What Casting Directors Look For in an Actor
When you didn’t get the part, we’re sure your friends told you that it wasn’t because your acting wasn’t good enough. This actually rings true from a casting director’s perspective. Many factors are taken into consideration during the casting process. Plain skill isn’t the only/main quality that they note down during auditions. Largely depending on the project, here’s what casting directors look for in an actor.
What Casting Directors Look For in Actors
Casting directors want to find the best actor out of a group of actors who all look basically the same. Other than acting skills, what casting directors look for is an actor who’s easy to work with. First and foremost, you want the casting director to like you as a person. When you enter the audition room, the only people present besides you will be the producer, a camera operator, the casting director, and if it’s a commercial audition, a representative from the advertiser. Whoever the people there are, treat them all with respect. No matter what they look like, how they appear, or what you know about them, be polite and nice.
Be prompt, punctual, disciplined, prepared, willing, and respectful to everyone involved in the production, including the cleaning people. In other words, be professional. Furthermore, you have to know how to practice a balanced mixture of confidence and humility in front of the casting professionals.
The entertainment industry is quite small. You’ll probably run into the same people again and again in many other projects. If you exude negative vibes or project bad attitude, news about it will spread like wildfire. Gwyneth Paltrow’s career, for example, has not taken off in the last couple of years since she made rude comments.
The right look
Casting directors, producers, and even talent agents are going to be quite particular with your physical image. As a matter of fact, they consider this the 50% rule. These professionals have already familiarized the script, so they’ve envisioned a corresponding look for each character involved. This means that the minute you walk into an audition room and you look just like the character you are auditioning for, you have already won the role by half. All you have to do is act the part well and the job is definitely in the bag.
Being prepared is definitely one of the most essential keys to nail an audition. Casting directors, producers, and agents would know whether you have familiarized the slides, practiced, and clearly understood the character you auditioned for or not.
Don’t worry about not memorizing the lines they have provided ahead or during the audition. What casting directors look for is how you deliver the role and show your character’s personality. You will only be able to do this effectively if you prepared well.
Ability to take direction
The audition room is your first chance to show just what kind of an actor you are. Having prepared your lines and decided on your character portrayal, you will be fully prepared to demonstrate your skills and ability to perform the role. However, at the end of your reading, the director or the casting director will probably ask you to do something differently. Whether it’s a different style of reading or movement, they will request that you try it again a slightly different way. Whenever the director gives you instruction, do not look puzzled, do not think for a moment, do not immediately start speaking or start to defend yourself or explain why you weren’t doing it in the first place. Just take it in, do it, and stay quiet.
Remember, you are there for one reason: to fulfill the director’s vision. It can be easy to forget since it may seem like your job is simply acting your part. But keep in mind that the director controls everything that happens onstage or on set. They are the person in charge. Learning to take direction is one of the most important qualities an actor needs to have. All the talent in the world cannot save you once you’ve built up a reputation for being difficult on set and argumentative with directors.
This quality points out to how an actor creates a connection—not just with the audience but with fellow performers. Whether you are auditioning for a TV role, a character for a motion picture, or a part in a theater production, it is important to establish a relationship with those whom you are interacting in a scene. Although this is something you can’t control, you can develop this quality through active listening, reacting to instinct, and picking up on impulses.
Your acting ability, lastly, plays a crucial role during an audition. People responsible for casting need to find this one out as soon as possible. As an aspiring actor, you have to ensure that you are believable in any kind of scene. If you sound like you’re reciting lines, with intonation incongruous with the text or if you deliver lines without purpose, then casting directors are not going to find you deserving. Do you deliver your lines the same way every time? How do you react when other lines are being read to you? Are you angry, waiting for the next opportunity to deliver your retort? Or is something particularly profound being suggested and you’d want to take a moment to contemplate?
Sure, casting directors would like to give newer actors a chance to get experience, but producers can’t. Film festivals will reject the film for “stiff performances” if they don’t choose the best actors available. If this is a challenge for you, you may want to attend acting classes to learn how to “act naturally under imaginary circumstances.”
