'Don’t give up' Hollyoaks casting director Peter Hunt shares audition and self-tape tips for actor

Peter Hunt is the Head of Casting and Casting Director of Hollyoaks for Lime Pictures and has also cast the music video 'Desire' for award-winning British electronica outfit Years & Years. After an incredible Free 1-2-1 Mandy Actors SurgeryMandy News talked to Peter about what actors can do to stand out and win acting roles.

14th January 2018
/ By Andrew Wooding

Peter Hunt – casting director PETERHUNT

Tell us a little bit about how you ended up becoming a casting director in the first place.
I started out as an actor when I was 15, doing the rounds in various TV dramas and soaps, including the one that I now work on. It’s weird now working in the office that I was petrified of at age 15 [laughs]. I acted throughout my late teens and early twenties and then it started getting to the stage where my agent was putting me up for jobs that I didn’t think I was right for.

I started thinking about other people that should be going for the roles instead of me and I made those suggestions, which didn’t go down too well with the agent. It was at that point that both of us thought that maybe I should look to move into casting. I started assisting various casting directors and found out that I really enjoyed reading scripts and thinking of, and finding, actors more than I ever did acting.

That then built from assisting various casting directors to slowly being approached to do things on my own.

Tell us a little bit about what you have worked on and what Lime Pictures do.
As a freelance casting director, I worked on a range of different things. I worked on a film called Veda, which shot in the UK, America and Europe. I’ve also worked on music videos for various bands including Years & Years and theatre projects, both for both regional and London theatres.

Then I moved across to Hollyoaks, which is made by Lime Pictures. On top of Hollyoaks, I’m Head of Casting for Lime so I oversee and assist the needs of other shows such as Free Rein, that we’ve got coming out on Netflix, and Evermoor which goes out on the Disney platforms.

Tell us what your day-to-day tasks are as a casting director, with a view to actors knowing what your responsibilities are, and who you liaise with at Lime.
Hollyoaks is quite a beast in itself. That goes out five nights a week on E4 and Channel 4. In terms of its demographic, it’s one of the most popular shows between 16 and mid-30s, both of the channel and any other show within the country.

It has a big cast, because we make so many episodes. It’s still shot single camera, so there’s up to five or six film crews at any one point, filming five episodes around one building. It’s a bit crazy. So that is managing actors coming in and out – both new regulars, semi-regulars – but also, as with any soap, there’s always lots of death and marriages that involve all sorts of guests players.

I’m really in three different time periods within the story, watching what goes out on telly, thinking long-term about characters that are going to be arriving within the next eighteen months, and I’m also thinking about what we’re casting right now in terms of the episodic scripts.

Where do you cast your net and what sort of things catch your eye generally? What do you look for, creatively and professionally in actors?
It’s a bit of a mix, really. There’s a real range of places that you find them. I don’t think you can just rely on finding people in one place, so it’s a range of different websites and casting platforms…

I like going out and about to see people, so that might be going to traditional drama school showcases. I also find quite a lot of actors at part-time evening workshops and other workshops throughout the country. I go to pub theatre and watch showreels and clips that people send me. 

I think it’s down to the actor to work out what kind of shows they’re right for and then find out the best method of getting themselves seen. It just means you’ve got to be cleverer than other people and think of ways to do that.

What do you expect to see from a showreel?
I hate montages. I always like showreels to kick in straight away. I always think you should put your best stuff at the beginning, because you’ve got to presume that someone’s not going to watch four or five minutes’ worth of your material, especially if they don’t know you.

Depending on the amount of submissions you get to watch every day, if one were to watch every showreel, you wouldn’t really get much else done. So always put your best scenes first. That’s part of the reason to get rid of the montages at the beginning, because often you end up trying to skip to where you think it starts, but then you might have missed the best stuff.

Less is more. You don’t need five minutes to make you look like you’ve done loads or you’re super experienced. One really good to-the-point scene, 30 seconds to a minute.

Make sure it’s purely focused on you. Sometimes, I get confused and don’t know who I’m watching. I should know whose showreel I’m watching. The worst is when you become interested in the other person, and it’s not that person that’s emailed you. Make sure it is all about you. It doesn’t need to be overly linear. If you need to cut bits out in order to do that, do that.

For a casting, what are some dos and don’ts for actors?
In terms of coming into the room, realise that people in that room want you to be good. Actors can often be quite negative and think they’re not experienced enough, tall enough or whatever it is. You might read the brief and decide you’re not right for it, but of course there are at least two people who think you are; the casting director and your agent. You’ve got to trust in them.

Sometimes, you might not be spot-on what the brief says, but there’s reasoning behind that in that perhaps the casting directors see a quality that they think is different to the brief but is as interesting as what’s been written. Trust in the people that have got you in the room and that you’re there for a reason. Why would people see you if you were bad? Why would you see all these people for a job if you thought they were terrible actors or couldn’t do it? It would be a huge waste of your time, and you wouldn’t look like you were very good at your job, for directors and producers.

If you’ve made it into the room, people think you’re good, so you have to go in there and live up to that. Have the same confidence that everybody else in the room does.

