Hiring star talent: tips from a top Hollywood casting director

by HCA12 Oct 2012

New documentary Casting By shines the spotlight on the very particular genius of casting directors. 

The role inspired one intrepid writer to interview top casting director Ellen Chenoweth for advice on what Hollywood casting might be able to teach companies wanting to find, interview, and hire a star.

A film’s success depends on perfect casting just as much as a company’s success depends on hiring the right talent, Mina Hochberg wrote in her article for Co.Create. “No one understands this better in Hollywood than casting directors. They know that a movie with great potential can be hobbled by a miscast character, and a mediocre movie can be elevated by a stroke of genius casting.”

Don’t wait for candidates to come to you

Casting directors don’t sit in their office waiting for the perfect headshot and resume to cross their desk – they’re out in the field, scouting for new talent, consulting agents and teachers who can recommend fresh faces, she wrote. “Chenoweth says that, even when you’re not actively hiring, you should keep your eyes open for talent you may want to hire down the road.”

Don’t always go with the most obvious candidate

Studios used to hire actors to play the same type again and again – so, if a studio needed someone to play a doctor or a pin-up girl, they referred to their list of contract actors to see who had already played a doctor or pin-up girl, Hochberg wrote. “This left little room for innovative performances but, as the old star system waned in the 1950s, casting directors started making more creative choices, which sometimes meant hiring an actor who didn’t look the part.”

Don’t dismiss a promising candidate based on a bad interview

Bad auditions need not be the last stop for an actor who otherwise holds lots of promise – and the same goes for any job candidate, she continued. “Every actor has a bad day, and an impressive resume should speak to their ability more than a one-off interview. Sometimes Chenoweth calls actors in for a second audition, if she senses they were off their game the first time around.”

Fight for your first choice

A casting director’s first choice might not always go over well with colleagues and bosses but, according to Chenoweth, if you believe in your candidate, fight for him or her before you concede, Hochberg wrote.

If possible, take your time

There would always be some directors who just want to get all the casting over and done with and make a decision, she wrote. “But sometimes you have to try to slow it [the decision making] down and say I have a few more people I really want you to see before you decide.”

Look for strengths that the candidate might not even be aware of

The best casting directors have an intuition for an actor’s strengths – ones that the actor may not even be aware of and, if you spot these strengths, you can decide how the candidate will best suit your needs, Chenoweth told Hochberg. “It’s about being open-minded, where you think maybe someone who’s just played heroic parts could play a more villainous part. Or maybe you’ll see something more sweet in somebody who hasn’t really shown that side.”


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