Undoubtedly choosing the right leads for a movie and/or TV show can make all the difference in the viewers’ experience. Casting directors play a huge role in generating our attachment to certain characters, making those who cast them unsung heroes. While directors and producers sometimes have individuals in mind for certain roles, much of the decisions come down to who the casting director recommends.
Personal Space caught up with some of the best in the casting business to get a behind the scenes look of how it all works; John Papsidera (Westworld, Jurassic World), Sharon Bialy (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead), Sherry Thomas (The Handmaids Tale, Better Call Saul), Marci Liroff (Indiana Jones, Mean Girls), Matthew Lessall (Chronic, Deidra And Laney Rob A Train), Russell Boast (Wicked City, Paradise Club), all contributed their own unique outlooks.
Personal Space: What is one of the strangest audition experiences you ever had?
John Papsidera: Strangest attempt at an audition was a woman walking into my office from the parking lot, totally naked from head to toe, supposedly proving to me, that she was ready, willing and able to work nude for Westworld.
PS: Is size an issue when casting for a role? How important is it for someone to be 'camera ready,' if the character is slim, or vice versa if the character is supposed to be larger?
Sharon Bialy: We look for depth of talent first – hair and makeup does wonders. One example would be Ewan McGregor (this season of Fargo – almost unrecognizable as the overweight, bald twin brother). If we are casting a real-life figure, size can be important. For instance, Lee Pace has been cast to play John DeLorean in the upcoming indie Driven. It would be hard to cast an actor who is 5’6, to play DeLorean who was 6’4.
PS: Do you have to gauge whether there is sufficient chemistry between two leads who have a romantic plot line?
Sherry Thomas: In short, yes. The long answer: chemistry very often has to be gauged in the audition process individually, or knowing the depth of an actor's work. We didn't do chemistry reads on The Handmaid's Tale between Elizabeth Moss and her love interests Max Minghella and O.T. Fagbenle. There is no doubt the chemistry that exists in both those romantic plot lines. Our job requires having an instinct about who will work well with and off one another.
PS: How much control do you have over diversity in casting for specific roles?
Marci Liroff: It all depends on the project I'm working on and the creative team, as to whether they will be open to casting to reflect the world we live in. Casting Directors (including myself) have been leading the charge on diversity casting for several decades.
PS: Any memorable auditions that lead to a role being cast?
Matthew Lessall: The day I auditioned Josh Peck for Mean Creek; it was the weekend, and I locked myself out of my office when it was raining outside. Josh came and I didn't have a camera to tape him, as it was inside the locked office. We just decided to read the scenes, outside under an overhang with the rain pouring down; And after that, I called my director and said, "I found your George!”
PS: Any advice for someone looking to stand out to a casting director?
Russell Boast: Be authentically you, because no one can do that better than you. I have to shout out to Ed Westwick, aka Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl. Ed worked tirelessly to land the role of Kent Galloway in our short-lived series Wicked City. We knew he was our guy from day one, but the Network took some convincing. Every time we brought Ed back, he came with new fresh and exciting ideas for the role— an absolute trooper!
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