Mandy.com’s Casting Director of the Year 2016, Ben Cogan has cast Eastenders, Holby City, Casualty and Doctors as well as a string of films including Edinburgh Film Festival Audience Award winner Just Charlie, thriller Trendy and drama Amaryllis as well as working on Oscar-nominated Wish 143.
Here he tells Mandy News about his career so far and offers incredible advice to actors.
Tell us a little bit about who you are, where you’re from and how you got into casting?
I’ve worked in casting for nearly 18 years. I'd done some work experience at the BBC while doing my Business Studies degree and, off the back of that, on my graduation day, I got the job to be a casting assistant on Eastenders.
I threw myself into it and accepted all the invitations I was given from actors and it was really from going to all those fringe shows that my love for actors really began. I remember going to see one play, with an actor called Oliver Lansley. He’d invited me to go and see him in a production of ‘Greek’ somewhere in Hammersmith and he was brilliant. The next day I was in my boss’s office and gave his CV to her and said: "That part you’re looking for, for those four episodes of Eastenders, I think he’d be really good." So she called him in and he got it.
I just had this huge epiphany, where I thought ‘My God, what an amazing responsibility and what an incredible opportunity,’ and that was it really!
So, I moved on and I was blessed to be mentored by Jane Deitch at the BBC. She gave me an opportunity on Doctors were I stayed for four years and learned everything I possibly could. Later I went on to Casualty, which I did for seven years while doing other things, like casting a spin-off show for Barbara Machin, who created Waking the Dead. I also worked on a short film which got nominated for an Oscar.
And then you set up your own casting company?
Yes. I was always quite thirsty for another challenge and the jump was to move into freelancing. I’ve been blessed to move towards independent films, shorts, and children's TV.
When I’m not casting, the beautiful thing about the company or about what I’ve been doing is that I get to work with actors. I’ve always felt indebted to them and love being around them. I've always done workshops, talking at drama schools like LAMDA, Rose Bruford, Central, DSL, and Identity, working closely with Femi Oguns (Identity Agency). I like to teach what I've learnt about casting and make it a less terrifying experience for actors. To give them an insight into what’s expected of them, how to approach auditions and how to prepare.
I also do one-to-ones with actors, where I meet with them and talk confidentially to them about anything that they’re particularly worried about. I'll answer things like "I’m having auditions but I’m not getting the jobs," or "I’ve got an audition coming up, and I really want to work through it with somebody," or just "I’m finding it difficult- I don’t know how to approach finding an agent." It’s tailored to what the actor wants it to be, and it’s been wonderful because what I’ve found is that whatever I learn from one actor is always going to be beneficial for the next actor. The concerns and the anxieties are all the same. It upsets me to think that a job that I love doing, like a full day’s casting, is a complete and utter delight for me but that some actors are struggling to sleep the night before because of anxiety, fear or worry.
If I could rename the word audition and call it a “character workshop”, I would. I just really want to stress to actors that whatever happens when you come into an audition, you are essentially a solution to my problem. You are my guest. Enjoy that. Embrace it. Always remember that the best audition of your life will not necessarily get you the job, but having a reputation as somebody who auditions well will get you more auditions.
If you embrace that, then it just comes down to how you perform in the room and that frees you from treating auditions like a driving test or a job interview. It’s an incredible platform to talk to a casting director for the first time and show them what you’re about.
What are your do's and don’ts for castings?
We’ll start with the negative because I want to get it out of the way! Don’t come in with a hangover of your last audition, don’t think you’re not worthy to be seen. Always remember that you’re there on merit, and listen. So much about an audition is the connection between the actor and the director, and the ability to listen to what’s being asked is paramount.
The number one reason why actors don’t get the gig is that they do two very competent reads but when they leave the room, the director turns around and says ‘they didn’t take the note.’ Bring something in that’s going to infuse the room but then can be moulded by the director’s requirements.
I suppose that the dos are, enjoy it. But remember, it’s okay to be nervous. Nervousness just means that it means something.
Tell us what you've cast recently
Recently, I cast the film Just Charlie about a child transitioning, which just won the Edinburgh audience award.
Also, another film I cast, Trendy, has just had its world premiere at the Raindance Film Festival. It’s an East End thriller and an observation of the East End today. They’re both ambitious independent films.
I am just starting out in this big world, you make a lot of sense, I’m working with my Agent and using all of your tips. Thank you so much Paris.
We got great feed back from Ben after our son made it to round 3 of A BBC children's show. He's a man who knows what is right and wrong in a casting and very interactive . Carry on Ben A +
This is a really interesting read - and usefully underlines how you should enjoy auditions/'character workshops'. I've not met Ben yet, but look forward to doing so!
I've met Ben a few times now, and I can say with 100% conviction, he really is into helping actors become the best they can be. He genuinely cares, and is willing to share what he knows from his side of the casting process. He certainly gave me a lot of insight into the audition process I hadn't perceived before. He's also VERY approachable.
Such a heartening read. It's clear as daylight that Ben enjoys what he does and really likes being around actors - and this sets a great tone for the audition/'character workshop' to be a place of warm collaboration and daring,creative experiment.
Inspriring insight. Thanks, Andrew!
It's wonderful to get an insight into what the reality of a situation really is, I will definitely enjoy my 'character workshop' tomorrow! Thank you Ben Cogan and also Mandy.com.
I found this really inspiring and useful. I have a ‘character workshop’ tomorrow. What a grea name! Also what a great reminder! To listen, have fun and enjoy exploring as many ways the director will want to try the scene in. Thank you.
Really enjoyed reading this. Now I know when a director gives me direction and they compliment me on following through as directed, it isn't a bad thing. Especially when I don't get a call back. Never looked at it that way.
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