While most actors are aware of casting directors and appreciate they are the people who can offer actors work, many do not fully understand the role of a casting director. Understanding their role will give you an opportunity to build a successful relationship with them and as a result, give you a better chance of being seen for roles.
Actors tend to get very nervous when auditioning for a casting or think casting directors are difficult to communicate with. You might find it hard to believe, but the casting director is actually on your side, rooting for you. They are some of the biggest supporters for actors. The best example of this I’ve personally seen is Ben Cogan. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ben at Actors Studio as one of the tutors on our Masterclass in Screen Acting.
“I am inspired and impassioned by working with actors on behalf of production for the enjoyment of audiences.” – Ben Cogan.
After 15 years of working at the BBC in the casting department, Ben now works as a freelance CD and offers his services to actors looking for advice and guidance from someone who’s sat in the audition room more times than you can imagine.
What does a Casting Director Do?
A casting will work closely with the director and producer to understand their creative vision. In doing this, they need to understand their requirements of not only the character but financial and commercial value demanded by a production. The role of the casting director puts them at the heart of a creative process. In joining forces with directors and their producers, a CD will introduce actors to the shoes of a character.
This creative process means a CD will read scripts, have meetings with directors and producers to get a sense of what type of person they are looking for and they will have to find an actor who looks right for the part and who can also act and portray the role well. Casting directors consider the actor’s availability, fees and how much box office buzz they’re going to create. Ultimately the film is a product that needs to be sold!
Casting directors need to have a good understanding of the talent that’s out there, so they will be in good contact with agents and will attend theatre productions and graduation shows to spot potential actors. It is then their job to organise auditions whilst looking at headshots, CV’s and showreels. They will then present a selection of candidates to the director and producer and together they will make the final decision on castings.
I can’t stress enough the importance of a good showreel and accurate headshots. These are two of your most vital marketing tools, so make sure they are up to date and showcase your best skills. Show them what you’re good at!
Casting Directors & their work
Nina Gold is a casting director known for her work on the HBO series Rome and Game of Thrones. She has also worked as casting director in movies like The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, Les Misérables, 1917 and many more.
In an interview with Nina Gold at the 2017 Artios Awards she highlighted that she is interested in people and wants to find out more about them.
“What makes a good casting director is having a good memory, having a lot of patience and having an actual real interest and love of actors and wanting to know what it is about them that makes them good.” – Nina Gold
Ellen Lewis is a casting director known for her work with casting movies such as, The Wolf of Wall Street, Forrest Gump, Goodfellas, The departed, What Lies Beneath, Shutter Island, The Devil Wears Prada and many more.
“I start with the script, I look at all the roles and I break them down.” – Ellen Lewis
She approaches each project creatively and starts fresh. “I act as if I’ve never done it before,” Lewis explains. Part of her process is reaching out to agents.
“I enjoy talking to agents who are going to talk to me creatively and think about the project I’m doing,”
Aside from sitting with agents and going through their individual clients, another resource Lewis finds useful is ‘Actors Access’, an online database for performers. “It’s a fantastic place where actors can submit themselves directly,” Lewis says. “I go through it and look for great faces and look for people we’ve never met before.”
Websites like Actors Access, Mandy.com and Spotlight offer actors a greater chance of being seen. In a digital world, it’s vital your profile is accessible and stands out. One mistake I see actors make is being indecisive on a stage name. Choose a name and stick to it, this is the calling point of your brand so make sure it’s consistent across all of your platforms.
Examples of great (and not so great) castings
Tom Hanks as Forest in Forrest Gump – Bill Murray, John Travolta and Chevy Chase all turned down this role before Tom Hanks turned Forrest Gump into one of the most iconic characters in film history. He then earned himself a second Academy Award for Best Actor for the second year running. It is said today that no other actor would have been able to convey the ever-present yet light sadness that surrounds Forrest throughout the film the way Tom Hanks does. Sometimes a role is destiny and I think we can safely say nobody else could play this role quite like Hanks.
Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather – He succeeded audience expectations in imagining a real-life mafia boss. Physically, he is tall and very charismatic. He’s not exactly handsome in his older years (which makes him more credible).
Verbally, he doesn’t need to say much because the reputation and his eyes do most of the talking, which led the film to be one of the most top 10 films in the world.
Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae in Ghost – Although Whoopi was not the first choice to play Oda Mae (Being friends with Patrick Swayze, he convinced Zucker to cast her), this is the role that awarded her an oscar. Whoopi Goldberg was the first actress to win EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony).
Whoopi Goldberg’s ability to blur the lines of comedy vs. tragedy provided a much needed comedic side to a heart-wrenching story. Joel Rubin (the writer of Ghost) said she was his favourite character of his own creation. He has often said that Whoopi added an element of charm that he never expected the character to have.
The not so Great:
Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/ Venom – critics said that he was ‘skinny and too winy’ to take on such a well-known villain. Partnered with an unlikable screen presence, the character left a bad taste to the final instalment of the original Spidey trilogy
Rosie O’ Donnell as Betty in the Flintstones – People had a real problem with her casting compared to the rest of the film that they were happy with. The problem was that ‘Betty” is supposed to be a character in which a male audience should fantasize about, yet all she really received was a laugh. This is a great example of not taking into account your audience in the casting process.
Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert in Les Miserables – Where critics said ‘He wasn’t passionate enough and his singing wasn’t very great. Crowe’s singing was too high-pitched for the part of Javert.’ ‘I cringed every time he opened up his mouth to sing off-key. He’s a great actor, but a crap singer and casting him was a mistake.’
While a high-profile actor might offer the best chance of box-office results, it doesn’t always mean they have the right tools to do the job. This can be crippling for an actors career and the success of a film.
Actors and their relationship with Casting Directors
The casting director will always want you to do your best in auditions, so come prepared. Spend some thorough time thinking about the character you are auditioning for and make strong choices. One thing that I think is so important is being a flexible actor; have alternative ways in mind on how to play your character! This shows that you are a dedicated actor and it will make people in the industry want to work with you. As I mentioned in my Guide to Self-Taping, the casting director is interested in you, so while you might not be suitable for the role you’re being seen for, being flexible may open a door to another role in the production.
Always stay in touch with a casting director! However, find a balance because if you are constantly badgering them it’s likely they will ignore you, or even block you from contacting them. Instead, send an email or reach out to them on social media, not every week but every few months so that they don’t forget who you are. If you are in a showcase or have just received a role, let them know about it! As we’ve established, CD’s are interested in finding new talent so it’s likely they will want to attend if they see potential.
Most successful actors take control of their own career instead of waiting and hoping for auditions to appear (sadly, it doesn’t work like that.) As an actor you have to market yourself in a positive manner so that you can create your own luck and success. You never know who you are talking to or who they might know so it’s always good to be respectful to everyone. Remember Casting Directors are people, not robots so you can build a professional friendship with them. Sending the casting director a thank you letter or email, irrelevant of whether you got the role or not, is always a polite thing to do. Whether you’re thanking them for the job or just their time, this will give them a better chance at remembering who you are for the future upcoming jobs.
I hope this gives you more of an insight into what a Casting Director does, and how you can build a relationship with them to give yourself the best chance of being seen for roles. Represented by an agent or not, make sure you have a profile and give CD’s an opportunity to see you at work.
If you’re in need of a new showreel and more screen experience make sure you check out the Masterclass in Screen Acting, which features an intimate workshop led by Casting Director Ben Cogan. You’ll also have the opportunity to work alongside some of the industries top acting coaches & directors, all at the heart of Pinewood Studios. In the meantime, stay safe and get working on your profile!
Written by Katie Moseley.