment; you might not get to meet the director until…
Brian: No. I guess what I was meaning, yes, due to technology now, you don’t have to meet them, because they can see you on film and that’s how it’s done.
Joe: Yes – on film.
Brian: But they are, even if the director’s not in the room, it’s like the casting director is the bridge to the director.
Joe: To the director.
Brian: The other one is negotiating.
Joe: You know, the emphasis is in their name: director – the casting director. The two are sort of bridged together; they are the eyes and ears to the director.
Brian: Yes. So they have a tough job. And something you have to think about: really what you need to do as an actor is kind of walk in their shoes for a while. You need to think about what their situation is, because that helps you from an acting point of view in how you deal with a casting director. Because often they’re under a lot of pressure to perform, as it were, for the director or the producer, and they are trying to show that they are good at their job. People forget about this, because everybody assumes, when you go into audition, they assume that, ‘Oh, the casting director is really friendly with the director and the producer and they’re all one big happy team.’ But actually what is going on is that the director is trying to impress the producer; the casting director is trying to impress the director and the producer.
Brian: The actor comes in and tries to impress the casting director, the producer and the director. So there’s this chain that happens. And you’ve got to remember as well: you want to make that casting director look good in front of these other people, because when you go out of that door, a conversation is had, and it’s like, ‘Is that person appropriate or not?’ And I’ve heard some big casting directors say that on occasion, if they’ve brought somebody that’s not right into the room, then, oh, my God, merry hell can break loose in that room because they go like – I mean remember hearing this story where one director just turned round to the casting director and said, ‘Look, that person was totally not right,’ and had a hissy fit – it was LA – and they had a problem with it. And so that casting director got a lot of heat from that moment.
And people forget that; they just think, ‘Oh, I’m just going in to audition’ – but actually you’re going in and you’re trying to do your best work so that casting director thinks, ‘I did the right thing in bringing them in.’
Joe: Yes, That’s right. And that’s hard to remember because you’re going in there, you’re under your own pressure – but if you start to think about, well, you’re actually just representing yourself and the casting director and your agent as well – right? So, not to push any more pressure on you – right?
Brian: [laughs] Not that there isn’t enough!
Joe: Not that there isn’t enough! But if you start to absorb that, you start to take it a little bit more seriously, in a nice way – what I call like good pressure, that it starts to make you think, ‘Wow. This person has belief enough in me.’ Whether you’re going in for a commercial casting – which their remits and their turnaround is much faster than a TV production or a film production’s turnaround; okay, some casting directors might say, ‘No, no, Joe, I had no time on this as well,’ but general commercial castings can be like literally split. So they’re calling in people and they’re going to whittle it down to the least amount of time-wasting that they can think of. So invariably, if you’ve come in with that casting director once before and you’ve thought about it, put yourself in their shoes, prepared properly off-book as much as can be; if you have your instruments ready to try things, to go with what’s being asked of you, and to bring your own creativity to the thing as well – if you’re going into that room, you’re making the casting director’s life easy. That’s the beginning part.
You may not get that job because of various – you know, the colour, or the hair colour, or this, or the fix, or the build or whatever – but the casting director’s made a note: they know, ‘Yes, this person is prepared.’ And then there’ll come a next time when they don’t even think about it – they’ll just call you in; and then a next time again they’ll call you in. And as that casting director’s reputation is building, so is yours because they’re putting their trust in you more and more and more.
And what I’ve found over time is that certain – I get a lot of work from certain casting directors, and I get that work because they make me feel very, very comfortable and I’m able to try things. And when I go in and try things, I’m not under the pressure – I am under pressure but I don’t have to think about it – and invariably I bring a really good thing into the room. And, look, I may not get the job – I’ve been for a lot of jobs that I didn’t get, and I’ve been for a lot of jobs that I did get – so the casting director over time has made me feel more and more powerful. And that’s something that we can forget, you know, that they’re putting their trust in you. They’re going, ‘Come on in, Joe. Try it. Let’s see what we’ve got,’ you know?
Brian: You’re right; they’re putting their trust in you. That’s very important.
Brian: And ultimately, before you even get in the room, there’s something I think you should bear in mind with casting directors, which is that they’re very project-orientated. You know, they are dealing with a particular project at any given time and that is where their attention and focus will be. Why that’s important is that if you know, for example – say you’re from Northern Ireland and you find out a casting director is casting a Northern Irish drama, then that obviously is the very best time for you to contact that casting director.