Now that you know what casting directors look for, it is time to assess yourself if you have them or not and start to develop them into your personality if you don’t. Once you have the winning personality to make any casting director like you, browse the opportunities waiting for you at Explore Talent. Good luck!
The Casting Directors’ Guild is a professional organization of casting directors in the United Kingdom. This year, the guild makes history as it holds its first-ever CDG Casting Awards. The event aims to honor the vital contribution of casting directors to the success of any production.
Inaugural CDG Casting Awards Honors the Industry’s Brightest
The duties of casting directors make them the unsung heroes of every production, so it is just right that they be recognized for the work that they do. Hence, the inaugural CDG Casting Awards directed the spotlight to them.
Concluded on February 12, 2019, the CDG Casting Awards 2019 distributed six titles: best casting in a theater production, best casting in a television production, best casting in a film, best casting in a commercial, outstanding contributor to the casting profession, and outstanding contribution to international casting.
Here are this year’s winners.
Best Casting in a Theater Production
Paul Wooller, Felicity French, and Trevor Jackson, the minds behind the casting for Hamilton, received a nomination for Best Casting in a Theater Production. Besides the Hamilton team, Alastair Coomer also earned a spot on the list of nominees for The York Realist. Sophie Parrot received a nomination for An Octoroon, Wendy Spon and Jacob Sparrow for Follies, and Charlotte Sutton for Caroline or Change.
In the end, Hamilton’s casting directors bagged the award, sponsored by The Stage, UK’s theater news platform.
Best Casting in a Television Production
United Agents awarded the Best Casting in a TV Production to Kate Rhodes James for her work in the BBC One series Bodyguard.
Also receiving nominations were Kharmel Cochrane (The End of the F***king World), Tracey Gilham (Inside No 9 season 4), Julie Harkin (Kiri), and Jina Jay (Black Mirror season 4).
Best Casting in a Film
Debbie McWilliams won the Best Casting in a Film at the CDG Casting Awards. McWilliams is the casting director behind Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Independent Talent Group, an organization with an extensive production network in London and across UK, sponsored the award.
Nominees for the award included Lucie Bevan for Murder on the Orient Express and David Grindrod, Stephen Crockett, Will Burton for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Julie Harkin and Jina Jay were nominated as well.
Best Casting in a Commercial
Cadbury’s Mum’s Birthday’scasting directors, Michael Cox and Thom Hammond, bagged the gong for Best Casting in a Commercial. The award was sponsored by New Wonder Management, a talent-acquisition management in the UK.
Aside from Cox and Hommand, Martin Gibbons, Dan Hubbard, and Orlla Maxwell also received nominations. Sasha Robertson Casting received two nominations for Audition for an Advert and Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare.
Outstanding Contribution to the Casting Profession
British film company EON Production presented the Outstanding Contribution to the Casting Profession to Charlotte Bevan. Her passion as a director of the National Theater made her the woman for the spot.
Outstanding Contribution to International Casting
Completing the list is Richard Cook, a talent agent, who won the Outstanding Contribution to International Casting. Cook created the Subtitle Fest, a film fest that welcomes hundreds of international filmmakers, directors, and actors every year.
Speaking of the ceremony, the Committee of Director Victor Jenkins hopes that the event will “lead to the creation of a casting category within other industry ceremonies.”
It’s true, casting directors are the unsung heroes of every production. They’re the backbone of every production. While the job is oftentimes rewarding, the casting process can be a challenge. From understanding the script to get to know the characters to finding the right actor for the role, it takes more than just basic knowledge about the industry to be a good casting director.
Lucky for you, the industry is now home to casting directors who have polished their skills and are ready to guide the newer ones to be better at what they do. One of them is Ellen Chenoweth.
Casting Tips from Ellen Chenoweth
Gathering the best actors to take on the roles in a film is no easy task, take it from Ellen Chenoweth herself, the award-winning casting director behind No Country for Old Men (2007) and True Grit (2010). An entire day of interviews isn’t even enough to fill the spots. Don’t be dismayed, though! The hurdles in the industry are necessary to help you blossom into a world-renowned casting director.
To guide you, Ellen has shared her secrets on how to be an efficient casting director. Here’s what she has to say.
