How to understand what a casting director does
A casting director’s job is to fill the piece they are hired to work on, be it a film, TV one-off, TV series, play, advert or other piece of work, with the best and most suitable actors and performers they can find to play the parts available.
Day to day, they will receive casting breakdowns from the trusting directors or production companies they have been hired by, and then, almost always via Spotlight or another web-based casting service, they publish the character breakdowns online for agents to see and put their clients forward for. On occasion if the part is more specialised, the breakdowns will be viewable for actors on these websites as well so that they may apply for a role themselves, or to tell their agent to put them forward for a role.
Once agents and actors have put their applications forward for a specific character or characters, an agent will then whittle down the (usually huge number of) applications to a more concise list of people they deem the most suitable for the part. The casting director will then contact the actor’s agents or the actors themselves to offer them an audition, and once all the dates and times have been worked out and the auditions have been accepted after a great many emails, these are formally set.
Come audition time, a casting director can see tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of actors for potentially a huge number of parts, or for one high profile part that is much coveted. The audition will consist of the casting director telling the auditionee a little about the project, the character and maybe what they are looking for, and then the actor will perform a speech (most likely for a theatre audition), reading a speech or scene from the play they are auditioning for, improvising a scene they have just been briefed on, or a even taking part in a workshop audition containing sometimes all of the above, as well as theatrical games as well to loosen people up and see how well they respond to each other, for the casting director. This stage, depending on time pressure, will also consist of a discussion about the actor, the actors work and experience, and any thoughts or ideas the actor might have towards the character or piece.
It is then the casting directors job to again whittle down the numbers to either the person they want to cast, or to request a recall audition from a smaller list of the actors from the first round audition, in which the lucky actors will be required to come in again and talk longer about the project, read some more scenes, read or prepare another scene or speech, and maybe improvise some more scenes as well.
Again the list will be whittled down, most likely to the final decision, but this time it will usually be in collusion with the director and maybe the producer of the project, as this list will be a lot smaller. It is the casting director’s job to enlighten the director about the actor, based on what they saw, how they came across, how they feel a certain actor might be suitable for the part, etc. If the audition has been filmed (most likely it has), they will all watch them whilst this decision-making is taking place.
As the more the casting directors know about actors it quickens their decision making time at every step of the process, it benefits the casting director to personally know as many high quality actors as they can, and to know who the new ‘hot talent’ is, so that they can contact first them to audition them for parts. The casting director who cast Michael Fassbender in ‘Hunger’ will most likely now still be reaping the benefits, as this star-making casting will only reflect brilliantly on them too, heightening their reputation. Also, this casting director can go to him again, as this is a person they will trust to provide them with good work. The moral of the story here? Getting to know casting directors, producing high quality work for them and the directors they work with, and keeping in touch with them should benefit their career, as well as, of course much more importantly, yours too.