Colin Buckingham arrived at Back Stage's annual Actorfest NY event last year with copies of his headshot and résumé but only a vague idea of whom he might be able to give them to. When the hopeful young actor learned that casting director Barbara McNamara, who casts background performers for the NBC series "30 Rock," was available for one-on-one "meet and greet" sessions in the afternoon, he immediately got in line for his chance to talk to her.
Buckingham, a nonunion actor and a sophomore in the undergraduate acting program at Pace University, says he's been a fan of "30 Rock" since the first episode. When it was his turn to sit down for a precious few minutes with McNamara, he forced himself to be more outgoing and talkative than his normally shy personality allows.
"I talked to her about the show and how I'd been watching it for a long time, and how I really loved the witty humor," Buckingham recalls. "She said, 'We'd love to get you on "30 Rock," ' and I did a double take. I thought I had misheard her, because I'd never done anything that big before."
"Colin has a wonderful presence," McNamara says. "When I met him, I knew I'd cast him on something one day. It was only a few weeks after Actorfest that a scene on '30 Rock' called for Santa's helpers. He was exactly what the scene called for." (The scene was part of the Season 5 episode "Chain Reaction of Mental Anguish," which was shot in November and aired in December.)
But Buckingham, who has dwarfism, says he initially felt uncomfortable when he was offered the part. "When she called me and said that I would be playing an elf," he says, "I kind of hesitated, because I didn't want to do something that stereotypical."
The background role was part of a flashback scene in which Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) remembers an embarrassing childhood moment: waiting in line to see Santa Claus. After speaking with director Ken Whittingham on set, Buckingham says, he felt more at ease, because Whittingham explained that rather than playing an elf, the actor would simply be playing a guy who hated his job at the mall.
Buckingham cites the work of Peter Dinklage—particularly his performance in "Elf," opposite Will Ferrell—as an example of the possibilities he sees for his own career. "I have always had the perspective that I shouldn't do anything differently than anyone else," he says, adding that regardless of one's gender, shape, size, or ethnicity, "stereotypes exist everywhere. It's hard to break through them, and the actors that do are very good. They stand out because of their abilities, not their looks."
When an actor doesn't get cast, "it's nothing personal," McNamara says. "That's what actors need to understand. Whether they're background or reading for a part, it just comes down to who's right for the role, who makes the most sense and looks most believable. At the end of the day, use what you have—and own it."
Buckingham also attended the Grant Wilfley Casting open call at Actorfest NY and was later hired as an extra for the feature film "Men in Black 3."
McNamara says she plans to participate in this year's Actorfest NY, which will be held Sunday, Oct. 23. For more information, visit www.actorfest.com.
Has Back Stage helped you get cast in the past year? We'd love to tell your story. Be in the weekly column by emailing email@example.com for New York or firstname.lastname@example.org for Los Angeles with "I Got the Part" in the subject line.