Kelly Valentine Hendry is no stranger to hit TV. Although the U.K.–based casting director had (and still has) aspirations to direct, she fell into the craft of casting and has been behind casts instead of cameras ever since, including for hit series like “Fleabag” Season 1 and “Broadchurch.” It’s no surprise, then, that when the opportunity to assemble the ensemble for Shonda Rhimes’s first Netflix series came up, she jumped at the chance. (“Netflix, Shondaland, Regency, and hit book series: #yesplease!” she quips.) As a modern take on high society of 19th century London, “Bridgerton” intertwines its cast of mostly young actors in scenarios salacious, sensuous, and universally addicting. After its Christmas Day premiere, it quickly became the streamer’s most popular series ever. Here, Valentine Hendry shares how she put actors like Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page together and what not to do when auditioning for her. You never know: You may find yourself in her room for Season 2!
What were auditions like for “Bridgerton”?
In this case, we had our creatives in Los Angeles so they couldn’t be in sessions here in the U.K. We were lucky that we didn’t require “names” for the roles so we had a lot of freedom and could bring in anyone we felt suitable. A mixture of ideas, lists, and in-person casting kicked off the process, and then actors were either chosen by our creatives there and then, or we waited and brought most into the studio when we had the creatives in London for recalls. As the episodes went on and we were down to day players, we used a mixture of self-tape requests or in-person meetings with Cole Edwards, my associate on this project who worked extremely hard. Auditions were fun and friendly, I hope!
There was a lot of chemistry at play—how did that factor into the process?
I’ve cast a lot of ensembles and I really love it when there is a massive world to create. In that world, there are lots of different forms of chemistry: friends, families, and lovers. There was a clear distinction from the start between the Bridgertons and their neighbors, the Featheringtons, and once we cast a couple of them, the rest were easier to add. Costume clearly helped with this, but there is an essence to each of the actors that puts them perfectly within the families. And as for the Duke and Duchess, actually their recall was in L.A. with the creatives themselves, so I think they must be congratulated for ensuring that that chemistry worked out!
“I’ve cast a lot of ensembles and I really love it when there is a massive world to create. In that world, there are lots of different forms of chemistry: friends, families, and lovers.”
What kind of research went into the process?
I drank a lot of tea, quadrangled often, and promenaded every day. No seriously, Chris [van Dusen] is a generous showrunner who is accessible for questions and very happy to explain his visions. I read a lot of the book and I think Lilly in my office read the whole series (she loves a bit of Regency Romance). I have done a lot of book adaptations: “Brave New World,” “Grantchester,” “The Last Kingdom,” “The Wheel of Time.” Sometimes it helps to know the source material, and sometimes it hinders.
Where do you look for talent outside of agent submissions?
Honestly, everywhere. That doesn’t take away the importance of training and drama schools, but if we are to be inclusive with our casting, we should be allowed to look for talent anywhere and everywhere. And we do. I won’t give my secrets away here. What I will say is I snoop around in fan sites a lot and pinch ideas all the time.
How did the “adult” cast come together? Those are names more well known in the U.K. acting scene.
You know what I love about the cast of “Bridgerton”? They nearly all read for the parts, and that is highly commendable, especially for the older actors. I respect that hugely. We did ideas lists so when we did meet actors we knew that we were serious about them already. Oh how I wish we could have cast more.
What made this job different for you?
It felt very large. We cast everyone who spoke and also a few who didn’t but had important interaction. Every job is unique in its own way. It was particularly great to be able to see and cast actors of color in historical roles that have previously been only there for white actors. I love the re-imagined historical aspect of “Bridgerton.”
“If we are to be inclusive with our casting, we should be allowed to look for talent anywhere and everywhere. And we do.”
What advice do you have for actors as a CD?
Actors, you must know that people want you to do well. We aren’t against you. When you walk into our room or send us a self-tape, I assure you we want it to be “the one.” Take care of yourself mentally and physically. You are your business. And don’t listen to the negativity of others.
What can an actor expect from auditioning for you?
A safe space. An inclusive space and hopefully a space you can do your best work.
What shouldn’t an actor do in your audition room?
Be in any way negative. Or be disappointed you are seeing an assistant or an associate and not the lead casting director. Believe you me, you want to be in the room with them. I am often stuck on long boring business affairs types of calls and my team is amazing at meetings. Please give them the respect that they deserve. They are tomorrow’s casting directors. I remember the actors from my young stage management days who used to urinate in cups in the wings because they couldn’t be bothered going to the loo. I know who you are…
“Take care of yourself mentally and physically. You are your business.”
What don’t actors know or realize about what you do?
I don’t get the final decision. I also have probably done what I am being criticised for not doing once the show comes out. Casting directors work tirelessly and defend both production and actor. It is very exhausting being in the middle. Also I don’t get to keep the money that is left over in the casting budget; I can’t believe people think that is a thing!
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