Ellen Chenoweth Shares Tips on How to Be an Efficient Casting Director

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.

Ellen Chenoweth at the Spirit Awards

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.

Innovative Performance

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.

First Pick

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!

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

Ellen Lewis

Ellen Lewis

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?”

Avy Kaufman

Avy Kaufman

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.”

Sarah Finn

Sarah Finn

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

Ellen Chenoweth

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.”