Rounding Up the Best Advice From Casting Directors of 2020

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It’s been said in more ways than you can count that 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, and the entertainment industry was hit particularly hard, putting many people out of work for months on end. Many actors are still waiting for the opportunity to return to projects, and quarantine has been spent figuring out how to hone and use the craft while so much was on pause.

“I think it’s a great time for people to either develop another hobby or just do things to make them happy so they’ll be a more interesting actor when they begin acting again.” —Robert Ulrich

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And performers weren’t the only ones hit. Casting directors tasked with fitting those actors to projects also had to figure out new processes and ways to work. Whether they’ve been casting shows filming in isolation or figuring out how to fill their time while nothing was casting, CDs’ main concern has still often been the actors they hope to work with once offices are back up and running. With that in mind, here is the best advice casting directors had for actors in 2020.

“There is a lot of noise out in the world, a lot of maybes, and a lot of uncertainty right now. Try to stay focused. Be kind, be honest, and be authentic. Put yourself and your craft first. The truth is, there isn’t going to be an abundance of work yet. Use this time to hone your craft, work on your writing skills, and self-reflect. And always be ready to do your best work!” Russell Boast, CSA president

“Don’t worry about all those credits, or that your résumé is not fully fleshed [out]. It’s all about who you are. Let’s start there and lean into that and find you characters that match that, or characters that might be the opposite of that but that only you can play in an interesting way. Be authentic, and center everything you do around that.” Victor Vazquez, X Casting

“Let go of being perfect. Just be raw and real. That can be molded into whatever it needs to be. They want to see the soul come through the performance." —Rose Wicksteed

“There are so many platforms where people can create their own content and get discovered in a way, especially with the state of the world right now…. When we’re casting, we’re watching these videos people create in their apartments. Creating your own content can really make a difference now, especially at a time when you can’t go into a room to meet a casting director.”Collin Daniel

“Take acting [classes] and work hard, because when opportunity knocks (and you never know when it will), you must be ready for it. It is easy to get into a casting office for one audition, but you want them to remember you for the next one. It’s not about getting this job—it’s about getting the next one.” Libby Goldstein

“Make yourself easy to find. Have a website, and put an email address on it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve skipped an actor because they have one of those contact pages that makes it difficult to email them when I’m sending out lots of messages. And if you don’t have a website, have a public Instagram [account] with an email address listed.”Kate Antognini

“Never pander to what you think the filmmakers are looking for. Never walk into a waiting room and see people there and presume that they’re going to get the role and not you because they look more like the character you envision than you do. The one thing every actor can deliver in an audition that no one else can is their true self. Bring whoever you are to the role. It could be very different from what the filmmakers are looking for, but if it’s authentic and it works, it can actually reframe what people think they’re looking for.” David Rubin 

“The way that you impress us is by doing the work, because most people don’t. When people in a self-tape try to be funny, or in the room try to do some sort of bit, my assumption is that is how you will behave on set. I’m only going to present you if I’m confident that you will be professional. You don’t need to stand out by doing a bit or trying to be funny or making some choice that you think is really interesting if it doesn’t make sense for the role or the tone of the show, or even the network.” —Sara Isaacson

“I love actors, but I think that when I meet somebody for the first time, I generally don’t talk about acting…. I think it’s a great time for people to either develop another hobby or just do things to make them happy so they’ll be a more interesting actor when they begin acting again. Also, work on the art of self-taping.” —Robert Ulrich

“My mantra: [Be] self-aware and not self-conscious. Self-awareness is your craft and material–making, text-based choices. Self-consciousness is [thinking], Oh, I’m never going to get this, or, Look at those other people in the audition room. All of those things talk you out of it…. Everything’s a text-based choice: What is the material? What is the tone? And then, how can you inhabit the dialogue that’s already on the page and give a fully formed audition?” —Jason Wood

“It is easy to get into a casting office for one audition, but you want them to remember you for the next one. It’s not about getting this job it’s about getting the next one." —Libby Goldstein

“Sometimes it takes a minute for somebody to be discovered, but you’ve got to love the business enough to hang in there for that ride. It may get to that point, and you’ve got to enjoy the aspects of the artistry through that process if it’s what you really love and you’re really passionate about. Maybe you’re not getting a bunch of auditions, but you can do something that fulfills you [and] uses the muscle.” —Kimberly Hardin

“The self-tape puts so much in the hands of the actor…. They [spend] such a long time feeding into the thing of what’s right or wrong, but it’s just about trusting to choose to show whatever they want to show and that it will be received. They can just trust that it will either land or it won’t. A massive part of our job as casting directors is to see through that…. Let go of being perfect. Just be raw and real. That can be molded into whatever it needs to be. They want to see the soul come through the performance.” —Rose Wicksteed

“Remember to listen. The camera’s right on your face. The only thing the audition is showing is your face, and it doesn’t lie. It can tell when you’re not really there and present and in the moment.” —Jessica Kelly

READ: COVID-19 Resources for Actors,
Performers, and Creators

“Listen and respond truthfully, which can look like anything. So often I think actors try to guess what people want it to look like. You think there’s some sort of right answer or right way to do it. The hope actually is that nobody knows what that looks like, and it gets created in the moment.” —Rebecca Dealy

“[Voice acting] is not just about having a funny voice. Make sure that your acting is on par with those working in the field, because you will be auditioning right next to the best of the best. I will be listening to the person that is on every single show right after your tape. I’m tasked with finding fresh new voices, but I need a great performance as well. I need great comedic chops. Maybe take some improv classes. Don’t forget to add physicality to your performance. It’s not just putting the voice on and doing five or six lines [at] one level.” —Sara Jane Sherman

“Know the history of your craft and of movies and television. Look at actors in the past and learn from the good ones…. I find that a lot of people don’t know as much about the history of Hollywood and movies as I think they should. Have some sense of who came before you, and that can hopefully impact your acting.” —Victoria Thomas

“I think another great opportunity is for actors to become readers—to walk into a room and see what the process is like and get to see who gets a job and why they get the job. A lot of people don’t get a job they think they’re completely right for. Sometimes when you’re in that element, you can see there [are] a thousand different voices.” —Avy Kaufman

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 31 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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Elyse Roth
Elyse is a senior editor at Backstage, where she oversees all casting news and features content, including her weekly casting director Q&A series, In the Room. She came to New York from Ohio by way of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism, and now lives in Brooklyn. She might see and write about awards-worthy films, but Elyse still thinks “Legally Blonde” is a perfect movie and on any given night is probably taking in some kind of entertainment, whether it’s comedy, theater, ballet, or figuring out what show to binge next.
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