Looking Back, Moving On

If you've auditioned for a commercial in Los Angeles at any time in the past 28 years, you've likely been in Danny Goldman's office. Recently retired, the man was built for the fast-paced world of commercial casting. With a keen appreciation for talent and the ability to quickly size up actors and their headshots—and to never keep them waiting more than 20 minutes—Goldman has always been known as a straight shooter.

"I'm amazed that people come up to me still and say things that I said to them that I'm shocked that I had the nerve to say to an actor, like 'You really need to get your teeth fixed' or 'You've got to do something about your hair.' People will say, 'You know you told me to do this?' I say, 'I did? That was nervy!' " says Goldman, laughing. "Cranky, yes, but it was coming from a good place. It was coming from a place to help and to enlighten or at least share what I know or what I thought I knew."

Upon hearing of his retirement, actors reacted on the SAG Watch blog: "I wouldn't still be in this business if it weren't for his generous spirit." "His good nature, humor, and smile will be missed." "He has been a champion of my career and so many others." "Who's going to cast me now?"

Not surprisingly, Goldman began as an actor, appearing in such films as Where the Buffalo Roam, Young Frankenstein, and MASH, and recently he reprised his role as Brainy Smurf from Smurfs on Robot Chicken. He always felt that his performing background helped him as a casting director because he could "speak the language of the actor."

Back Stage: So why retire now?

Danny Goldman: The business has changed. It's become very impersonal. It's all about technology. So that's one aspect, and another one was health. I had cancer, which was cured three years ago. I also had a recent heart attack. So I think it's nature's way of telling me that maybe it was time to reduce stress.

Back Stage: How has casting changed since 1980?

Goldman: The technology just leaped ahead in terms of both the equipment and how we cast, which is online, and that took the fun out of the game, because you're just pressing buttons, and the agent is just pressing buttons, and there's very little communication, and I found that very distressing. It was much more fun before. You would discuss the talent with the agents, and now that's really almost not done. Whenever we would call an agent, they were surprised to hear from us, because everything is online…. In other words, everything goes out to everybody. It's very tough. You can't give a specific instruction to an actor through their agent. So I can't say, "Well, so-and-so, could you possibly do your hair differently?" or some other suggestion that might mean something personal to somebody.

Back Stage: Do online profiles paint an accurate portrait of an actor for you?

Goldman: Not necessarily. Sometimes there's a more personal thing. An agent could be excited about a person or tell you something about them that isn't on the résumé that you didn't know. Likewise, I could tell an agent something about an actor I had seen in a theater piece: "Do you know that he's really a very good comedian?" And they'd say, "I had no idea." Sometimes my observations were fed to the agents, and likewise, and that sort of communication sort of ceased to exist about five years ago.

Back Stage: Is it better or worse for actors?

Goldman: I do think it's more democratic since the online [casting] has come out. There's more opportunity. You don't have to have a great agent necessarily, because the agents aren't agenting anymore. In other words, nobody calls you up and says, "You must see my client so-and-so."

Back Stage: What are your plans?

Goldman: I don't know. I love the theater. I'm an Ovation voter, so I'll be seeing a lot of theater. Maybe I'll go back to acting. I don't know what I'm going to do. I haven't made any decisions yet.

Back Stage: I read that you got started casting in 1980 when a screenwriter friend of yours loved how you cast your plays and asked you to cast an educational film on cults.

Goldman: Yeah, I did a lot of plays, and I won the L.A. Drama Critics' Award in 1977 for a show that I created in a 28-seat theater called La Mama Hollywood. It was called Skyjack '76: Entebbe. The audience was trapped on this plane that was hijacked. It was the first production I ever directed. So my first time out, I scored big, and then I got offered a lot of plays for nothing, and after a while I would do four plays a year for nothing. And it never really led anywhere, directing. I was an actor, so I was so torn between both things. I loved acting and directing, and then somehow I found myself in casting, in which you got to direct actors on camera all the time, which I loved.

Back Stage: But you considered it a day job up until a certain point, right?

Goldman: I consider casting a day job even now. It just became my really day job. It took over. I didn't expect to become so successful.

Back Stage: I hear that one of the first actors you ever auditioned was Michael J. Fox.

Goldman: Yes. He was 18, and you could tell how great he was, such a natural. The thing that I loved is that actors are sort of heroes, because they go out every single day and face rejection—"Your nose is too big, your legs are too long, your face is too this, your hair is too that"—and they still come back for more abuse. So we sought to make it as pleasant as possible for the actor, because it's not a pleasant process. We really tried to establish a policy where we would try not to have people waiting more than 20 minutes, both for humanitarian reasons and for very practical reasons. I don't think you give a good audition when you've been pissed off waiting for 50 minutes instead of waiting for 15 minutes. A callback we have no control over. The clients are always late and they're tentative and timid, but on a first call there was no reason for anybody to have to wait 50 minutes.

Back Stage: Looking back, what do you think sticks out as your crowning achievements in this industry?

Goldman: My crowning achievement was my office. It was so wonderful. The environment, the team effort, that we were able to do so well for so long and have so much fun doing it.

Back Stage: It's incredible that your team—Mariko Ballentine, Josh Rappaport, and Alan Kaminsky—stuck with you for over 20 years.

Goldman: Oh, they're fabulous. [After my retirement] Mariko wanted to be on her own, and Alan and Josh are forming a company together. They certainly ran my place for the last three years because I was sick so much. I was in the hospital at one point for three months and a nursing home for about a month, so they basically ran the place for years. They're brilliant. In a way, I felt a little guilty because I felt that their staying so long hampered them in a way, and on the other hand we were having so much fun and we worked so well together that it was so comfortable. I totally empowered them to do the best job they could do, and they did. They excelled. They exceeded.

Back Stage: Any last thoughts?

Goldman: Just that it was a great 27-, 28-year run of casting, and I had a tremendous amount of fun and it was very gratifying. Having been an actor and knowing how hard it is, to get an actor work was thrilling. I mean, it's beyond thrilling, especially if the clients agreed with you and saw what you had seen in the person. I tried to not be inaccessible to actors. I didn't always succeed at it as much as I wanted to—I was often behind the telephone or computer screen—but I like mingling with the actors. Frankly, you know what I felt? I felt like I was the host of a party and at the end of the day somebody was going to get a door prize. It was a very fulfilling life.