Brian: Because like next week they might be casting something set in Australia, in which case they’re going to be not interested in Northern Irish actors – they’re going to be interested in Australian actors. So that’s important, because if you contact them at the wrong time you’ve got to understand that probably their attention is not going to be on…
Joe: Their attention is completely on something else. You know, if you think of a project, whether it’s a drama or a theatre play or a TV production, a film, commercials, you know, if you think, they’ve got to get sometimes hundreds of people cast, sometimes maybe only tens, but their focus is on that. And sometimes only casting ten people, they might see hundreds of people, you know?
Joe: And you think, ‘But why would they need that many?’ Well, if you about ten roles that need to go through, ten times ten, they might call about eight/ten people in if they’re really good – they want to give the director a good choice. If it’s a director that really knows their onions, they probably will whittle that down straightaway to five.
But invariably, look, I’ve been up for stuff (I’m going off on a tangent here), but I’ve been up for things with Ridley Scott, and the casting director for Ridley Scott is Nina Gold; Nina Gold also casts Game of Thrones – she is busy. She is top-drawer. And I saw in the room, for my role, I saw about eight/ten guys. We were kind of similar but different. Now, I didn’t get it, in case you wanted to know that one – it was one that I didn’t get. Now, invariably, if you’re thinking that they need ten parts, different in the film project with Ridley Scott – and we know Ridley casts amazing stuff and works on brilliant projects; you want to be involved. So if we think about like ten times ten is a hundred; they’ve seen a hundred people in that day. And they want to see somebody who’s going to bring something to it, that’s going to make it interesting for them and make it compelling for them and make their life easier.
Brian: And the other thing is, the one who prepares – the reason I bring this up is, Joe, you’re right, we’ve talked to a lot of casting directors, top casting directors here in London and in LA, and the last time I was in LA, the casting directors that I had in, one of the questions was, ‘What is the number one, one of the major things that you would want actors to think about before they come in to audition?’ And he said, ‘That they should prepare.’ And I was kind of shocked by that answer because I thought, ‘Doesn’t every actor prepare?’ And they went, ‘No.’
Brian: And they said, ‘You may think that – but the reality is no, not every actor does.’ And I kind of got the impression that maybe it happens more often than you would like to think. And they kind of said, ‘Well, sometimes an actor they get the script the day before and for whatever reason they haven’t read it, or they’re not off-the-book, they’re just barely getting through the scene; they don’t know the character.’ He said, ‘All of these basic things that we would expect an actor to really cover before they come in and audition for us.’
So, here’s the thing: really fully prepare for them, because they will notice that. And what he said is they see actors coming in, fully prepared – it doesn’t matter if it’s like, they said, ‘Especially if we’re looking at the smaller roles; if we see an actor come in time and time again and nail it, then we just keep bringing them in, because we know that, eventually – they’re fully prepared, they’re doing the work – eventually a part that they’re right for will happen.’
Joe: Yes. Or even more than that, Brian – because you know I’m like about the manifesting it happens as well; it’s not the right part – the part becomes created for you and everything lines up, where you and the way you work, and your attitude and your preparation, it just opens up the door. And something else: we go back to, say, like James Gandolfini for The Sopranos – it’s all wrong; it’s right. Do you know what I mean?
Joe: It’s all so wrong, it’s right. And that casting director called them in about I think about four or five times.
Brian: He said, I remember, when he turned up for the audition, he was in the room and there were these tall, dark, handsome Italian guys and he looked at them and he said, ‘Why the hell am I here?’
Brian: But just – there you go.
Joe: Yes. It’s like it’s always wrong. It’s like you’ve been called in. We keep saying that over and over: you’ve been called in. if you don’t know what that means, if you’re young to this profession, you’ll start to understand. We’re going to ingrain it into your mind. You’ve been called in. you will look around the room; everybody will be more beautiful, taller, slimmer, muscly, more hair – but whatever it is, they will be better at it than you. That’s the feeling that you’re going to get. And you need to dismiss that! Because you’re in with a chance. Whether you’re in for a small role or a big role, you’ve been called in!
Brian: Well, I wrote an e-mail about this recently, which was about Blake Lively, and, you know, her big breakthrough was Gossip Girl, and I know the casting director for that, and he said that when they were casting it, everybody in the room – she left the audition and everybody in the room went, ‘Fucking hell! She’s – that’s it.’
Joe: That’s it.
Brian: ‘She’s the one.’ His words (quote/unquote) were, ‘There’s something very special about her. She’s going to be a star.’ And that’s what happened. Now, that wasn’t always the case because at the same time there was something else going on, there was another thing that she was going forward for, and she didn’t get that and they didn’t quite see that in her.
Joe: Isn’t that – do you see? It’s like how can that be possible? She’s the same person. Hopefully she – Blake, if you’re ever listening, I hope you prepared for both of them as fully as I would have expected you to – because it’s not coincidence that you get one perfect and you get the other, you know…
Brian: No, he said like there was no difference in her.