1. Scout for your candidates yourself.
Don’t sit idly in your office waiting for the candidate with the most amazing credentials to walk in. Instead, go out there and look for people with potential yourself, even if you’re not hiring at the moment.
It pays to have a lot of options so when casting season starts, you have a list of talents to choose from. Call your acting teacher friends, visit their plays, and watch out for the brilliant performers. Better yet, hold online auditions so you can save time and cut costs.
2. Make room for innovative performance.
In the film industry, there are different lists you can pick actors from. Most of the time, casting directors do that; however, this sometimes leads to poor, dull, and habitual performance. As much as possible, consider those candidates who seem “unfit” for the part then mold them into the perfect person for the role.
Do it like Ellen, she skipped the list of notable comedians and chose a less visible actor—Brad Pitt—to play a stupid health buff. As a result, the movie Burn After Reading became one of the goofiest plays in Hollywood and Chad Feldheimer remains the goofiest role Brad Pitt has ever done.
3. Bad interviews don’t mean bad talents.
Don’t let a brilliant talent slip away just because of a failed interview. More than a one-off interview, an impressive résumé should speak for their acting abilities.
Ellen Chenoweth once said, “I know they can do better. I know that they’re right for this in a way that they didn’t show us.” If you sense candidates are off their game during the first try, don’t hesitate to give them a second chance.
4. Stick with your first pick.
You might find yourself in the middle of sparring with other casting directors because of your choice, and that’s okay! Ellen suggests that you never concede without putting up a fight to defend your first talent pick.
Casting directors may not see the same potentials you saw. But if you try hard enough, you might rally them on your side to take your advice.
5. Avoid rush decisions.
“There are some directors who just want to get it done and make decisions,” Ellen shared. “Sometimes you have to try to slow it down and say I have a few more people I really want you to see before you decide.”
If you still have time to spare, use it to your advantage to scout for the best talents. In the end, you’ll realize that fine-tuning all the characters really pays off.
6. Learn to look past the candidates’ known strengths.
There are candidates who possess great strengths without even knowing they have them, and one thing you must master to be an efficient casting director is to learn to look for them. Once you spot their unknown forte, you can decide how the candidate will best suit the film’s needs.
Oftentimes, you’ll put talents on uneasy, uncomfortable, unfamiliar roles and they might not realize you’re helping them. Nonetheless, the experience will challenge their acting and creative abilities.
These tips from Ellen Chenoweth will advance your career as a casting director if you use them right. Besides these, you must also take notes during auditions, make talents feel comfortable, and compliment candidates if necessary.
Always have the right attitude and skills for the job, and you’ll surely cast the best ones!
If you are thankful to actors, actresses, and film directors for a sensational blockbuster movie, you should be equally grateful to the film’s casting directors. The result would have been different had they chosen another actor for certain roles. They may seem tough during auditions—inquisitive, callous, and meticulous—but that’s how they know who has a born talent for the job. That’s what makes them great too!
Unsung heroes—that’s what casting directors are. Always behind the curtains of every act, observing behind the camera. The responsibilities of a casting director include going through the script detail by detail to know what the production needs. On top of that, they endure the tiresome task of listing names, interviewing strangers, and scanning portfolios just to pick the right person for the job.
It takes skills and patience to be a good casting director. And in the quest to gathering the best for a film, some have failed, while others managed to stand out.
5 Best Casting Directors in the Entertainment Industry
Their roles aren’t simple, so they deserve to be recognized. Hence, here’s a list of the best casting directors who have proven their abilities in the industry.
1. Ellen Lewis
The eight-year apprenticeship she had with Juliet Taylor, a veteran casting director, only made Ellen Lewis a force to be reckoned with. Thanks to her, Forrest Gump (1994) has become a timeless film. The skillful cast still makes anyone jerk in tears, even after 25 years since the movie’s release.
Ellen Lewis is also known for the films The Departed (2006), 13 Going on 30 (2004), and A League of Their Own (1992). Because of her dedication to the craft, she had already received two Primetime Emmys, first in 2004 and second in 2011.
2. Sarah Finn
Next on this list of best casting directors is Sarah Halley Finn, who’s best known for Black Panther, one of 2018’s biggest films. No wonder she received the Best Ensemble Cast Award from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ).
