Casting Directors: The Keepers of the Gate
Suppose you were considering casting Thor and the Avengers – and Chris Hemsworth walked in the door! Would you have seen his Star Power?
Casting Director Randi Hiller says “Chris is 6ft 5in and ridiculously handsome. You look at him and think ‘Thor’,” but Randi says that at first he just didn’t have “The Strut”. Clearly Chris was clearly someone to keep an eye on. So how did he end up as Thor?
He got cast as Kirk’s father in the 2009 Star Trek reboot – and that changed things. Randi said that after that “his skin fit”. Now he was ready for Thor!
Star Trek 2009 had me hooked from the beginning with George Kirk. He WAS our Capt. Kirk’s father without doubt. Later in Thor, Chris was perfect. It never occurred to me that long before, someone had to see that potential in the actor to cast him – until I had an opportunity to learn more about casting.
2013 was my first San Diego Comic Con. I loved the costumes and characters and huge halls with panels of movie and TV celebrities. I was just as delighted to find that one of the events was a panel of casting directors. Aha! The guys and gals who see the hopeful actors and pick the ones that might be matches for the leading roles. How do they spot the magical potential in the actors?
I found that it’s more involved than I thought. It isn’t just matching Looks X to Role Y. As one panel member said, “Our job is to have ‘actor fluency’.”
The moderator of the panel was Lora Kennedy (Warner Brothers, EVP, Features Casting. CD, Man of Steel). Panelists were Roger Mussenden (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Sharon Bialy (The Walking Dead), David Rapaport (Arrow) and Randi Hiller (of Walt Disney Studios, VP Casting. CD, The Avengers). Our current superheroes started here!
So what are Casting Directors looking for?
- For a lead in a multi-million picture, they need a known actor, someone with experience. “The Studio wants someone famous – at least someone who won’t FU their project!” TV is a good place to get known because an actor doesn’t need a name to become a TV star. I thought of Zachary Quinto, cast as Spock for Star Trek 2009. He was the first role cast, even though he had no movie experience. But he did have TV experience, getting star status as Sylar in Heroes. Zachary has also said that he spent his early years in Hollywood getting to know the Casting Directors. What about smaller roles? The panel said that for those the actor can have less experience.
- Actors with representatives get looked at first. Un-repped actors get looked at, but not first. It is very rare to pull someone off the street, as was claimed to happen in the early days of Hollywood. If the actor picked drops out, will they go to the #2 choice. Almost never, alas. They are more likely to start over.
- Casting means going through tons of headshots. I knew that every actor had them. The few I’ve seen looked very glamorous. But the panel said not to send a glamor shot, but something that captures the actor’s personality. Sharen said that first they look for the given age & type range. Then for the training. If someone doesn’t fit the current project but has potential – an “It” factor – they’ll note him or her in their “black books” for later roles.
- Tapes act as a pre-audition. Tip: check the tape! Casting gets many tapes with no sound or other glitches. Not good! Casting Directors have to go through a lot of material, so they favor something where they can click a button and look at a short clip quickly. Randi said, “Long montages don’t get you anywhere. Put your best foot forward. I don’t want to see a scene from your acting class.”
- Whether headshots or tapes, they are looking for someone unique. The panel said that actors shouldn’t try to be who they think the casting director wants.
- They look for someone who acts professional and looks proud of what they do. Casting Directors prefer actors who show up and are on time. An actor in the audience said, “These days if you want a job in Hollywood, you need a British passport!” Randi replied that it wasn’t a matter of nationality, but of work ethic. She gave an example of a project with 5 Brits, 5 Australians and 10 Americans. The Brits and Aussies showed up on time and were fully prepared. Half of the Americans often didn’t show up – car trouble, sick – lots of excuses. Those that did weren’t prepared. Wow! The American work ethic has deteriorated even in this highly competitive field!
- A killer audition is what got many current stars remembered. Several on the panel said it’s important to play the character that is presented. If auditioning for someone with super powers, to play the person – not the power. Sharon said, “Your job is to make the story move forward. It is not about you!”
OK, even if an actor meets all the criteria, is that it? Who makes the real casting decision? Sure, the casting director presents his or her choice but who makes the casting decision? The director? The studio producer? The show runner (the person responsible for the day to day operation of a TV series)? Turns out that it varies.
Sharon said that for her series the show runner has the final say, but usually all are on the same page. Being cable, they don’t have a committee decision. David said that with Arrow on The CW it is similar. But for the networks and movies, it’s like forty-five (!) people have to sign-off on a co-star. They end up going back to the drawing board a lot. One panel member told of a meeting with twenty-five people, each of whom wanted to say something about each decision – agonizing!!
Sometimes there are union issues or things outside the actor’s control that means he or she can’t be cast for a role. For example, if the shooting is in another country, they may not be able to get the actor accepted in the role or get them there in time.
What a fascinating job! Not all is just looking at gorgeous actors. It sounds like Casting Directors need a lot of patience.
Are you an actor? There’s more you may find helpful on the full panel discussion here.
Do you have any experience with casting actors? Or being cast yourself? What was it like for you? I’d love to hear your comment.