‘Homeland’ Casting Director Shares How She Discovers Actors

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Photo Source: Showtime

Over the weekend, “Homeland” beat such tough competition as “Downton Abbey” and “Mad Men” to take home the Emmy Award for Outstanding Casting in a Drama Series. Like many television viewers, Judy Henderson is obsessed with the Showtime series. But unlike your average fan, Henderson is the casting director responsible for bringing so many of the show’s complex characters to the screen. Henderson has earned her first Emmy nomination and award for casting the show, a win she shares with the pilot’s casting directors Junie Lowry-Johnson and Libby Goldstein and location casting directors Craig Fincannon and Lisa Mae Fincannon. Among Henderson’s many film credits are “L.I.E.,” “Twelve and Holding,” and “Roadie,” directed by “Homeland” executive producer/director Michael Cuesta.

You’ve done a lot of film casting. Was “Homeland” your first foray into series casting?
Judy Henderson: This is my first series, yes. I did a pilot and years ago I did a mini-series. And I’ve done some New York work for stuff along the way, but mostly, this is our first show.

Had you been looking to do TV or did it just come to you?
Henderson: I'd been hoping to do it, but it's a very hard thing to get into. I think it happened two-fold. Fox was the studio that did the pilot and I know they liked my work. And since that pilot I did, they had put me up for things. And it happened because of Michael Cuesta. I've done most of his films and he knew my work and was able to speak to the powers that be about me, as well.

Who were some of your favorite discoveries that you cast last year?
Henderson: Marin Ireland [who plays Aileen Morgan] is one because nobody really knew her work. She has a very good theater background and I've cast her in plays but I think she’s just starting her film career. She's done small roles in films since. I think this part was just great for her. Also Sarita Choudhury, who played Mandy’s wife, is not a newcomer but I was so happy to be able to have her on a show that a lot of Americans would see. I think she's a brilliant actor.

What are some of the places that you find new talent?
Henderson: I go to theater a lot. I also see a lot of Off-Off-Broadway things. I also teach an on-camera class, and I meet a lot of interesting young people through that class, actually.

What was the hardest role that you had to cast or the one that gave you the most trouble?
Henderson: You’re going to laugh, but the tailor in the episode “The Vest,” because he had to be very specific and he had to be older and he had to be a really good actor. He had to be in his 50s and he had to be appealing, but scary, as well. We ended up casting Nasser Faris, who I wasn’t familiar with, I met him through the casting process.

Is it hard with a show like “Homeland,” where no one is what they appear to be, to cast actors? Do you have all the information on a character going in?
Henderson: I have an arc. Not necessarily what they're going to do in a particular episode, but the kind of person they are, or are capable of being. So with that you have to find someone that has the colors that can play that arc. Whatever the specific storyline is is not as necessary as the quality of the person who can do a lot of different things.

Is there anything you would want actors to know coming into the audition room?
Henderson: I just really want them to be prepared. Also, when you audition for anything on film you have to really give a more of a performance than a reading. In the theater you can look at your script, you can be less focused than you have to be on film. In a film and TV audition, you're very close. The camera's right there and it only sees you. So while it's looking at you, you can't be looking at the script. Otherwise it's like you're taking a vacation from the part.

Are there any other specific differences between casting for film and casting for TV?
Henderson: I think the projection is a big difference. In the theater you have to reach everybody in the theater, the audience sees everything at the same time. In film, that's all done for you.