"Let your love of actors and performance inspire you" interview with casting director Daniel Edwards
Best known for his work on the British TV Series Mr Selfridge, Ripper Street and Line of Duty, Daniel Edwards talks to Mandy News about how he went from being a successful actor of 25 years to fulfilling his desire of becoming a casting director.
Daniel, tell us a little bit about how you got involved in casting and becoming a casting director?
Well, I was an actor first, for a very, very long time. For over 25 years. I started as a child actor and worked consistently in theatre, film and television. In 2004/5 I didn’t have the passion I once had and I always wanted to do something in the industry.
I’ve always had a fascination with the process of casting, even though at the time I didn’t really understand what it truly involved. I was guilty, like many actors of being tunnel visioned and not truly absorbing all the other departments that make up the industry. I’m a huge television and film addict - television drama predominantly, since I was a kid. So I made the decision to retire, as it were, from acting and I start on the bottom rung in casting, working as a casting assistant for various casting directors and working my way up to a casting associate and then I went solo as CD four and a half years ago.
You’ve worked on some absolutely massive shows such as Mr Selfridge, Ripper Street and Line of Duty. It’s a really long list of stalwart British institutions, in terms of drama. How did you get to work on those? Was it just by working up from being a casting assistant?
I thank the superb and brilliant Kate Rhodes James for that. I became her associate in 2012 and I’d always, always wanted to work with her because I love the way she casts and loved her body of work.
I hadn’t met her prior to working with her, and I got very lucky that a period of time came when I was looking for the next step and got a job with Kate. I started as her associate on the very first series of Mr Selfridge & Ripper Street, and the 2nd series of Line of Duty so I hit the ground running with these incredible shows .
Kate and I bonded instantly. I worked hard for three years but knew soon after that that I was ready to go solo and she absolutely supported that.
When she decided to step down from Mr Selfridge my name was put into the hat. I had to interview, along with other castings directors, but got the gig for Mr Selfridge series 3 and 4. That was my first major solo television drama and to be head of department for a show like that was a real honour and privilege, as well as terrifying.
But I enjoyed the freedom that comes with being a casting director in your own right; it’s about your tastes, your decision-making processes, your love of actors, your love of types of actors. It’s sort of a terrifying joy. A paradox.
Kate and I have always said we would potentially work together on some projects. Ripper Street wanted to do series 5 and 6 back to back, and Kate asked if I would co-cast with her. The same thing happened with Line of Duty series 4 and, now 5.
I feel very honoured – because that leg up that she gave me began to open doors to other projects like The Innocents and Born to Kill. Jack Rowan, the lead in that, just won the Welsh BAFTA and was nominated for a BAFTA and an RTS I feel very proud of my solo work, and I’m beginning to shape my style.
So The Innocents on Netflix, how did that come along? Is it your first production working with Netflix?
Yes, it was my first time working with Netflix. Being a television addict, I watch a lot on Netflix. They’ve evolved over the years into one of the most powerful streaming services who also take risks with their Netflix Originals.
What an exciting industry we are now in, especially for actors. The work that is being produced, not just by Netflix but Amazon and other viewing platforms like Hulu who are telling diverse and interesting stories. This can only be a good thing for actors and viewers alike. We still have along way to go in terms of true equality and diversity but it’s starting and conversations are being had and projects are being green lit that I hope will make wider diverse audiences feel their stories are being recognised and told.
It’s been a real joy and excitement and I feel very proud to have worked on a show of that scale.
What are you currently working on now that you’re allowed to tell us about?
Ive just completed Line of Duty, season 5, with Kate and have started a Channel 4 project with the brilliant Bruce Goodison (director of Born to Kill).
What advice do you have for actors who find themselves in front of casting directors and also for people who want to become casting directors?
It’s so important that anybody working in any department in the entertainment industry knows that it’s not easy to navigate. It’s part luck but also hard work.
For actors the old saying “Knowledge is power”, couldn’t be more accurate! learn as much as you can, know yourself, know your strengths and play to them.
For some reason many actors forget to hone the skills of how to present themselves to other people in what is effectively a job interview, the psychology of how you behave with strangers, how you hold your voice. Do you get nervous as a human being? How do you manage those nerves? What should I be watching on television? What should I be going to see at the theatre? Who are the most popular actors at the moment? Why are they popular? What’s the PACT agreement? What is Equity? ….the list of questions is endless.
Actors should at the very least have thought about these things, so they feel confined enough to put aside all the nervous inner dialogue swirling around in their heads and focus on delivering an interesting, confident performance in an audition.
For anyone wanting to be a casting director It is a job that is part administrative part creative, it’s not just flicking through spotlight and meeting a few actors (which I thought it was to my shame when I was an actor). You have to start on the bottom rung and be prepared to muck in as a junior assistant and work your way up. Casting Directors are freelance so job security is not something that many of us have! So being brave enough to jump in and let your love of actors and performance inspire you.