They are plain-clothed magicians. They are people with the potential to make us analyze a handshake.
They might look like civilians but they have a power over us actors that reduce us to nervous wrecks, and turn them into a cross between God, Dumbledore and a magic lamp. Our over-active imaginations endow these normal people with metamorphic powers, capable of transforming a little out-of-work caterpillar into a butterfly starlet, making millions with the flap of her pretty wings as she flies through Hollywood.
Do casting directors go into the job knowing that there will come a time when they’d get a hundred love letters a day? Do they wake up in the night with a head full of actor’s prayers, like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty? There are 40,000 performers on Spotlight and a casting director could potentially change any of their lives by donning a blindfold, spinning round twice on their chairs and sticking a pin in a page at random.
Casting directors are not gods, they are saints. I don’t know how they do it. I really, really don’t
I had a phase of thinking that casting directors were gods but now I know that they’re not. I know this because recently I was lucky enough to sit on the other side, during the casting of a short film I wrote, “Last Night a Killer Saved My Life”. Now, my respect for them has magnified to new heights. They are not gods, they are saints. I don’t know how they do it. I really, really don’t.
My producer and I started with a search on spotlight for men, aged 20 to 40, to play the role of the (rather useless) murderer. The 2012/13 Spotlight books contain 15,000 adult male actors. It is like shopping for a tin of beans in a town where all they sell are tins of beans, in shops made of beans, as beans grow on trees and fall from the sky. Men started to swim before my eyes. Ten by eights became a black and white blur. I lost patience after an hour and started to see the same person on every profile. It’s him again! Oh God, they all have two eyes and a nose, I can’t tell the difference.
If a showreel didn’t buffer in 0.2 seconds, I’d moved on. I categorised these hard-working talented unique professionals into, “geeky-type”, “scary-looking-type”, “hotty-type” and “no way type”. I did a terrible job. I was useless and (I’m saying this in a very small, ashamed voice) I wanted to go with what I already knew. There lies the difficulty in our industry where 90-plus percent are out of work, the other small percentage never stop working.
We can help our own cause: have a good showreel, network and do classes, but the facts are in the maths. Now, when I get frustrated because a casting director won’t see brunette-twenty-something-looking-female-Caucasian-me ie. the most oversubscribed look on Spotlight, I get it. If you don’t know me, I’m just another tin of beans.