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Casting Advice

Theatrically Inclined

Over the course of her career, Studio City, Calif.–based casting director Beth Holmes has been tasked with tracking down a 75-year-old diver, a bona fide bullfighter, and "a 5-foot-tall wrestler of Latino heritage." She's cast high-profile spots for Burger King, Citibank, Polaroid, Bud Light, and Holiday Inn Express. And she's maintained a genuine love of the job throughout industry changes and upheavals. Now she's preparing to launch a new phase of her career, moving into film and TV casting while still keeping a presence in the commercial world. "I love casting commercials," she says. "It's telling a story in a very, very short amount of time."

Career Detour

I loved acting as a young girl and was in plays and musicals at the University of Michigan as an English major. I auditioned for CalArts for its graduate MFA program and was accepted, but I sort of fell out of love with acting two weeks into the program. Once I got a whiff of what it would take professionally to become a successful actress, it terrified me. I stayed in the program for two reasons: 1) I wanted the MFA; I had a hunch that would turn me on to something else in the industry. And 2) I met my husband on the first day of school, and here we are 25 years later. I'm ever grateful that I did, because a guest director had worked in casting previously and I confided in him that casting seemed like the perfect job opportunity. He had two friends opening a company, and I was hired the day I graduated.

I am best known for casting commercials, although I trained in the beginning in theatrical casting. I fell into commercial casting and opened my own business in 1988. The last couple years, my associate Lindsay Bellock and I have been pursuing theatrical work again. I just like the way that TV is going—it's inventive—and I like independent film. Now that my kids are grown and I don't have to be places after school as much, it's the perfect time to go back into the theatrical world.

Out of Range

The first director I worked for, Mark Story, was quite well-known, and we were on the cutting edge of mixing really talented comedic actors with real people back in the '80s, pushing the envelope of American advertising in the way European advertising has done for years. I was given a lot of freedom to go outside the casting specs that came from the advertisement agency. So, for example, there was a commercial I cast for a hotel chain that was looking for a comedic concierge, to be played by a little old man representing the negative hotel. They said, "But be creative; try some funny guys who might be funny beyond the 90-year-old doddering Tim Conway character type." So I brought in an actor who was not as well-known at the time named Sean Hayes, and he went crazy in his audition and we loved him, and so the 90-year-old man became a 26-year-old comedy guy, just because I was given the freedom to bring in a range of types.

Resource Center

I really enjoy being resourceful. I have an MFA in theater, so I understand acting as a skill better than anything else. If I have something that demands a supertalented actor, I can turn over a résumé and know where they trained, who they're training with now, and understand what caliber of actor it is.

And in commercials, sometimes it's just fun painting a very visual picture. There was a Jerry Seinfeld American Express commercial years ago, and my spec was: We just want a cross-section of America. So for that, I looked through every single picture submitted, which I love to do, and it was more like a painting, a project, and didn't require my MFA in theater in any way. The fun part about casting is that every job is different and there isn't one way to do it.

Picture Pages

It's really important to take time and find a headshot photographer you like. In saying that, I want to emphasize that photographers are not casting directors or agents and aren't part of the casting process, so sometimes they add visual elements that are not really essential in a headshot—very complicated backgrounds, posing actors in crouching positions. The headshot needs to be honest and charming and engaging. Beyond that, if there's a talented photographer who can keep the actor crisply in focus, they don't need to bring a lot of other elements to it.

I think actors also need to be realistic with themselves, which may require some outside advising. They need to think about what kind of type they are best suited for and how they're going to be hired. Don't try to be anything other than that in your headshot.

Fear Factor

When actors find a way to be in the audition process, whether they volunteer in casting for a play or work in a casting office, it seems to take that scary element away from it. They realize that everyone in the room wants to like the actor coming in. Even the unfriendly people want you to blow them away and say to themselves, "Oh my gosh, he's awesome. He's exactly what we need, or he's not what we need for this but he'd be great for the other role or be great for the next project." Everybody in the room wants you to do well, even though they're sometimes inept at making you feel comfortable. So sometimes being in the audition room, standing at the other side in an audition for a theater piece, helps actors realize that. Other than that, auditioning is a separate technique from acting, and I think people have to find their own way of overcoming adrenaline and using it to their best advantage. It's essential to get good at it.

Empathy for Actors

I understand acting; I recognize just how hard it is to be good at it. Comedic timing, I think, is often born into a person and not something you can train beyond a certain level, for example. I've really enjoyed the creativity of the casting industry. I take a lot of pride in my work, I've been told I'm okay at it, and I've been rewarded by it. It's just a blast of a profession.

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