Sarah Finn is the goddess of the Marvel universe, so to speak. From The Avengers series down to the installments of every hero film such as Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and Thor, Finn was able to find the right actor for each role.
Finn is also a recipient of other major awards including Outstanding Achievement in Casting from the Casting Society of America and Best Ensemble from the Black Reel Awards.
3. Mark Summers
An actor-turned-director, Mark Summers worked as a personality in the entertainment business for over ten years. Now he manages his own casting agency called Mark Summers Casting Directors & Management.
What made Summers stand out amid the strong competition is his versatility. He handles casting calls for music videos, dances, musicals, commercials, television, and fashion, besides film casting. So it’s not a surprise that he received multiple awards from famous productions since he switched careers. Those awards include BAFTA, Emmy, The Lions, MTV, The British Arrows, and Tribeca, among others.
Are you familiar with Queer Eye and The Hydra Executives? Mark is one of the men behind those series’ success. Apart from that, he has been the regular casting director for the shows of singer-songwriter Madonna.
4. Ellen Chenoweth
Another one of the best casting directors today is Ellen Chenoweth, who has more than 30 years of experience. Since she started as a casting director, Chenoweth already received three awards from Film Independent Spirit Awards and Casting Society of America, USA. On top of that, she has been nominated 28 times for an Emmy, AWFJ, and Online Film & Television Association award.
She worked as the casting director for No Country for Old Men (2007), Michael Clayton (2007), and A Serious Man (2009). Other notable credits include Men in Black 3 (2012), Meet the Parents (2000), The Bourne Legacy (2012), and Analyze That (2002).
5. Avy Kaufman
Last on the list but definitely not the least is Avy Kaufman, a casting director based in New York City. With 32 nominations in addition to six casting awards, few of her credited works will surely ring some bells.
The controversial drama about the love affair between two men Brokeback Mountain was a box-office hit in 2005. And that’s partly thanks to Kaufman who handpicked the award-winning actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams—who all ultimately contributed to the film’s success.
Few more films she gained credits for are Gotti (1996), Color of Justice (1997), and Dinner with Friends (2001). Besides those, the psychological thriller The Sixth Sense (1999), science fiction Prometheus (2012), and crime drama Public Enemies (2009) also tapped Kaufman for the casting.
If you’ve always thought a casting director’s job is pretty easy, think again. If it was, there wouldn’t even be a need for a separate professional (and sometimes an assistant) responsible for casting in the first place. A casting director’s responsibilities extend beyond contacting actors and holding auditions.
The Many Duties of a Casting Director
The first step to becoming a casting director is knowing the job’s description. Here’s what a casting director does.
1. Understand the project
The casting director meets with the producers, the director, and the writer to understand each of their creative visions. Note that the casting director is responsible for realizing the characters of the story, and their choice of actors for each role must not disappoint.
2. Ask about casting budget
Can the production afford actors such as Jennifer Lawrence? Brad Pitt? A casting director needs to keep the casting budget and the number of roles in mind when choosing actors. For this, they meet with the production accountant before proceeding with coming up with a possible list.
3. Read the script
In order to visualize the ideal actor for each role, a casting director has to read the script and make notes about each character’s speaking parts. Working closely with the director and the writer, the casting director also determines which lines define the characters’ personalities the best to be used for auditions.
4. Ask about schedules
The casting director then asks the line producer about the production schedule and target dates. This helps them verify whether actors in mind are available for this project before actually calling them or their agents. Also, they negotiate audition schedules with the line producer to ensure the casting procedure is organized and unhurried.
5. Create a tentative list of possible actors
A casting director is required to have up-to-date knowledge of available acting talent and, if possible, their current projects. They would then identify which actors are perfect for each role and list them down in preferred order, important parts first, taking into consideration rates, location, and abilities.
6. Contact actors or their agents
After coming up with the list of ideal actors, the casting director looks for their contact information to contact them or their agents. They let them know that they’re interested in casting the talent for an upcoming project on the scheduled dates. While speaking with the talent or the agent, they note down the talent’s dates of availability and prior commitments. This helps assistant directors appropriately prepare call sheets during the production phase.
