Here are some Friday questions by reader Jim S. following a recent piece on casting. I thought it would make a good stand-alone post.
How did you learn how to do it? What was the best bit of casting you did? The worst?
There’s no way to “learn” how to cast. It’s just a matter of judgment. You do have to develop a sense of putting an actor’s reading in perspective however. Sometimes great actors give lousy auditions and other times mediocre actors shine in auditions. You try to see through that. It's not easy.
I don’t buy the notion that you should excuse an actor for being nervous. If he’s nervous now imagine how he’ll be in front of a camera or camera and studio audience.
But when an actor gives a tepid reading you have to determine if that’s the best he can do, or if it’s worth giving him an adjustment and letting him do it again? I’m always open to that. I just don’t want to miss someone because I was too hasty in dismissing them. You get a feel for that over time.
It's tough for actors because they they're shooting at a moving target. They get their sides (their scene to read) and try to determine from those few pages just who this character is and how he should be played. Sometimes they'll read and you like a certain quality the actor brings but he was off-the-mark. You then give them an adjustment and sometimes they'll hit the bullseye. I always think it's a good idea for actors to ask the producers before their reading if there's anything they should know, or any particular way they see this character.
But even then you have to be open. You may see a character one way and an actor comes in who is not at all what you pictured but gives a really fascinating reading. You have to be willing to consider the possibility that this new way to go is better than what you envisioned.
As a producer, I try to make actors as comfortable as I can when they come in to read. I want them to do well. It’s in everybody’s best interest. I don’t understand producers who just sit behind desks scowling. But I don’t think I “learned” that. That’s just common sense to me.
Best casting? I guess Tom Hanks and John Candy in VOLUNTEERS. Nancy Travis was pretty inspired for ALMOST PERFECT. And both John Astin and Katey Sagal for THE MARY SHOW.
I’m not going to say who the worst was because I don’t want to embarrass anybody. But there have been times when I’ve had to fire actors, and in a few cases it was because I was way off-base in hiring them for that part in the first place. Like I keep saying, casting is an inexact science.
Were you ever forced to take someone that turned out to be great? Terrible?
Again, I don’t want to name names but a network forced us to take a certain actor to star in a pilot and he was terrible. He pretty much killed the entire project.
So it happens either way.
Did you ever consult with your wife? Your rabbi, your bowling buddies?
Not really. Unless an actor is on tape, my rabbi, wife, etc. doesn’t have the chance to see them. I may run a name or two by them to get their reaction, but generally I have to rely on my partner or the other people in the room who saw the reading. My bowling buddies don't know shit.
Trust me, there are many times I just don’t know and I really appreciate the feedback from others whom I trust. Having a good casting director also helps a lot. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some of the best. A shout out thanks to Sheila Guthrie, Jeff Greenberg, Sally Stiner, Barbie Bloch, Steve Kolzak, Molly Lopata, Sandi Logan, and Michael Donovan.
What's your Friday Question regardless of what day it is?