Chad’s ode to the actor, part 1: the importance of knowing your casting

back when i was in college, one of my instructors told me about “casting” and how important it was for me to know my “casting”. for non-actors out there, an actor’s “casting” is the general range of roles for which he or she is best suited. for instance, is he the handsome leading man or the goofy sidekick? or is she the beautiful femme fatale or the brassy best friend?

Master Thespiananyway as my instructor was talking to me about this and telling me how important it was for me to know my “casting”, i was getting increasingly pissed off. i can’t remember exactly why i was so mad – maybe i wanted to think of acting as nothing more than an art and rejected the idea that business had anything to do with booking acting gigs. perhaps it was that i didn’t want to feel limited in any way. if i wanted to play a 90-year-old African American chambermaid, i should be able to do just that, dammit! two decades later, my opinions about it are a lot more informed – and by that i don’t mean that they’re “realistic”. the truth is that since becoming a director, i’ve been developing a growing fascination with the art of casting itself – yes, from the point of view of a director or casting director (i occasionally cast for projects i’m excited about and really enjoy the process), but even more so from the POV of an actor! not that i still pine for booking acting gigs, but because i’m increasingly confused as to why some of my extremely talented actor friends aren’t booking more work!

you should first recognize that casting can be an art in and of itself. there’s actually so much that can be said on the topic that i could write a dozen articles and still just scratch the surface. for now, let’s just dive into the actual legitimate value to developing a solid, clear understanding of your “casting”.

if you presume that the most basic motivation for any person on the other end of the casting table is to make a good film, than you can assume that they want actors who are actually right for each role. that each role has particular needs in order for the script to work as written. so the actor they cast in that role must satisfy those needs. of course there are other urges – the overwhelming need to cast somebody with a proven audience to make sure the movie draws an audience, the fact that the executive producer wants his girlfriend in the lead role or he’s pulling his money – there are always these outliers, but you can’t control those as an actor. what you can control is your own time. understanding whether or not you can fulfill the needs of this role or not and whether or not you can fashion your audition from that point of view – that is something you can control.

The Fonzthere are several actors i know personally with whom i’m dying to work. i friend of mine was just telling me today that Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks were friends for a decade before they could find something to work on together. i have no facts to back that up myself, but i wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover it was the truth. when i see an actor, particularly a good actor, i see a kind of spark – some specific and individual element with which i can imagine them bringing to life some character in which that spark can shine. but if you know an actor with a face that instantly makes you feel bad for them – perhaps even makes you want to cry – you wouldn’t necessarily cast that actor as the Fonz from “Happy Days” or Vince Vaughn’s character in “Swingers”. when i see that spark i see opportunity – all the roles in which they’d have a unique ability to make an audience feel certain things, but it’s vital for actors to understand that not all feelings are good for all characters or even all films.

there’s an actress i’ve known for i guess a couple of years now and we’re trying to find something to work on together. she’s very talented and i’ve auditioned her for roles in which i have not cast her, but i’ve also suggested her to other directors and she’s been in at least two other such pieces that i know of. i haven’t cast her because i haven’t yet had the need for her particular spark – not yet. i know what that spark is and i’m looking for a piece in which i can use it, but in the meantime i have to direct the pieces that are in front of me.

so to boil it all down, if you’re an actor and you don’t know what your spark is, start looking for it. watch TV and movies with that in mind – which role would you be on this episode of “The Office” or “Grey’s Anatomy”? which famous actor might play you in the movie of your life? play around with pieces you do for class or in independent plays you do around town and ask people you trust about it. knowing your casting does NOT have to be limiting. think of it as finding your edge on the competition – finding your own particular economic advantage. feel free to stretch as an actor on your side projects and do whatever you want, but continue to sharpen that edge and use it to start developing your business.

… and developing your business – by generating, maintaining and expanding your contacts – will be the next post.

please feel free to ask questions or to air your grievances in the comments below. i’ll address everything to the best of my ability.
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go to part 2: the art of meeting people

go to part 3: closing the deal

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  • Bchurchill

    Very interesting, Chad.  I have no acting talent but I believe I would do well at casting.  All too many brilliant actors end up type-cast because of a single role even though that role may have been extremely successful at the box office.  I especially admire a lot of supporting actors who bring a wide range of experience to their work.  Leon Rippy is one example, wherever he’s cast he always brings what the role needs.  Lance Henriksen is another, never a great box office draw but always excellent wherever he turns up.  Young actors rarely develop into stardom as adults. 
    I’ll be following your blog here, and not just because of retirement and lots of free time on my hands!

    • Leon and Lance are two great actors who clearly understand exactly what i’m talking about. it’s the actors whom you probably haven’t seen yet but who happen to have a ton of talent that this post is really trying to reach. actors who either don’t understand or resist the portions of the business which require a bit of business savvy. 

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