Ninety percent of the work of
directing actors is casting." At least that’s what directors
and producers often tell me. What I think they mean by this is
they like to get acting concerns out of their hair quickly so
they can be free to concentrate on the fun parts of directing,
like fancy crane shots and special effects. But this notion that
all their work vis a vis actors can be done in casting leads
them to look, in casting sessions, for a performance-for the "great
reading" where an actor "nails" a role.
A great reading (or great meeting,
if the actor doesn’t do readings) with an actor is like a great
one-night stand. If you’ve cast the person and then see them
on set or in rehearsal, then you’re in a relationship, and the
magic haze of the one-night-stand is dispelled. It’s the "dream
lover" approach to casting-as you were reading (or writing)
the script, you pictured an idea/ideal of the character in your
head, heard her voice and saw her movements with every line of
the script. But even if you find that dream lover for one night,
when you look at him or her in the light of day, you may find
that the dream was not so perfect after all.
An audition is not a performance.
It’s an opportunity to get information about whether you will
be able to get a good performance when the other elements of
the film are in place. Information, not performance, is what
the director should be concentrating on in casting.
What you need to look for in
casting is the actor’s ability, whether he’s right for the part,
whether you and he can work well together, and finally, making
sure you’re casting not individual roles, but relationships.
The actor’s ability.
Ability is talent plus skill.
That is, the cards fate has dealt the actor through birth and
experience added to whatever he has done to develop this natural
talent. It’s hard to separate which elements of an actor’s work
are due to talent and which to skill, and it doesn’t matter anyway.
If one doesn’t develop his raw talent by learning skills, then
the talent is not available.
Central to an actor’s ability
is that, when he speaks dialogue, he is talking to someone, about
something. Talking "to someone" means he listens to
the other actors, he is present "in the moment," he
is simple and honest-and he has given himself a history and need
to talk to the other character. (And that sense of history, need,
and listening must have moment-by-moment presence even if the
actor has no dialogue.) Talking "about something" means
he has made choices that "fill" the material, so that,
for example, if he has a line, "My sister was a chess champion
at age 16," he has made choices of issues/27/images or backstory that
support and give life and subtext to that statement.
A good actor is expressive in
his face, eyes, voice and body, and is sensorially alive. He
is also emotionally fearless and has a need to perform.
A very good actor will also know
how to make transitions cleanly, fully and believably, and how
to play opposites, that is, go against the obvious reading of
a line and thereby bring out a deeper emotional life or create
a surprise. Intelligence, imagination, taste, instincts, sense
of humor, and insight come into play in his work.
Whether he is right for