In recent years, Detroit has been a hotbed of film and TV production, including the movie "Gran Torino" and the series "Detroit 1-8-7." The boom has been attributed to terrific tax incentives—which may disappear, say the Detroit casting directors Back Stage spoke with. "Newly elected Gov. Rick Snyder is determined to balance the budget at all costs," asserts Dayna Polehanki, who owns Detroit Casting Company. "If that happens, we may attract one big-budget film or two or three smaller films annually, as opposed to the dozens that Detroit has been bringing in."
But until then, Michigan offers opportunities to actors that might not be available to them on either coast. The competition is talented, but there are fewer actors competing for the same parts, and instead of dozens of agents and casting directors, there are only a handful of major CDs and union-franchised agents. Further, producers are motivated to hire local talent, if for no other reason than to avoid paying travel expenses. If actors need to travel within the state, the Screen Actors Guild offers producers an economic incentive to hire performers from within a 500-mile radius. (See the section on the Southeast for an explanation of travel waivers.)
Aside from lead roles in big-budget films, which are usually cast with stars, Michigan offers opportunities for actors at virtually every level—from background players and under-fives to featured and supporting roles. Kathy Mooney of Pound & Mooney Casting recalls casting a local Russian actor, Yuriy Sardarov, in "The Double," starring Richard Gere: "When we heard about a role for a Russian, we said, 'You've got to see Yuriy,' and they said they were going to bring in a star, though Yuriy could audition for a smaller role. But after they saw him, they let him audition for the bigger role and he got it. He now has five weeks on 'The Ides of March,' starring George Clooney."
Detroit's strong theater scene is another reason why the area has been a draw for so many actors. Mooney and her partner, Janet Pound, are avid theatergoers and discover actors performing at well-known local theaters, such as Jeff Daniels' Purple Rose Theatre Company, Meadow Brook Theatre, and the Detroit Repertory Theatre. The CDs also have strong ties with the theater departments of local colleges and universities and attend those schools' showcases.
Films shot in Detroit and environs are not necessarily set there. The area's geographic variety makes that possible. For example, "The Double" is set in Paris, while "Red Dawn" unfolds on the West Coast, says Mooney. Being a "Detroit type" is not necessary, she adds, but when casting a Detroit-set project, she and Pound are careful to reflect the city's cultural diversity, including African Americans and Arab Americans. For instance, most bodegas—known as "party stores" in the Detroit area—are run by Arab Americans, not Latinos, Mooney says, noting that she often has to point out these regional differences to producers. Because the city also has many Latinos and Asians, Pound and Mooney are always seeking Hispanic and especially Asian actors, who are in short supply in the area, according to the CDs.
There are also opportunities for actors who can evoke a blue-collar look. "When we cast 'Kill the Irishman,' a true story about Italian and Irish gang wars in Cleveland in the '70s, they wanted authentic, real people," recalls Pound. "That's not hard to find. We have a far harder time finding the gorgeous ingénue. They usually move to L.A."
Though the casting directors receive headshots and résumés from out-of-state actors, Pound emphasizes that the odds of being hired are slim if you don't have ties to Michigan, meaning family members who live in the region. But local performers can send materials to Pound & Mooney Casting, 1761 E. Lincoln, Madison Heights, MI 48071. Polehanki requests that submissions be emailed to [email protected], or join her Facebook group, "Detroit Casting Company," as she often posts casting opportunities there.
Dayna Polehanki, Detroit Casting Company, www.detroitcastingcompany.com
Janet Pound, Kathy Mooney, Pound & Mooney Casting, www.poundmooneycasting.com