7. Provide the list to the producers and director
The casting director then consults the producers and the director regarding the available and ideal actors they have in mind. Depending on the producers’ or director’s decision, lead actors may not be asked to audition. The director and the writer then identify which roles need other actors more suitable for it.
8. Prepare schedule for and list of supporting and minor actors
After actors for some of the main roles are set, the casting director then proceeds with creating another list for supporting and background actors. With the number of roles in mind, they schedule the date(s) for casting calls, correspondence, and auditions.
9. Make appointments with available actors
Meanwhile, the casting director contacts the available actors from the list to invite them to the scheduled auditions and cold readings.
10. Get the word out
Once it is clear which roles are filled and which are not, the casting director then informs talent agencies about available parts, often by utilizing an online casting service. If the production is huge, open casting calls may be necessary to attract more interested actors.
11. Conduct auditions
Finally, the casting director is at the casting panel to conduct interviews and auditions for each part. Together with the director, they make recommendations for each speaking part and at times ask the actors to do additional tasks to see each range of abilities. This requires a strong instinct for acting talent, an innate skill that can be fine-tuned and developed over time. In fact, starting as an actor can lead to a career as a casting director. Casting director Kim Petrosky notes in Tanja Crouch’s book 100 Careers in Film and Television that acting classes help casting directors understand the acting process and recognize talent.
12. Sort through submissions
Headshots, resumes, acting reels, and audition tapes are another part of the audition process. The casting director sorts through them all with the director, based on the number of roles necessary. Afterward, the casting director may need to hold callbacks to ensure that the actors are perfect for the job. The director and producers then make the final selections.
13. Negotiate contracts
Negotiation and organizational skills are also invaluable for agreeing actors’ fees and arranging the terms and conditions of their contracts. The casting director is in charge of offering each actor their appropriate fee to appear in the film. They then discuss this with the actors’ agents, keeping an eye on the casting budget.
14. Act as a liaison
The casting director relays all the details of the negotiation and contract to the producers and director. Should the producers arrange further negotiations, the casting director serves as the middleman between the agents or talents and the producers. Actors then finally sign a contract containing the terms and conditions agreed upon.
15. Find replacements when needed
During production, there may be actors unable to fulfill their contracts. This can prove to be very troublesome to casting directors, but their job entails looking for replacements should the need arise. They may have to conduct auditions for the specific role, and the replacement has to be as ideal as the actor who left.
Working as a casting director, you’re probably more than familiar with how the casting process goes. But if you need some pieces of advice as you work on your next project, here are some tips for organizing casting calls.
Tips for Organizing Casting Calls
From bits on deciding on the right venue to choosing the best date to hold it, here are some helpful tips for organizing casting calls.
1. Secure a good venue
When organizing a casting call, one of the first things you need to take care of is the venue. Much attention is paid to venue selection, as there are a lot of factors that have to be taken into consideration. One, you need to go with a place that is within your budget. Now this step could be hard because you don’t really know how much of the whole production budget would go to the casting part. But there are a lot of options waiting for you, so you just have to be wise and practical when making a decision.
2. Choose the best audition scenes for on-the-spot readings
Choose a scene that will get the best out of the actor. Have them read and act out a piece that will allow the talent to show their range of emotions. It shouldn’t be so long nor too short. You can choose a scene that involves a couple of actors to see how well they complement each other and how they look like on the screen together.
3. Spread the word
Advertise the casting call. You can do this online through social media or website banners or post flyers to get the attention of more people. How wide the advertising is depends on the size of the production, but you can trust that there are a lot of platforms you can take advantage of to spread the word. Besides online advertising, print media advertising is one good option too. Seeking help from newspaper companies and community theaters would be a good move.
4. Provide information sheets
Prepare information sheets for the actors who made the cut. Make sure you’ve already decided on the schedule for rehearsals and production and include them in the sheet too. This is so the actors can make sure that there won’t be any schedule overlap and the filming can continue without any problem. Additionally, it’s highly advisable you distribute a separate sheet for actors to fill in their contact information and other details you will need.
