If you want to audition for Netflix in the UK, you need to find out who is casting a specific Netflix show as the streaming giant doesn’t conduct auditions itself. Landing a role on a Netflix production is best approached from two different angles. The first is to look at who makes shows for Netflix in order to identify the casting directors (CDs) these production companies use, and to figure out how to get on their radar. The second angle is to hear from actors on Netflix shows to understand how they got cast, alongside getting the basics right like ensuring your headshots, CV, and showreel are in good shape.
The good news for British actors is that many of Netflix’s most popular shows are made in the UK. Shows like Sex Education, The Witcher, The Crown, and Bridgerton get vast ratings around the world, with the latter smashing records with a whopping 82 million household views, making it Netflix’s most successful original series to date. Netflix has invested big bucks in UK production studios, and with The Witcher being filmed in Scotland, Sex Education in Wales, The School for Good and Evil in Northern Ireland, and Bridgerton in England, any actor in the UK is within hitting distance of a major Netflix production.
Netflix’s streaming model was initially based on distributing third-party content, such as shows already broadcast by the BBC or films that had completed a cinema run. This type of content still bulks out their offering, but – starting mainly with House of Cards – Netflix has pivoted hard from being essentially a distributor to being a producer; and Netflix original content now accounts for over 60% globally and 80% in the US of the most popular original series among streaming providers. When we talk about auditioning for Netflix, it’s these original Netflix shows we’re aiming at.
That said, Netflix doesn’t physically make these productions. Instead, it commissions ideas and collaborates with production companies to get them made. The Crown was written by British screenwriter Peter Morgan and produced by Left Bank Pictures and Sony Pictures Television for Netflix. Bridgerton was made by Shondaland, a production company co-owned by Netflix and showrunner Shonda Rhimes, who adapted the idea from the original Bridgerton novels and now executive-produces the show.
The first way to find out who is casting Netflix shows is to see who is making existing, recurring shows, like The Crown. The second way is to monitor the industry in order to hear which shows are going into production over the coming months, and who is casting these. Both of these scenarios may be covered by an agent if you have one, but let’s for the moment assume that you don’t.
It’s relatively straightforward to find out who casts existing shows. Backstage carries a lot of interviews with casting directors from major shows, including this one with the casting team behind Netflix’s The Witcher, or this one with the casting director of Sex Education – and we'll pass on some of their key insights further down. Online research and googling should also reveal who is casting any existing show.
For upcoming Netflix productions, bookmark our Greenlit UK series, where each week we announce major upcoming productions and who is doing the casting. At time of writing, the most recent Greenlit UK reports casting details for upcoming Netflix action-series Lockwood & Co, alongside casting details for new Amazon and ITV series.
Backstage has spoken to casting directors of many top-rating Netflix shows, and here is some of their advice:
Lauren Evans, casting director for Sex Education, tells us: “You don’t need to write a covering letter with an email. Just be brief, clear, concise. Something like: ‘This is my name, this is where I’m from, and this is what I’d like to show you, please do keep me in mind...’ I think when your email starts to become a life story, then it’s all a bit much.”
And timing can be everything: “If by chance your face fits a brief we have at the moment, then bingo! I keep all my tapes from every actor I’ve ever met because if a name comes up, I look up to see what my note is on them and watch the tape to see if I want to bring them back in.”
Bridgerton’s casting director Kelly Valentine Hendry also advised clarity and brevity: “Write a very clear message on the subject line of what you’re applying for and just be as simple as possible. You don’t need to think about it too much.”
Leanne Flinn, CD on British Netflix series Top Boy, notes: “Cold emailing is difficult because if we’re not casting at exactly that time for something you would fit, you might get missed. But it’s worth it if you have something you’d love us to see, like a commercial or a project. Or if you’re a graduate and are about to come out of school. We do have good memories!”
