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Casting Advice

'Case' Study

'Case' Study
Though he's never had acting aspirations of his own, casting director Michael Testa feels a special kinship with actors. He loves the energy they bring into the audition room and the variety they bring to his job. "Each day's very different, and each day you meet a ton of actors," he says. "I guess I'm a blabbermouth. I like to talk to people." As a co-owner of Shaner/Testa Casting, he currently works on the CBS procedural "Cold Case" and the ABC Family dramedy "Make It or Break It." Other credits include the TV shows "Roswell" and "Moonlight," the films "Kiss the Bride" and "Moonlight Serenade," and more than 70 TV movies.


I answered an ad in Variety a long time ago to be a casting intern at a TV production house. I was never an actor, I never wanted to be an actor, but I studied film for years and liked the other side of it as well—the writing and production. I moved out here with no job, no nothing, and I just answered an ad to get a job, to get my foot in the door. I found out I liked it. It was a fun job.

I moved up the ranks. I was an intern and then an assistant and then an associate, and then I just said to myself, "I'm not going to take any more associate jobs." It built up from there, and at some point I decided to open up my own business, with my business partner Dan Shaner. I'm a firm believer that you have to sometimes make it on your own. With acting now too, sometimes you have to make it happen yourself. You have to put yourself in a position for the opportunities to come your way. No one's going to come knocking on your door to say, "Hey, come be in a movie."

Double Casting

What I love about doing "Cold Case" is you never know what they're going to throw at you. And I think, truly, it's one of the most creative shows on television in terms of story line. We do anything from musicals to serial-killer episodes. We have numerous speaking roles—I think more than most shows. And we have to do what we call double casting: We have to cast two actors to play the same character in different time periods. So not only do we have to find actors whose performances we fall in love with, but we have to find two that look alike and match each other in various ways, because we flash in the middle of the episode between the older and the younger versions of characters.

This season we have an upcoming episode called "Metamorphosis," which takes place in a circus. So it was matching, in a 40-year span, little people and gargantuans. That's a unique challenge to take on in eight days. You just put the word out and you keep searching and digging. You make it work.

Process Server

I guess I'm a bit of a control freak. I like to read with the actors. I just cast better, because I can almost feel the performance coming out of the actor. I try to make it as relaxed as possible. Auditioning is, I guess, an awful process to begin with. I find that the more relaxed the environment is, the better the performances. Actors can feel free to take chances and explore.

I'm really fascinated by people's thought processes. I love when actors are really thinking intelligently about what they're doing and how they're doing it. Hopefully, they're reading me as much as I'm reading them, to get my mood and make it an easy process. Most casting directors and producers are on your side. The minute you walk in the room, they want you to be good. They want you to fill that role they're searching for. It really is a collaborative process.

'Buddy' System

I did a film called "Buddy Boy," and the minute I read it, I just had one person in mind: an actor by the name of Aidan Gillen. A couple months before reading the script, I saw a movie called "Some Mother's Son," with Helen Mirren, and he was in it, and as a casting director you sort of make mental notes of people you like. And then I read this script, and the character was described as a combination of Eraserhead and Edward Scissorhands. And his face just popped in my head right off the bat. Other times the characters seem more amorphous, just blurs in your mind, and the actors themselves come in and sort of define it. It really depends on the piece.

Discovery Channel

It's so hard to figure out if you discovered somebody. I just think it's recognizing talent, not so much discovering them. I think I Taft-Hartleyed Michael Vartan in a little movie. I did a small independent movie called "The Young Unknowns," and at some point James Franco walked in, and I just knew immediately that he was great and special. He actually got the movie but then had to pull out because he got something that paid more money. [Laughs.] I'm a firm believer that most stars—if you want to call them stars—have innate likability. You want to get to know who they are. When I was an intern at that TV production house and they put Carla Gugino on tape, I remember getting butterflies in my stomach. There was just something about her.

Perfect Fit

I always say I never look for the best performance. I always look for the best performance that fits within the piece that I'm casting. Sometimes those are two separate things. Sometimes you might read an actor who's really great, but physically his type is not right for the role. Whether or not the producers or director want to change that role is up to them. Sometimes they don't want to, because it skews the tone of the movie or the intent of the movie. So you move on. You find somebody who fits that role that's as brilliant as the performance you got before.

Info Overload

The casting landscape has really changed. I'm accepting more taped auditions through the computer as opposed to demo reels. I actually think that's where it's going to be going: the idea of home auditions and sending you to a link or a website where the casting director will just go through it all. I was resistant to breakdowns on computers at first, but it's been a lifesaver. Information is right at your fingertips, and everybody kind of wants it now. So casting has become much more fast-paced.

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