Organizing casting calls can be difficult and can take a toll even on those who have been doing it for so long. But just follow these tips and give the task before you the full attention it needs, the whole process will go as smoothly as you hope it will.
Casting can be a demanding process. It requires so much from you than just the eye for talent and patience. You need to check actor profiles, study each of them, and look into their acting experience and workshops attended.
And when a talent catches your attention, how to contact them becomes your next problem. Every casting director has been hoping for a platform where they can meet talents without conquering long distances.
Technology heeded the call, and the solution comes in the form of mobile applications.
Top Mobile Apps for Casting Directors
Here are five mobile apps for casting directors that have made the casting process easier for everyone involved.
It’s the ultimate movie database, so it is safe to say that there’s no one in the entertainment industry that won’t need IMDb. As a casting director, you can use the site to explore the filmography of any actor that has acting credits under their belt. The app also offers industry updates and other important bits of information you will need.
2. Auditions & Talents
An app with over half a million users, Auditions and Talents has a wide range of features both casting directors and aspiring actors can use.
3. Actor Genie
Created by award-winning casting director Heidi Levitt (The Artist, Lakeview Terrace), Actor Genie has everything a casting director needs in a mobile app. It is as much a necessity for casting directors as it is for actors. Actor Genie has a directory of agents, casting directors, and managers that will definitely come in handy if you are still starting out in the business.
Actor Genie gives you a scoop on the latest castings, industry tips, and even gives you a guide as you prepare for your next audition.
Casting360 is simply one of the most feature-packed mobile apps for casting directors. The app gives the user easy access to the latest casting calls and is very easy to navigate.
5. Department Head
An app for those in the entertainment industry, may it be film, television, or advertising. Basically, the app allows you to create your own database. You can create to-do lists, load a script you’ve written, store photos and videos, and make important notes, something casting directors definitely need.
Casting for a movie or TV show can be draining because of the challenges that come with it, but these mobile apps serve as a platform where casting directors, agents, and actors meet, allowing for a smooth and faster process.
The job of a casting director requires more than just having the patience to sit through a number of auditions. Before you can even organize an acting audition, you need to read the script and analyze it. Then you have to meet with the director of the film, the screenwriter, and the producer to know the type of actors the film needs.
Although the role the casting director plays in the whole filmmaking process remains unknown to some, they hold a position just as important as everyone in the crew.
Trying to determine whether an actor is the perfect guy for the role can be a challenge. To guide you, we gathered a few tips for casting directors from the experts in the field.
Helpful Tips for Casting Directors
If you are working on a new project, here are a few tips for casting directors you will definitely find helpful.
1. Have an eye for talent
This is the skill every casting director must have. The whole production team relies on your ability to choose the best of the bunch. You can’t present a talent who can’t read a line properly before the movie director.
Hone your skills. Study the previous works of more experienced casting directors or do more castings until you’re good enough yourself to tell right away whether or not a talent is the best person for the role.
2. Make the talent feel comfortable
One of the best tips for casting directors is to avoid being too intimidating. Maybe it helps in some ways, but appearing scary will only give talents the nerves. As much as possible, try to look friendly. A simple act of hospitality like offering them a cup of coffee or a glass of water will do the trick. Or start a small talk before getting to a more serious discussion.
3. Take notes
It pays to take notes. It’s up to you what you want to pen down, maybe the talent’s strengths and weaknesses? Not only will this help you when time comes you have to give them the results, it will also give the actor a clearer picture of what they have to work on.
4. Give praise where it’s due
Everybody deserves to hear compliments, so do not hesitate to give praise where praise is due. Highlight their strong points, but do not exaggerate. This is a good way of encouraging them to work harder and achieve even bigger goals as an artist.
5. Don’t make promises
As a casting director, you will meet one talented actor after another, which is a really good thing because that means you’re getting closer and closer to meeting the best person for the job. But one of the things a casting director must remember is that it would do everyone good if no promises were made.
You may be facing a really promising talent right now, but it’s possible that the next one you meet is better at unleashing emotions. Promises will only result in disappointments, so you might want to save everyone from that.
Casting can be harder than what it looks, but if you have the right attitude and skills for the job, you will surely produce a work that exceeds expectations.