Have an opinion, as well. “What have you been up to recently?” is one of the questions I ask. It’s quite a broad question. It’s open. I don’t care if you talk about acting work. It could be that you’ve come back from holiday, just something that shows that you’ve got a bit of personality. If someone replies “not much,” it’s not really a great impression.

Even if you’re trying to answer that in an acting way but you’ve not had a huge amount of work, maybe you’ve moved into writing your own material or you’re doing additional classes to top up your skills, there’s a way of spinning that in a positive way rather than heading towards the negative. I don’t think those negative attitudes make you an attractive prospect to want to work with in a potentially twelve-hour day.

Be the kind of person that people want to work with. Often, I’ve been sat with directors when they’ve made the choice between two people for a guest role in an episode, where both of them could equally do the job. I ask them what swayed the decision, and they say “because after a twelve-hour night shoot, that’s the person that I’d want to go for a beer with” or “that’s the person that I can imagine being a team player and keeping us going.”

It’s about who you want to work with as much as the talent that people demonstrate.

Social media. Do actors need to be aware of its impact to potential employers?
I think so because of the audience demographic, our show also very much exists on an online platform as well through social media and interaction with our audience. I think you’ve got to be aware of what you’re putting out there, especially if you’re using your real name as your actor name.

I have to say, when we get to the later stages for regulars, I do Google the people that are coming in, which often brings up social media. Twitter profiles and the like often detail pictures on nights out, holidays… It also gives you an idea of someone’s personality/humour. I’m not saying decisions are made from that, but if you’re putting that out there in the world, then you have to realise that it is open for everyone to see, including potential employers.

I once heard a producer say to an actor, “Don’t ever post anything on social media that you wouldn’t wear on a T-shirt”. I thought it was brilliant. I think there’s something quite interesting about that concept. Especially if you’re younger. A lot of the younger actors of the show come in at 18 or 19, that’s really young to come from quite a sheltered world to the world of acting.

With actors now, it’s a direct dialogue. Your audience watch your show on TV and they can let you know what they think about it directly, which is brilliant, but I think it’s also hugely scary because along with the compliments, you’re also going to get the negativity.

Back in the day, it took a lot of effort to write you a letter — now, your programme goes out and people can tell you what they think thirty seconds later. You have to be quite thick-skinned.

What advice would you give to actors who want to work in TV on a regular basis?
A couple of things. Don’t give up. There are actors that I’ve given regular roles to that were on the brink of giving up, but persisted, and they hadn’t worked for years or they had never done telly before. You just don’t know when that call is going to come or who from.

You’ve got to keep your skills up, so make sure you’re still attending classes, networking events and keeping yourself in touch with what’s going on. Keep working hard and don’t presume that your agent is going to do everything for you and that bulk emailing a group of casting directors is really working hard.

Think of new innovative ways to get your stuff seen, to get yourself out there. If you’re not doing it, somebody else will be and they’ll be the one moving forwards. Continue to push yourself in new and interesting ways.

Comments

Alma Simpson

18-10-2018

This is very encouraging to read. Thank you Peter. As a returning actress in my 60s, maybe there is still hope!!

Sarah Mhlanga

17-08-2018

Thanks Peter. Your advice about staying positive during Castings has really given me a new lease of strength and enthusiasm to go for my next one :) Just a quick question about Show-reels, should I put my featured part on TOWIE on my acting show-reel, even though it's reality TV?

Tess Hardy

06-02-2018

Congratulations Peter! I really enjoyed the workshop you came and did with us East 15 MA-ers a couple years back!
All the best, Tess.

Simon Manley

06-02-2018

Congratulations Peter.

Nakib Narat

04-02-2018

Loved this brilliant interview. .Reassuring, practical insights and a genuine affirmation of mutual value in our wonderful industry. Thank you.

Ben Bull

03-02-2018

Congratulations on your win Peter. Well deserved. A strong article too, as an actor it's always reassuring to see that you're on the right track. Thank you. Ben Bull

Sara Dee

02-02-2018

Brilliantly grounded, positive and insightful read. Thank you Peter and Congratulations.

Fiona Thompson

02-02-2018

Valuable guidance about showreels. Thanks to Mandy for sharing this and of course to Peter Hunt.

Samantha Watson

01-02-2018

Congratulations!

Lucille Mcdonald

19-01-2018

Thank you , that was very informative and encouraging. I wont be giving up until , I have a Zimmer frame.

Philip D McQuillan

19-01-2018

Great article and advice from Peter Hunt, you never know what's round the corner!

Maureen Bryan

19-01-2018

Perfect

Derek Clarkson

18-01-2018

Have hope - have love - be kind to yourself

Simone Holmes

18-01-2018

Honest and great advice for every actor!

Jeryl Burgess

18-01-2018

Excellent and timely advice. Thank you.

Paul Collin-Thomas

15-01-2018

Inspiring read. Always good to see advice from the minds of the casting world.

Thank you to mandy and of course Peter Hunt. I'll be checking back in regularly if there's more insight from real people like this.