Casting director Jennifer Euston says that she knew she wanted to work in film and television when she was 10 years old. But with no desire to see herself onscreen, she discovered her calling as a casting director. Over a career spanning nearly two decades and Emmy and Artios awards in 2010 for casting the HBO miniseries "The Pacific," she has been able to work not only with visionary directors like Martin Scorsese, Mike Nichols, and Jim Jarmusch but also with some of her idols.
From casting the late John Ritter in the 2000 film "Tadpole" to putting Peter Scolari and Richard Masur in HBO's "Girls," Euston says she gets a thrill each time her job allows her to revisit familiar faces from her youth.
"That's why I do this," Euston says, "to be an audience member. These are people that I worshiped on television as a child. I want to give them something back for making me happy when I was a kid."
While Euston was earning her degree in cinema studies at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, she gained experience in film, television, and radio as an intern for the likes of Miramax, ABC, and Howard Stern. During a stint as an unpaid production assistant for Stern's film "Private Parts," Euston was offered a one-day job assisting casting director Billy Hopkins.
"I helped out with an open call, and that was the day I knew that casting was what I was supposed to do," Euston says. She went west for a semester in Los Angeles to intern for CD Megan Branman, who she says taught her "the language of casting" and gave Euston her first experience in a casting session.
"Reading with an actor was the scariest thing I could think of," Euston says, "but she made me do it. She gave me all those skills."
After graduating from NYU in 1997, Euston got a job as a casting assistant on "Law & Order" in New York, based on Branman's recommendation. A year later she was hired by casting directors Marcia DeBonis and Ellen Lewis, with whom she worked for seven years on feature films such as "What Lies Beneath" and "Gangs of New York."
Euston says that a subsequent second stint in L.A., as an associate with casting director Meg Liberman, "was like going to graduate school for casting." So with a decade of film and TV experience and several renowned CDs on her side, Euston decided to strike out on her own in 2006 as a casting director in New York.
"I love being in New York because I have the opportunity to use theater actors in film and television projects," Euston says. She adds that seeing actors portray a variety of onstage roles in different productions gives her more "ammunition" to prove their skills when she brings them to a director or producer.
Euston's love of comedy has inspired many of her casting choices as well. She was hanging out in New York comedy clubs long before she knew it could be a good career move and has since been able to use her knowledge of the city's comedy scene as a valuable asset, whether for MTV's "Human Giant" or Mike Birbiglia's upcoming "Sleepwalk With Me." Shortly after opening her own office, Euston was introduced to Hollywood casting director Allison Jones, for whom she has done the New York casting for comedies such as "Superbad" and "The Other Guys."
"It wasn't scouting, it was a hobby," Euston says of her early love of comedy. "It was actually for my mental health. So to now have the opportunity to be able to cast all these funny people that have made me laugh for so many years is like a dream come true."
Daniel Lehman is a staff writer at Back Stage. Follow him on Twitter: @byDanLehman