When asked why you love a certain film, we always go with the plot and script reasoning. Or that the cinematography was astounding or the direction was just one for the books. Rarely do we mention that it’s because our favorite actor is in it and we just really want to see him spit fire in the overrated movie franchise he’s appeared in five years in a row.
It’s a card we rarely pull when it comes to what makes a film worth sitting through, but truth be told, sometimes, the ensemble cast of a film is what draws a large audience in. In some instances, it’s the only thing that makes the film worth watching. But a lot of times, the talented cast and how they complement each other is what makes a movie a masterpiece.
5 Films with the Best Ensemble Cast
Here are five films with the best ensemble cast, they make the film tenfold greater. Thes films’ casting directors know exactly what they were doing, and perhaps, you can take inspiration from their work as you prepare for your next film.
1. The Departed (2006)
Rarely do we see two Academy Award for Best Actor winners, a Golden Globe for Best Actor winner, and two Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series winners appear in the same film directed by one of the best directors in the world of filmmaking, but The Departed gave us exactly that. Starring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin, The Departed will always be remembered as that 2006 crime drama film where the industry’s best gathered. And that’s thanks to the film’s casting director, Ellen Lewis.
Loosely based on a real-life gangster and his encounters with the FBI, The Departed gained recognition for the direction and the performance of its cast. It went on to win several awards and nominations including the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director for Martin Scorsese. DiCaprio and Nicholson went on to receive Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor awards from the Austin Film Critics. Further proving their one-of-a-kind chemistry, the whole cast won three awards for Best Ensemble (Central Ohio Film Critics, National Board of Review, and Satellite Awards).
2. Pulp Fiction (1994)
If it’s crime film we’re talking about, Pulp Fiction would always be at the top of every Top 10 list. Besides the fact that it is directed by someone who’s known for films that are “focused” and have plot development that’s hard to overlook, Pulp Fiction boasts an ensemble of actors that gave brilliant performances, it’s hard to pick a favorite.
It’s been more than two decades since it was released, but Pulp Fiction remains one of the films that have an ensemble we thought would never pull through but became a reality—and we have casting directors Ronnie Yeskel and Gary Zuckerbrod to thank for that. Featuring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken, and Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction has secured a spot on several AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies lists and it’s easy to see why.
3. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Definitely one of the films with the best ensemble cast, Ocean’s Eleven remains legendary even when a lot of other more recent films tried to strip it of its glory. Debra Zane was tasked to direct the casting for the 2001 film, and she obviously knew what she was doing. She was able to assemble a cast of actors that work very well together, the film wouldn’t be the same had one of them pulled out.
Ocean’s Eleven features George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Julia Roberts, and all four of them gave a career-defining performance, a portrayal that will never be forgotten. Now those names alone are enough to have people lining up to buy tickets to its premiere.
4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Another film on the list with Matt Damon in it but this time, he’s with an actor that is basically one of the pillars of the acting industry—Tom Hanks. Hanks is astonishing in this epic war film, but the film wouldn’t have been worth sitting through if it weren’t for how perfectly his acting complemented with that of other actors like Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, and Vin Diesel. This is what makes Denise Chamian, the film’s casting director, a force to reckon with when it comes to casting.
5. The Dark Knight (2008)
Since the first one in 2005, we’ve all seen three Batman movies grace the big screen. Now they are equally great, but there’s something about the 2008 film that gives it an edge over the rest—its ensemble cast. Directed by Christopher Nolan with John Papsidera as the casting director, The Dark Knight rewrote the future of superhero films. With an iconic performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker, which earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and an unforgettable Batman portrayal courtesy of Christian Bale, it does not take too many words to explain why this Batman movie is still the best among the rest.
Behind every great ensemble cast is a casting director who gathers candidates for roles in movies, television shows, and other productions. Before an acting portfolio reaches the table of a filmmaker, it sits on the lap of a casting director first.
But it seems like their job description still sounds alien to those who don’t look past the actors they see on screen and the directors that put the whole movie together. The unsung heroes of every production, casting directors endure a tedious process of studying the script to know what the movie needs, listing numerous names, staring at unfamiliar faces, going over countless portfolios just to find the perfect person for an acting job.
