Matt Trueman: Casting directors should be celebrated for their artistry
Academy Award nominee Daniel Kaluuya – it has a certain ring to it, no? Strange to think this south London boy’s rise started with the cult teen comedy-drama Skins, but then an awful lot did. Dev Patel pipped his old castmate to the nominees list last year thanks to Lion. Jack O’Connell, the breakout star of the second Skins generation who recently appeared in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, has every chance of following them after a string of searing onscreen performances.
Without wanting to take anything away from their individual achievements, two people won’t get the recognition they deserve: Jane Ripley and Sally Broome, Skins’ casting directors. They gave all three their first start over a decade ago, and they could cite plenty of others: Nicholas Hoult, Kaya Scodelario, Joe Dempsie and more. Their success is, in part, down to Ripley and Broome’s talents – or rather, their eye for the talents of others.
Casting directors often end up unsung. Despite long-term lobbying, there’s still no Oscar for casting – but there’s no Olivier, no BAFTA and no Golden Globe either. Only the Emmys and, this year, the British Independent Film Awards recognise the discipline, so the news that the Casting Directors’ Guild will host their own awards is to be welcomed. For too long, casting has been the forgotten art form – and it is an art form.
People will lay out the reasons why it’s left out. Casting, they’ll say, just can’t be judged. It’s a question of credit, great performances being attributed to actors, and of collaboration, with directors and producers making key decisions. Moreover, it’s contingent: a question of who’s available, who accepts and who delivers. Casting looks outside a CD’s control – but true as that is, it applies to everything else. Actors on screen are reliant on editors, dependent on directors and contingent on having chemistry with their co-stars. None of that prevents us from honouring their artistry.
Casting isn’t just about discovery. It’s not a question merely of clocking real talent when it comes through the door. It’s a creative act in its own right. It can get entire projects off the ground and lift ordinary ones into new realms. Sometimes the best casting springs a surprise, changing the way we see actors or characters. Sometimes it sews a whole show together, with every actor in tune. Sometimes it shifts our sense of the world. It’s no surprise that Charlotte Bevan, the National Theatre’s head of diversity, started her career in casting.
To appreciate its significance, you only need to consider the word itself. To cast is to throw something, forcefully, in a particular direction. Derived from Old Norse – kasta, to throw – it is to launch something, or else to shape it. Ships cast off. Objects are cast. The same goes for drama. Casting gets it started, but it also gives a script its shape. It makes characters concrete and forges fictions for real. After that, as with cast dice, there’s no going back. It’s a risky process, casting; one you have to get right. It’s time we celebrated those that do.
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