Before contacting casting directors, it’s a good idea to have up-to-date headshots ready for sending. Get clued up on self-tape techniques, and look at updating your CV and showreel, if you have one.
The best advice for how to nail your Netflix show audition comes from the casting directors of the shows themselves.
Sophie Holland casts Netflix’s smash hit The Witcher. She tells us: “It’s all about the preparation. More often than not, you’ve got great material to fall back on, so it’s all going to be in the script that you’re sent. You should really excavate those sides with care. We see really good actors every day, and very often they come in with reads that are not dissimilar from each other. Every now and then, we’ll get an actor who comes in who has really thought about it and really takes it to another level. It’s those actors who bring something exciting to the role.”
Holland also says: “Come into the room and understand that it’s a collaboration between a casting director and the actor, and that we want to work together on something that you bring ideas to that are well thought out and well-prepared and excavated – that you’ve really thought about what you want to bring to that character. Come in, be polite, and be on time; ultimately, be ready to work. Then we’ll start to build a relationship with that actor. The thing about casting directors is that we have incredible memories. Four years down the line, we will remember you when something comes up, and we’ll bring you in. But actively trying to be memorable is counterproductive; you don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons!”
It’s also worth remembering that your first audition is likely to be via a self-tape, and Bridgerton’s casting director Kelly Valentine Hendry has some great advice here. She tells us: “I’m getting thousands of tapes, so sometimes, when it’s really badly done, I just think: ‘You know what? It’s not worth it.’ I don’t want that going up because, even though [the client] knows it’s self-taped, it’s still me that’s presenting it.”
And she shares the following tips: “Personally, I don’t like white backgrounds. They don’t make you look as good. You want a blue or a grey, and you want to light yourself. You want to make sure that your sound is really good, and have your readers stand a little bit away from the camera because you want to just hear them. Sometimes, readers are terrible, and it genuinely does distract. Quite often, directors will watch with headphones on and they’ll have really good headphones that pick up all the extra noise. It doesn’t take much for things to annoy people.”
Backstage has asked many leading actors on Netflix shows to share advice on how they got cast, how they handled their auditions, and how they started off.
Claire Foy, star of Netflix’s The Crown, tells us how she prepares for auditions: “For one, learn the lines. [But] there’s no point trying to be off-book if you aren’t acting it. If you have to look down at the page, it’s much better [to hold the script] than be only thinking about what you’re saying. It’s about finding that person in those words.” She adds: “Focus on the experience so that when you’re speaking it, people feel like you’ve been there as opposed to someone doing a monologue.”
Ncuti Gatwa plays Eric on Sex Education, which was his first major role. He tells us: “I’ll go through the whole script and highlight everything my character says about me, and in another colour I’ll highlight what other characters say about me, and I’ll highlight all the things I say about other characters. It’s different with each role, my process going in. But what remains a staple when I come out of the audition room is I have to forget what I’ve just done and everything that just happened, because you might not get it and you might be upset you didn’t get it.”
Bridgerton lead Phoebe Dynevor plays Daphne Bridgerton. She advises persistence, telling Backstage: “I feel like it will come at the right time, you just have to keep going, and you have to keep believing in yourself. Don’t try and change for anything because what makes you unique is what’s going to get you a certain part. It just has to be at the right time.” She adds: “Keep going and be resilient, and learn your craft in whichever way you can. But know that it’ll come when you’re ready.”
And if you land a role on a Netflix production, Tom Bateman, lead actor in Netflix’s UK hit Behind Her Eyes, advises: “Have confidence in your place at the table. My very first job was playing opposite David Tennant in the West End and the entire cast were actors I’d seen on stage and admired. I remember thinking: ‘I don’t deserve to be here.’ It’s something I still struggle with. Every time I start a project, there’s always a voice saying: ‘You don’t belong here.’ It’s something I still need work on. But have confidence. If you’re there, playing the role, it’s because they believe you are good enough.”
More industry advice for UK actors? Click here.