The role casting directors like you play is crucial to every production. So it is only right to celebrate your contribution to the industry. To do that, we came up with a list of renowned casting directors that helped turn Hollywood into the unaparalleled force it is now.
4 Casting Directors to Learn a Lesson or Two From
In the world of cinema, Martin Scorsese is considered a force to reckon with. He’s the man who makes films that address themes some are scared to tackle. But before Scorsese could sit on the director’s chair yelling “Cut!” he turns to someone to help him find the right actors and actresses for his films. And that is Ellen Lewis.
Where there’s Martin Scorsese, there’s Ellen Lewis, they would say. A lot of Scorsese’s films, Lewis was tasked to direct the casting. The Chicago-born is the casting director behind critically acclaimed films like Goodfellas (1990), Forrest Gump (1994), Gangs of New York (2002), The Departed (2006), Mamma Mia! (2008), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Bridge of Spies (2016), and The Post (2017).
Lewis believes that “there is no small part.” Every role that has to be played, every part that needs to be filled in, matters.
She said, “I love small parts. I want to be in the sessions; I want to hear the one word they have to say and see if I believe it. Because that’s what casting’s about—Do I believe what you’re saying? Does it seem truthful? Does it fit the world that the character lives in?”
Taiwanese film director Ang Lee has made a lot of game-changing films, and the director has his whole team to thank for helping him make his Oscar dreams come true. One of them is Avy Kaufman.
Kaufman has worked with Lee multiple times, and these collaborations often end up in Lee making his way up to the stage to receive a trophy. She was the casting director for the Lee-directed Brokeback Mountain (2009) and Life of Pi (2012), which both got a best-picture nod.
Avy Kaufman also directed the casting for Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln, a task she would later say she found hard. As a casting director, one has to study the script and understand the story and each character in it to find the best actor for the role. And for Kaufman, the casting director plays a big role in keeping a film as realistic and honest as possible.
Talking about Lincoln, Kaufman shared, “Because it’s a piece of history, I tried to get to the honest living person in resemblance and personality. These are all real people. . . . It was really hard but really exciting.”
Marvel is known for a lot of things, but perhaps one of the best things about the studio’s movies is its cast ensemble. From superstars like Robert Downey Jr. to rising actors like Chadwick Boseman and Letitia Wright, each of their films boast a cast that you can’t help but marvel at.
Whom does Marvel owe this to? Probably Sarah Finn.
Often described as Marvel’s secret weapon, Finn is the casting director behind superhero films like the Avengers film series, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, Iron Man trilogy, Black Panther, and many more.
A lot of actors have come and left the Marvel Universe, but it seems like every time a star decides to leave, Finn always knows what to do and which actor to invite to the studio and breathe a new life into the character.
To all the casting directors out there, Finn has one important piece of advice: it all relies on getting to know the character on a personal level. She quipped, “I get a little attached to every role I’ve ever cast. It has to come to life for me. It’s a journey to get to know a particular character, and when the actor is very much a part of that process, it’s really memorable.”
Ellen Chenoweth has over seventy films under her belt, most of which have given birth to today’s biggest stars.
The 1982 film Diner is one of Chenoweth’s first projects, but even then, she made sure to not limit herself to the already-rising stars in the industry. Chenoweth chose to dig deeper, she more research until the applications of then-unknown actors Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin, and Paul Reiser reached her desk. Diner became a huge hit, among critics and at the box office. The movie helped boost the careers of the actors in it and made Chenoweth a casting director that’s worth looking forward to.
The projects that followed Diner were also successful, further proving that Chenoweth knows what she’s doing and does her job as flawlessly as possible. Her prominent works include Terms of Endearment (1983), Lolita (1997), No Country for Old Men (2007), True Grit (2010), and Men in Black 3 (2012).
For Chenoweth, it pays to give every actor a chance to stand in front of the camera. Chenoweth also suggests that casting director find fun in what they do. She once shared, as she was asked about working on a theater production, “I want to put the best, more interesting actors together. I love doing it. There were so many juice smallish parts where people could come in and work for a day or two. And I was just licking my lips, thinking about how much fun it would be.”