4 Emmys-contending Casting Directors Share the Secret to a Stellar Self-Tape

Video Source: Youtube

The following interview for our Spring 2021 BackstageFest, a virtual celebration of the year's best and buzziest TV, was compiled in part by Backstage readers just like you! Follow us on Twitter (@Backstage) and Instagram (@backstagecast) to stay in the loop on upcoming interviews and to submit your questions.

In the entertainment industry, it’s no secre the power that casting directors hold. There is always pressure for actors and performers to know exactly what the person who’s auditioning them is looking for, and TV casting is no exception. As part of our inaugural BackstageFest, longtime casting directors Theo Park (“Ted Lasso,” “Master of None”), Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas (“Perry Mason,” “The Comey Rule,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Better Call Saul,” “The Walking Dead,” “Fear the Walking Dead,” “In Treatment”), and Julie Harkin (“I May Destroy You,” “Industry”) joined senior casting editor Elyse Roth to give their best advice to actors on auditioning, submitting self-tapes, and getting their next on-camera gig. 

Bialy says actors should always have their scene partner’s lines read live for self-tapes.
“There are a lot of actors who may not have had someone be able to read with them, and they’ll pre-tape the other person’s lines. It really isn’t a good idea because the timing is off because they’re just waiting for that [line] to come. If you can help it, don’t. I think you’re better off if you don’t have someone to come in the room, actually have them on the computer like we are right now, and read the lines with you, and then just record yourself. It really helps to have a live person. I’ve had actors just do their lines and not the other character’s lines. Nobody has ever gotten a job that way.”

Thomas says actors shouldn’t feel pressure to buy high-end camera equipment during self-tapes, even though they’re the new norm.
“I don’t think it takes a lot of money. I think if you can have a space with a blank wall and a good recording device and a light, it will work. I don’t want people to feel like they have to run out and buy all of this equipment, because it’s expensive, and it’s hard. Just make it still be about the work so that we can see what the work is.”

Park says she doesn’t prioritize drama school graduates for roles unless the creative team calls for it.
“There are certainly some projects where the creatives are interested in people having classical training, for reasons of the material itself. I may seek out those people [actors who have been to drama school]. But generally, it doesn’t bother me whether you’ve trained or not. It’s [about] whether you’re right for the part.”

For international actors, Bialy stresses the significance of including visa status in a slate when auditioning for U.S. projects. 
“For European actors who are filming something for the United States, it would be helpful to say, ‘I have a current O-1 visa,’ or, ‘I’ve never had an O-1 visa,’ or, ‘I had an O-1 visa and it expired,’ because that changes how much time you need to cast someone in advance.”

Harkin and Park say being truthful about logistical details will not hold an actor back from getting a part.
JH: “Always tell the truth about that stuff: passports, Visas, location. Don’t tell us a lie about it because you think you might not get the part. Just be honest, because if we know in advance, we can fix it.” TP: “[And] if you ever read a script as an actor for a role you’re going out for and you’re driving in the script, fess up if you don’t have a driver’s license!”

Thomas says casting directors are like activists for their actors.
“I think all of us here are activists. We love what we do, and we take pride in it, and we try to change people’s lives. Not in an egomaniac way, but in a we-love-what-we-do [way]. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing it.”

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