'Tree of Life' Casting Director on Finding Success in Austin

Photo Source: Courtesy Vicky Boone
Austin-based Vicky Boone is one of the most sought-after casting directors in the industry. Although she's worked with luminaries such as Terrence Malick and Richard Linklater, Boone has nonetheless stayed true to her roots by devoting much of her time to smaller, independent features. Her reach doesn’t end at the cinema either, as she casts several commercials a month and just recently wrapped a TV pilot. We recently sat down with the very busy Boone to discuss casting in general as well as Texas casting in particular.
What is the “thing” that a potential actor has that makes you take notice?
The person who for whatever reason is having the most interesting private thoughts is the person that becomes the most interesting in the role. It becomes the most fleshed out and the most mysterious at the same time. And if it’s a real person, it’s just their natural thoughts. It’s not an invented character. It’s just who they are, that they’re having interesting thoughts they’re not necessarily sharing with you.
Auditioning is unnatural and can be very, very awkward. Have you sensed a pattern or a trait that certain people have that enables them to audition especially well?
I think it’s a gift for relaxation. A gift for being relaxed and being able to focus on the thing that you’re focused on, not letting everything else in and bombard you and distract you and derail you. That’s a huge gift.
How does appearance play into things for you?
My foundation in casting was not visually focused to begin with because I came more from a theater background. It wasn’t so looks driven; it was talent driven. So I was always trained to be—and I still keep this—really guarded against casting for type. When I see a director start to get really sucked in and seduced by how perfectly right the visual of this individual is, I usually send up flags and try to break that down a little bit.
Is there anything you’d suggest actors not do when coming into an audition?
I’m not rule-y so it’s hard for me to categorize like that. I’ve never thought that there's one way. [But] there’s a real move towards paperless, which means that people are not bringing their headshots with them. But I think it is a really big mistake to not bring a headshot with you. And to not to bring one to a callback is a huge mistake, because the director doesn’t have the familiarity that the casting directors do. The headshot represents you. At the end of the day, they throw them on the floor and they move them around, and if you don’t have a literal headshot there… I’ve seen so many actors who are great fall out of the mix, so I want to encourage people to keep bringing those. It’s very analog but a really powerful tool in a callback situation.
Why should an actor stay in Austin instead of moving to New York or Los Angeles?
Austin is a great place to develop a career. I have tons of friends who were doing great here and then moved to LA ... and then hit this static thing, like, nothing’s happening and they start a theater company and then they’re doing standup, they’re just trying to find any outlet, but all their energy gets sucked away. In Austin, you really have an opportunity to do meaningful work. There are amazing directors here. You’ve got a chance to work with incredible directors on any number of budget levels. You’ve got great opportunities here to have a recurring role or be a series regular on TV, which really makes a financial difference to actors! You’ve got enough opportunity to book enough stuff to develop a reel that can convince people that you’re a working actor! The working actors, they’re always in the TV shows that shoot here. So I think it’s a really good market.
Regarding Texas, would you say Austin is the heart of the industry and the rest of the state feeds off of that?
I always tell people that it’s sort of a statewide market, in that if you’re coming here to cast, you should be prepared to do regional deals. To get the best cast here you’re going to be drawing from actors in Dallas and Houston and Austin, and sometimes New Orleans or Shreveport. All that geography creates this great regional market. So if you were going to say, “I’m shooting in Austin, so I only want Austin-based actors,” you’re going to eliminate a lot of talented people who are key to this market. I think it’s money well spent if you’re coming here for any kind of regional purpose. You’re looking for a flavor, so you’re going to want actors from some of the other markets.
Do you travel yourself or do people tend to reach out to you?
They usually come here. The talent in Texas is sort of crazy. I’ve had people drive from Dallas to Austin to Houston, like this crazy 11-hour drive with three auditions in it! That’s the reason why I am a fan of tape. It’s such a long road if actors are doing that just to hit an audition. I mean it helps—you really have to know the casting director so you should make an effort to go a few times and try to establish an in-person relationship. But I think once I understand a little bit about who an actor is, and I’ve met them a few times, I’m really happy to take that tape and advocate for them.
Do you read the script and then present your ideas, or do you prefer to have a conversation with the director to see how they work first?
It’s a little bit of both. In fact, I usually try to check myself, because I am quick to get ideas for things and populate and feel like, “This would be a great movie!” And so I naturally have a whole bunch of ideas like that. And I feel I’m pretty good about coming up with ideas that work for it. But I like to talk to the director and understand what kind of world they’re trying to create. Sometimes they describe the world I’m creating, and then sometimes they give you different references or different films and it helps migrate you to another place and you’re like, “Oh cool, I get it!” I think one of the main things I do as a casting director, one of the things I enjoy about it, is you get to learn other people’s languages, because everybody has their own meaning for tender. So it’s like, “I want someone who’s really tender,” “OK, do you mean gooey, broken heart tender? Or do you mean like kinda tender?” So you get to figure out their particular way of looking at the world, you get to think how this particular director thinks, or your interpretation of it, and go into the world trying to use your perception of how they see things. That’s fun!