I grew up as an actress and a dancer, then kind of fell into casting by way of working in a commercial production company. I got my feet wet there and then was a director's assistant and worked with casting director Sharon McGee. She really taught me a wonderful way of casting: When I'm looking at pictures, I kind of imagine, "It seems like that person would say these lines." I'm running the lines over and over in my head. She kind of got out of the business, and I took over what she was doing and hung up a shingle back in '87.
I've done commercials for McDonald's, Chevrolet, AT&T. Casting for commercials, I get to see a lot more people; I get to offer a lot more jobs to people. For film and TV, I get a little more bogged down in the negotiations, but it is fun to be able to bring commercial actors into the film and TV world and find that they have great success there as well, instead of being pigeonholed into one area.
Sometimes for commercials—rarely—it's just based on a look. I'm always looking for good acting skills. I'm looking for actors who are prepared. I'm looking for actors who are enthusiastic and not needy and bring some creativity to whatever project it is I'm working on. The commercial directors I work with consistently say that actors don't come in prepared, they don't bring their own ideas. Sometimes they don't even have their lines memorized. Most of the directors I work with in commercials are theatrical directors as well, so they're used to working with people who are on that level. Sometimes I actually think that commercials are even harder, because in a movie or a TV show, you've got a long time to film a story. In a commercial, you've got 30 seconds. So you have to learn how to develop a character, develop a story, and do it concisely.
IN THE ROOM
There should be a professionalism when actors walk in: It's being prepared in the sense that they don't walk in having to look for their headshots and résumés. They have in their hand everything they need to have out for their audition. Everything else they put down right away. Then I'm looking for them to bring something to the party—bring me their gifts, bring me what they've got to show off. Because it's a collaborative effort, and a lot of times actors forget that.
I cast all over the country and I teach classes all over the country, always with my eye on who might be the next great talent coming out to L.A. I read with people, and if I have time, I like to have actors give me three or four different reads on it. I recommend that people really take the lobby time to prepare and think of different options—think of three different ways, four different ways, five different ways to do it. What happens then is they're concentrating on the work, they're warming up, as opposed to spending that time being nervous. They don't have time to get nervous. They have something to work on.
The only thing that ever keeps anybody out of my office is if they are rude to me or my assistants. Or if I get a really bad report back from set from a director who says, "Oh my God, this person wouldn't learn their lines and they were hard to deal with." I do not have a very long list of people that I won't bring in. It's probably less than five.
One of the very, very first things I had to cast was a guy who had to ride a horse bareback through the beach, and he had to have long hair and a fabulous body and a gorgeous face. It was for a Mazda commercial. You would think that wouldn't be so hard to find, but it was. There were plenty of people who could ride, there were plenty of people who had long hair, but to find the combination was pretty tough. It was just lots and lots of looking.
And then just recently, I worked with a fabulous print photographer who does art prints out of France, and we did a job where I was looking for people who had altered themselves with plastic surgery. That was really hard to find because most of the people who have done that think they look fabulous. How do you finesse getting people who have kind of overdone it with the plastic surgery to come in? My job involves a lot of learning how to finesse people and get them to be part of a project.
We cast Haley Joel Osment in a Pizza Hut commercial when he was 5. We were doing location casting and we found him at the Burbank mall. We were actually interviewing his mom, and he just kept talking, so we put him on tape and ended up casting him. He was just so dang cute. We cast him in another commercial almost right away and then called our friend Meredith Fine, an agent over at Coast to Coast Talent, and said, "See this kid. He's great." She took him on, and from there he worked all the time.
I'm also a director. I direct at the Lake Arrowhead Rep, and I'm constantly learning how to pull stuff out of people and learning the best way to get it. And it's not to yell at them. The classes we teach are the same way. There are a lot of people who yell and shame people in their acting classes; we're there to build people up. It's important to be respectful of people in general, and it's so much easier to be nice than to not be nice.