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Casting Advice

The King of Commercials

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The King of Commercials
Jeff Gerrard is the king of commercials. With 3,500 spots under his belt and a decade-and-a-half stint as president of the Commercial Casting Directors Association, there's no question that he knows his way around the ad world. But Gerrard, who is based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., isn't just about commercials. He also boasts an impressive feature-film résumé that includes "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" and the Steven Seagal vehicle "Half Past Dead." More recently, he's been hard at work casting "microseries" like "My Manny" for TBS—short, advertiser-sponsored episodic bits that run during the commercial breaks in popular shows.

Accidental Career

It was all an accident. I was an actor for 15 years, and I loved every second of it. I used to audition for a company called BCI Casting quite a bit in commercials. They called one day after they'd seen a couple of shows in town I'd directed. They said, "Can you come in and help us? We're really slammed; we need some other eyes here." I said, "But I'm an actor. I'm not a casting director." They basically turned around and said, "Schmuck, play a casting director." I had done theater and I had taught a number of workshops in town, so I brought a unique spin on things at the time. I brought in fresh faces, people they didn't know.

Extra Credit

I find actors through agents and managers as well as theater. Sometimes somebody will call me, or we'll just see somebody while watching a show on TV. You do your homework. Your homework is watching commercials, watching television shows, going to the movies. I treat all those things as a pretty active search engine.

Home on the Range

An actor's an actor. That's the way I feel. An actor should be able to spread his wings and try to do comedy, try to do drama, and really focus in on everything. When we're doing a commercial, we're still looking for that—we're just looking for it in 60 seconds. I want the actor who is trained; I want the actor who knows his craft. I'm not really looking for that face that just got off the bus and doesn't think they need to take any lessons.

Character Studies

Come in as yourself, for the most part—that's what we're going to be buying. We're going to be buying your unique energy and personality. Don't get psyched out by what you see waiting out in the lobby. Sometimes there will be one girl and all these guys, or one African-American guy and all Caucasians. I've been very lucky to be able to change a role over from a male to a female, from Caucasian to an ethnicity. The way I skew life allows me to see the honesty in people, and that's what I look for in actors: an honesty, an openness, and someone who just wants to come in and play with us.

Reading Rainbow

I love to read with people. I usually don't have readers, unless it involves some sort of romantic scene. I think actors do their best work when they can work off another actor in those situations. But for the most part, I think it is the job of actors to train and know how to work with a casting director who may not be giving them anything, may be giving them a flat reading, might not be looking up half the time. How do you grab that person's attention?

Just Relax

You have to relax. And it's the same thing with the casting director: We have to go in on meetings on features; we might be a little tense ourselves. We have to go through the same thing an actor goes through. You have to learn to relax in that situation and be as close to who you are as possible. That being said, I also want you to do your homework. I don't want you sitting outside in the lobby schmoozing with Joe, who you haven't seen since the last audition 10 minutes ago. I want you to be doing what you're supposed to do: work on the script.

Casting Challenges

When we do singing commercials, it's tough to get actors to let their guard down. Most of the time we're not looking for singers, because we've already recorded professional singers and the actor is just singing to the track. But I do want them to sing. I want them to be there and have that experience and share that joy with us. That's what commercials really are: sharing. "I've tried this product; I'd like you to know how good it is." And when we're doing a feature, it's a challenge to find that young actor that really fits the role and knows their craft. A lot of times you'll get the young actor, but you can't expect too much training if they're just out of high school. It's about trying to find someone who really brings nuances to their work and doesn't just deliver the lines. Kellogg's Corn Flakes had a great slogan years ago: "Taste them again for the very first time." I believe that's what acting is. Say the lines again, but let me feel like you're saying them for the very first time.

Discovery Days

We cast Andy Samberg before he got on "Saturday Night Live." We Taft-Hartleyed him and shipped him off to Japan for a Honda commercial and dressed him in funny clothes and he sat in a car all day bopping to Earth, Wind & Fire. My kids called me one night and said, "Turn on 'Letterman.' Andy Samberg's on it, and he's talking about that weird commercial you put him in."

Actor Affinity

I love actors. My wife is an actress; all my friends are actors. I've been around them since 1973 in this town, when I moved here. That's all I know. Sometimes you'll be in a session and a producer will be complaining, and you'll kind of stick up for the actor. One time a producer turned to me and said, "My God, what are you, their agent?" I said, "No, but we all have this job already. They have to shower; they have to shave; they have to lie to the boss to get here. And for commercials, they're in the room for maybe three minutes. It could change their life."

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