'Be natural' CDA award-winning casting director Sue Odell on casting for commercials and films

Sue Odell is a talented casting director who has worked with clients such as Pedigree, GymBox, Gilette, Harvey Nichols, Barnado's, NatWest and TFL and just won Best Casting of Stills for her work on a Barnardo's "Believe in Me" campaign and Best Casting of a Short Film for His Wake at the Casting Directors Association Awards 2018. Here she tells Mandy News about her casting journey so far, the realities of day-to-day work and what actors can do to impress in an audition.

17th May 2018
/ By Andrew Wooding

Casting director Sue Odell interview SUEODELL

Congratulations on your CDA award! Tell us a little bit about when you decided to launch your amazing casting career and how you went about it.
Thank you for the congratulations! I was well chuffed to win TWO awards (Best Casting - Short Film and Best Castings - Stills Advertising Campaign). I was working with a photographer in the mid 1980s, cleaning the loos, making the lunches, when he started working on some Smirnoff ad campaigns and needed to find subjects. I didn’t know there were ‘model agencies’ so I literally went out where I live (Camden) and found people on the street.

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What is the key to being a great casting director?
Always people-watching, observing, not being shy or hesitant. Being decisive, confident, open. Personally, I always meet every actor at every casting and take my own casting photographs too. I don’t pass this role on to an assistant. Meeting actors is the most important part of my job.

Who do you interact with on a daily/weekly/annual basis? What are the challenges and rewards?
I am always searching out new talent, at showcases, young theatre groups, drama clubs for older people…The best reward? Calling someone and saying "You’ve got the job!"

You won CDA awards for Barnardo's "Believe in Me" and short film His Wake? Did they feel particularly special, challenging or interesting to work on?
Yes, both projects were massively special and I was thrilled that they were rewarded. Working on no-budget films (or low-budget charity jobs) is wonderful and so worthwhile. I was able to put so much of myself into these jobs and also had the luxury of time (rather than money) to explore, research, meet and find wonderful "real" subjects. They all come to castings at my house, which is relaxed, friendly and enjoyable. 

My studio is open at weekends and evenings so subjects aren’t put under huge pressure to attend at short notice and inconvenient times.

What’s your most challenging casting and/or job you’re most proud of?
Gosh, I’ve had a long career and can’t really narrow it down to one job. The most exciting client has always been Barnardo’s. I’ve worked on numerous award-winning campaigns for them…..and I’m really proud of His Wake and most recently My Brother Is A Mermaid which is the second transgender film I’ve cast…..

What changes for you – and the team, the actors – when working on stills vs. moving image? How do the turnaround times or schedules differ?
Well the stills-advertising campaigns I cast are often on the most ridiculously tight schedules, giving me hardly any time to organise the castings. While with the low-budget films I cast, I get given much longer lead-times. The directors are always so, so grateful and enthusiastic. The atmosphere at film castings can be the polar opposite of that at an advertising casting when clients can seem distracted and uncommunicative.

What advice can you give to actors in terms of being great in a casting or self-tape scenario?
Be natural. Arrive on time.