Describing a Lifetime original movie is best left to the old adage, “You know one when you see one.” The network is known for its niche within the genre of TV film in style, content, and aesthetic. (It’s a little soapy, a little campy, and it definitely goes down easy.) Both actors new to the craft and those with long résumés can be seen across the cabler’s wide array of stories, from true crime to Christmastime. Jason Wood, Lifetime and A&E’s casting consultant, oversees the networks’ casting operations and is always trying to find the best talent for an ever-increasing slate of programming. As the person who gets to see contenders across the networks, he says he’s always on the lookout for confident actors who fit the diverse stories being told.
How is your role different from what an independent CD does?
The casting director is more of the online day to day. They’re in the room with the actors doing the auditions, taping, setting up the callbacks, making the lists, really making sure the producers and directors see the right people for each project. I work closely with the casting director and the producers and directors to make sure everybody has all the support they need to do their best work and to help guide them in some ways. I also keep an eye on where the Lifetime brand is and the talent that we look for—at least, some leads in the movies—and then to help manage the process internally.
What is the casting process like for a Lifetime project?
For Lifetime movies, there aren’t that many hurdles, and movies are the bulk of our scripted programming. A lot of times, you audition, go on tape, the producers love you and send your audition forward to the network, it’s approved, and you’re off for wardrobe. Occasionally, there are callbacks. If we’re doing biopics based on real people, there could be additional steps in terms of coming back and doing chemistry reads. Sometimes we’ll even do a hair and makeup test.
“There will always be accurate and, hopefully, full representations of women in our movies.”
What is the Lifetime brand identity you think about when casting?
Lifetime as a brand has always been female-focused, and our priority has always been creating opportunities for women in front of and behind the camera. There will always be accurate and, hopefully, full representations of women in our movies; they tend to be the leads; a lot of it is self-empowerment, some of it is wish fulfillment. Occasionally, it’s victim to victor. That’s been a big priority for us, and I think for quite a while, a majority of our movies have been directed by women. Diversity has always been very important to us: ethnicity, gender identity, shape. Everything should look like the world we live in.
What can an actor expect from auditioning for you?
I hope they come in confident about their audition and leave feeling like they had a collaborative, positive experience. That’s really the most you walk away with. It’s audition to audition, not job to job. If you’re doing good work, the right job will find you.
What is memorable to you in the audition room?
I think when an actor is self-aware and not self-conscious, it comes through in the audition. You see somebody being vulnerable and inhabiting the dialogue as it’s written. They might not be the perfect fit, but you have a sense of who that actor is. We respond to that authenticity. An authentic, vulnerable, illuminating audition will stand out, even if that person is not right for the part they’re auditioning for.
What considerations do you have to make when finding the right actor for a role?
You have to look at that actor individually, and then you have to look at it as one part of the bigger whole. What other actors have been cast? How do they fit in that cast? Are they a good contrast to the other lead? Would these people be the best romantic leads? Would these people be the best antagonists? While the actor is only looking at their role and their audition, we have to look at the bigger picture of the movie. Sometimes, you might have given a great audition and somebody else that’s cast looks very much like you. There are all sorts of factors that go into the final decision process that are sometimes not reflective of the individual actor or the audition they gave.
Who else are you working with behind the scenes?
The process begins very early with the script, so I work closely with the creative team who are the ones taking the pitches and developing the movies. Sometimes, we’ll identify early on who some of the leads might be so we can track those in terms of timing. We work with the production department, when to work with the PA and setting the budget, and we also work closely with PR, helping find the names that support the movie, support the brand, and can help get out there and promote the movie.
How does your experience as a freelance CD inform how you work in an executive capacity?
On a basic level, it’s informed me in a way that I’m able to be a powerful advocate for the actor. I’m able to speak to their body of work in comparison to the movie we might be doing. Sometimes, looking at their auditions, I can speak to prior auditions I’ve seen them in and really help advocate for the actor in the casting process.
“It’s audition to audition, not job to job. If you’re doing good work, the right job will find you. And by that, I mean doing good work in the audition room.”
What advice would you give to an actor who wants to work on a Lifetime project?
It’s my mantra, about being 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 yourself out of it. I don’t think you audition for a Lifetime movie any differently than you do a movie or any audition. 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?
How would you say Lifetime is different from other brands in the TV landscape?
The depth and the variety of our programming. We have true crime movies, so if that’s your passion and your wheelhouse as an actor, we have those. We have music biopics. Christmas is something. Real stories of real women. There’s just a depth and a variety of our programming in the movies that I think is exciting and sets us apart from most places. The Lifetime movie, it’s an iconic brand, and we’re excited to serve our viewers an incredibly exciting and broad variety.
This story originally appeared in the Oct. 22 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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