I’ve been coaching actors for their upcoming auditions or jobs for the last several years. I got an email from the mother of one of my clients the other day and thought I’d share it with you.
“When a casting office says, ‘They saw something and called you back’ in reference to that office seeing my child for multiple projects and yet he isn’t quite right for any—what exactly does that mean?”
An actor should never second-guess a casting office or filmmaker who wants to bring him or her in for a role. If we think you’re right, trust that we know more than you do about the needs of the project. Many times what’s written in the script and/or breakdown is just an idea for what we are looking for. Think of it as a sketch of that character, and these are the broad strokes. The actor is meant to define those strokes and add the color. I like to think outside the box when I’m casting and strive to cast against type.
“As a casting director do you ask agencies to submit clients that meet a particular criteria and then choose from those submissions? Or, do you call up various agencies and ask specifically for ‘all redheaded boys between 10 and 14 yrs. old’? Or do you call and ask for specific people? Is it a combination of both?”
I go through my database and come up with lists of ideas for all the roles. These lists are part wish lists, part reality lists, and partly me being creative.
I usually release a breakdown with the script if it’s available to be sent out to the public. The breakdown gives a thumbnail of the character. Agencies and managers then submit their clients they think are right. Sometimes agencies submit what we call a “laundry list” of most, if not all, of their clients without discerning who is really right, and I can tell they didn’t even read the description. My latest movie, “Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters,” is based on a series of young-adult novels that has quite a fan base established already. The physical description of all the characters is very important, and I had to stick closely to it on this project (based on height, hair color, ethnicity, and eye color). The writer has created a specific world in which these characters live, and it doesn’t make sense to mess with that.
For instance, when I was casting “Footloose” years ago, the role of the father called for a very charismatic, handsome, salt-and-pepper-haired, Paul Newman–esque preacher. I thought, yes, that’s good, but what about John Lithgow? I know, nothing like the character as written—but I had just seen him in “The World According to Garp” as a transsexual, and Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out” playing a serial killer, and I thought, this guy is brilliant! Wouldn’t it be cool to see him play something completely different? I was very young and just starting out and working with a very intimidating director, Herbert Ross. He thought I was crazy, but I stuck to my guns and convinced him to let us audition him. Lithgow came in and read the scene where he confronts his daughter for being out dancing and coming home late. It was before the days of videotaping, and it was just the three of us in the room. He read one scene with me and was utterly brilliant. Ross gave him the role right then and there. I also did the same thing with the Chris Penn role. It was written completely differently, and I convinced everyone, the producers, writer, studio, and director, to rewrite it for Chris Penn after he’d auditioned. I had just cast him in “All the Right Moves,” and I was in love with his one-of-a-kind quirkiness.
Please know that even if you didn’t get the role you came in for, I do notice you. I will bring you back for my next gig if you’re good. I always say, “Make a fan of the CD and don’t just focus on booking the job, because if you aren’t right for it, you always want the CD to say, ‘But I like her. I’ll keep her in mind in the future.’ ”
Known for her work in film and television, Casting Director Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Waters, Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird, and Herbert Ross. While working at Fenton-Feinberg Casting, she, along with Mike Fenton, cast such films as “A Christmas Story," “Poltergeist," “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial," “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and “Blade Runner." After establishing her own casting company in 1983, Liroff cast “Footloose," “St. Elmo's Fire," “Pretty in Pink," “The Iron Giant," “The Spitfire Grill," “Untamed Heart," “Freaky Friday," “Mean Girls," “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and the upcoming “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which she produced as well.
Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light. The class spawned a DVD, which features the highlights of the Audition Bootcamp classes.