Joe: Oh, because the casting director was the same one?
Brian: That’s right.
Joe: Oh, right. Okay. I didn’t know that.
Brian: So he was there at both.
Joe: Oh, that’s brilliant!
Brian: He said there was no change in her, but how the people that were…
Joe: One went, ‘Don’t get it,’ and the other went, ‘She’s got it.’
Brian: Yes. And I think that is such an interesting story because obviously she has become a big star, but it’s amazing how a big star, or somebody who’s got potential for that has walked into the room and people didn’t see it. And I think that this is what you’ve got to deal with as an actor. Like you say, Joe, you have to go out and embrace who you are, and not be affected by everybody else around you, and just think, ‘I’m going to go on and do what I do.’ And then they either see it or they don’t, you know?
Joe: Yes. Leave it in the room, guys. Just leave it in the room.
Brian: I am sure that Blake walked into it – like you said – walked in, you imagine this, for Gossip Girl. Could you imagine that room for that role? She’s probably walking into maybe – because in LA there’s even more people audition – 20/30 girls…
Joe: Easy. Easy!
Brian: And I would imagine they would have been all beautiful and sort of a certain type, and she would have walked into that room and probably thought, ‘You know what?’
Joe: ‘What am I doing here?’
Brian: Right, you’re right. This is what you’ve got to contend with. But I think, going back to the casting director ideas, in her case as well, going in and being fully prepared and doing the work, you’re right, that’s how you make the job easier. After that, it’s down to the people that are doing it.
Joe: So, what do you think, Brian, would be the, for the young actors, to get ingrained in them, to learn to deal with casting directors? What would you say would be the…?
Brian: I think you should sit down, close your eyes and really think about what is the life of a casting director, because then I think it will help you avoid silly little mistakes or silly little comments or things that you might do that will rub them up the wrong way. I think that if, for example, I don’t know, you start – I mean, people get nervous as well, Joe, when you’re going to see a casting director for a role, and sometimes they can ask silly questions. For example, one of the things that I know a certain casting director said is a big bugbear is the actor gets the script the night before and then comes in and says, ‘Oh, I only got it yesterday,’ which the inference is, ‘Actually you should have given me the script earlier, and that’s why what I’m about to do maybe isn’t as good as it should be.’
Joe: ‘Isn’t much good,’ yes.
Brian: And they said that just drives them nuts, because it’s like you’re kind of putting onto them the fact that – but, you know, he said, ‘We didn’t have any time! We just got it the day before as well.’
Joe: Yes! They’re probably like, at 5:30, sending out all the – in the afternoon and evening. You know, everybody’s going to be saying, ‘Sharp at 6:00’ and they’re sending out like a hundred emails to all the different people they’ve got to call in – and there might be five or six different roles that they’re calling in for that day, for the next day, and they’re all struggling to get that out and put onto the table and getting people booked in – you know, the timeslots and all of that.
Brian: Yes. Because those things are easy to avoid, and I think you just need to think about making their life easy and making sure that you’re going into the room fully prepared. When you go in to meet them in audition, don’t take in bags, books, bottles of water…
Joe: Oh, my God.
Brian: …coats. I know it’s a little thing but…
Joe: Leave it all outside!
Brian: …leave it outside. Because they say that another thing is they come into the room and people are bringing in their suitcases – everything.
Joe: The kitchen sink, their dinner – yes.
Brian: And then he said there’s a really awkward moment at the end where they’ve got to pack everything up and get out. So just make sure you do all those things. Then, when you’re corresponding with a casting director, you know, things can be misread in e-mail, or sometimes people can come across in the wrong way; just make sure you’re respectful; you understand that they’re under a lot of pressure, and try and make their life as easy as possible by doing all the work in advance. And remember, they’re project-orientated…
Joe: Project-orientated – yes, that’s a good one.
Brian: …so they’re looking for something – be relevant to them, because you’ll become very relevant if you match that up right at that moment. And I know what people are probably thinking is (we’re running over)…
Joe: That’s okay.
Brian: ‘How do I know what they’re casting?’ Well, this is where you’ve got to be like a detective. You’ve got to become like Columbo, man; you’ve got to basically think research. Watch the end of programmes – who’s casting what; go into IMDbPro; do everything you can to kind of investigate and find out what is happening when with the casting directors. So, yes, I think that brings us to the end, Joe. Big topic.
Joe: Yes. Big topic. Well done, Brian. Hopefully this helps.
Brian: We probably could have talked for a few hours on that one…
Brian: But never mind. Okay, we’ll speak to you on the next one.
Joe: Take care.
You’ve been listening to Brian Timoney’s World of Acting. For a full transcript of today’s show, go to www.worldofacting.com.