Emmy-nominated casting director Leslie Zaslower, formerly the director of Casting for Nickelodeon’s New York office, has been working with children and young adults in the entertainment industry for most of her 17-year career. As an agent, voice director, acting coach, and CD, she’s evaluated and helped talent from both sides of the business.
Here is some of Zaslower’s advice for child actors and their parents:
“When it comes to preschool television, I was the executive and the casting director [at Nickelodeon]. I would say 75 percent of the time I was in the room, even for pre-screen auditions. I like to be hands-on and not just an executive. It’s important to me to see why a kid’s not connecting in that moment, and maybe if there’s something really special about them, so that I know that they’ll be ready in six months or a year, and what it’s going to take to get them there.
“As an agent, I absolutely would sit down and give a lot of advice. ‘Let’s make the right decision for the long career,’ and also, ‘Is this a balance that works for your family right now?’ So I ask that parents, and even children asking their parents if they can do this as a professional, take into consideration that it is a commitment to the family—it’s a huge commitment, usually, to one of the parents—and you can’t just think about going on some auditions. What happens if you get a callback? What happens if you get a screen test in L.A.? What happens if you get the job? You shouldn’t go on that audition if you’re not in a position to get the job that might shoot in Vancouver or Los Angeles, and if you’re not in a position to quit your job, or have a family member or legal guardian fully commit. I always ask the kids to be kids first, but also remember when you walk into a room with producers, they’re producing something that has a lot of money behind it, so they need to see your professional self.
“The thing I love about acting and working with young talent is that even if they’re just a child actor and they don’t do this later in life, they’re going to rock it at their college interviews and internships. They know how to walk into a room and present themselves in a way that no other 18-year-old will, because they’ve been walking in the room since they were 8 years old. And on job interviews, they’re going to know how to really listen and answer questions.
“I can tell if a kid is joyful with the process from the moment they come into the room to audition. Even if maybe I misread it, I will hear about it from other people. I’ll hear from the receptionist about what went on in the waiting room. I’ll notice it if I’m doing a workshop, how the parent is. Even in a class, I can tell. And that is so important. If the kid doesn’t want to do it and they haven’t put the prep work in because they aren’t passionate about the role, but their parent was passionate about them being prepared, I can tell. I feel it is the responsibility of an agent or manager, if they get feedback from a casting director or from anyone in the industry about behavior that is harming the welfare of a child, it absolutely needs to be addressed.
“I see the booking as the cherry on top. I see the process of being in this business as the most important thing. Whether it’s acting classes, school plays, auditions, or callbacks, you need to enjoy every single step of the way, and just hope for the booking. Otherwise, you’re not going to enjoy this. It’s a little different for an adult, because your end goal is to make this your career and be able to pay the bills and pay the mortgage.
“As a young talent, have perspective that yes, your end goal is booking, but also it is to really learn every step of the process, and really enjoy it. And the more joy you get out of it, the more likely you are to succeed. So it all goes in this beautiful circle.”