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My First Job: Nancy Bishop

Nancy Bishop. Photo: Barbara Sitar Nancy Bishop. Photo: Barbara Sitar
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“When I say action, don’t breathe, Nancy.” Those were the director’s notes as I lay on the cobblestones with a grizzly open scar grafted on my throat. I was Jack the Ripper’s first victim, which I performed in a perfectly terrible Dick Van Dyke cockney. That was Prague in 1998. Not only did I act, but Love Lies Bleeding was also my first casting job.

It started with a phone call. “You are director of English theatre, yes?” asked the line producer with a heavy Czech inflexion. “We need actors with British accents.” I contacted every actor I knew, and even random British people in Prague – a hard task in the days when not everyone had a phone. British actor Paul Rhys played the Ripper, opposite Emily Raymond. Director Bill Tannen wrangled his buddy Wayne Rogers, wealthy from M*A*S*H residuals, to pay his own flight to Prague and play the inspector. Malcolm McDowell did a cameo, as did Faye Dunaway, but my only memory of her was that she asked a PA to bring her scrambled eggs in church.

The remainder of the 40 roles were cast by me in Prague. I conducted auditions as I would have done in theatre. The actor filled out a form and read the scene. No video. Film was not my game. I didn’t know the difference between a camera and a box with a hole on the side. Tannen snapped a polaroid of each actor. I should have been photographing them, but I simply had no idea what the fuck I was doing.

I was so dedicated to my theatre company, I donated all earnings to our next production. I took acting credit for my prostitution work, but didn’t care about the casting mention, having no idea that this was the beginning of a long career as a casting director.

PS. If you see the movie, you’ll understand why I work behind the camera now instead of in front. Thankfully, it is almost impossible to view, so I think I’m pretty safe.

CV: Nancy Bishop

Age: undisclosed
Training: University of Michigan; National Theatre Institute; Northwestern University, MA in theatre
TV includes: Missing (ABC), Charles II (BBC), Revelations (NBC), The Scarlet Pimpernel Parts 1 and 2 (BBC), Blood Drive (SyFy)
Film includes: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Hellboy, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, GI Joe, Snowpiercer
Other Credits: author, Auditioning for Film and TV: Secrets from a Casting Director (Bloomsbury)

Nancy Bishop, Emmy-nominated casting director with offices in London and Prague, was talking to John Byrne