EXCLUSIVE: Luther casting director Andy Morgan shares audition tips, his career journey and more
Golden Globe-winning crime drama Luther, starring Idris Elba, will soon be hitting screens for season 5 after a two-year absence and Mandy News had the pleasure of speaking with the hit show's casting director Andy Morgan about how he casts Luther, what actors can do to succeed in auditions and what it takes to become a casting director.
Andy, please introduce yourself and tell us about how you became involved in the world of casting and working in film and television.
I work exclusively in prime time network UK TV. I don’t do film – but only because no-one’s ever asked me! I was born and raised in a very small, working class industrial town in South Wales, Port Talbot – the home town of Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton.
I left home when I was 19 years old to go to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where I trained as an actor. It’s odd to look back, but I never actually made a conscious decision that I wanted to be an actor, it just naturally progressed from loving drama at school etc. It was only when I was older that I stood back and thought “hang on a minute, do I really want to do this?”
After graduating from The Guildhall, I worked as an actor for almost nine years and was very, very fortunate to work an awful lot. Looking back on it, I’ve no idea why, because I really genuinely believe I wasn’t terribly good at all but, for some reason, the work just kept coming. I worked a lot for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, Alan Ayckbourn, did bits and bobs on telly and also, believe it or not, a stint in Les Miserables – which came my way after working with John Caird at the RSC.
I guess I was something of a ‘late bloomer’…I did a lot of my growing up and finding out who I really was in my 20s. It was then that I suddenly realised that I wasn’t happy when I was working and I wasn’t happy when I wasn’t working...so something, somewhere, wasn’t right. That’s that I didn’t have a burning desire to be an actor. I don’t think I had the disposition for it and I don’t think I was good enough. I found the audition process agonising and the rejections even more agonising. I decided that it wasn’t for me and it must have been the right decision because, from that moment on, I can honestly say I’ve never had a moment’s regret about it. Even though I didn’t have a clue how I was going to pay the mortgage or eat!
Through a bizarre series of circumstances, I found myself working in the event management field of major rock and pop events. I ended up working for Harvey Goldsmith, who is one of the UK’s most prolific promoters, and was part of his team managing events like Pavarotti in Hyde Park, The Eagles on tour and Jules Holland at Wembley Arena. It was great. I enjoyed it – and did that for about three years – but what I discovered was that I missed the ‘world’. I didn’t miss being an actor at all but I missed the industry.
I had a friend who I’d been to drama school with, Kate Rhodes James, and, by that point, she was quite established as a casting director. I’d never even considered being a casting director or working in casting, but she asked me to do bits and bobs for her and, after about 6-9 months, she called me and asked me if I would be her full-time assistant. I jumped at it.
That’s where my journey began. We ended up working together for just over seven years. I started as her assistant and then became her Associate. I loved it!
Towards the end of my time with Kate, several opportunities presented themselves for me to do projects on my own but, for whatever reason, I always passed on them. Then one of the last projects that Kate and I did together was a series called Waking the Dead. Kate was on maternity leave at the time, having her second daughter, and so I forged a really, really terrific working relationship with the chap who was series producing - Colin Wratten.
The series was a success and they then came back to ask us to do another series, but Kate had already committed herself to other projects and so they asked me do it on my own. And for some reason, certainly not because I was unhappy or anything of that nature, it just felt like the right time to make a move. So I did the following series of Waking the Dead, and the BBC very quickly offered me two of the three drama-biopics that they were making on classic British Entertainers Frankie Howerd and Hughie Green. Then through a very kind recommendation from an agent, I found myself being asked to interview for the new British version of Law & Order which Kudos were making for the UK. I didn’t think I had a hope in hell’s chance of getting it but, lo and behold, I did. That was a massive learning curve because it was 13 episodes per series, which is a lot more than a traditional UK series. It was high volume and an incredibly quick turnaround.
Then, again, thanks to a very lucky, positive working relationship with one of the execs on Law & Order UK (Andrew Woodhead, who now runs Working Title Television) I was recommended to one of his colleagues who was looking for a casting director for a new series called Luther.
That’s basically how it all started. I remember at the time being aware that I was up against some incredible, very established, highly respected people. I couldn’t quite believe it when they asked me to do it. I guess that’s what cemented my career and put me on the map!
What’s the process of working on a show like Luther?
It all starts with getting the material. The job of a casting director is to establish the landscape of the piece, be that socially, tonally, emotionally, geographically, intellectually or whatever. You have to be forensic in your approach to the material. Then, in the broadest terms possible, you have to populate the piece with actors who feel ‘of that world’, who feel real in the world, who feel authentic and who belong there. Whether it’s 2018 urban London for Luther, 1960s Liverpool for Cilla or 17th Century Paris for The Musketeers, it’s all about populating that world with actors who feel ‘of those worlds’. Then the process is about me presenting the production with viable options for each role. And depending on the status of the individual actors, it would then invariably be either direct offers or an audition process through meetings.
You said before that when you were an actor, you dreaded the audition process. Now that you find yourself on the other side, do you have a special way of dealing with actors when they come?
What I have is an understanding. A good casting director needn’t have been an actor to understand how daunting auditions are, though. My experience as an actor was particularly daunting because I genuinely didn’t have an understanding of the process and of the expectations on me as an actor. I had no clue.
So whenever I can, especially with young actors, or actors who are new to working on camera, I will always, where possible, try to make myself available to them, even if it’s just immediately prior to the meeting. I will always go and meet the actors to bring them into the casting room and, even if it’s just a two minute chat, I’ll find a way to say “Are you OK? Is there anything I can help with before we go in?” etc. If the director works in a specific way – because all directors are different – I’m able to say, perhaps, “this director isn’t particularly chatty but he’s a really nice chap” or “this director doesn’t particularly work the scenes, please don’t think that means he hates you.” Anything that can give them the heads up and put them at ease.
Then, when we get in the room, I really do see it as part of the job of the casting director to introduce everyone and set up a dialogue in the room. Of course, you then give the room to the Director or Producer, but initially you try to put the actor at ease because it’s terribly daunting. I’m sure, if my experience was anything to go by, it never gets any easier. One becomes accustomed to it but it never gets easier.
Hopefully, what my past life gives me is a real understanding but there are many wonderful casting directors around who don’t have histories of being actors who are just a joy and a delight and empathetic to the situation of the actor.
In a situation when you’re not there to help someone, what advice would you give to actors walking to an audition room?
The best piece of advice to any actor going into a casting situation – both to alleviate any nerves and also in terms of giving themselves the best shot in the room – is make sure that you’re not walking into that room unprepared. Be forensic in your preparation. It is ALL ABOUT the work.
The actor’s responsibility is to take a piece of material, whether it’s a 25 page scene or a role with three lines, and make it walk and talk and live and breathe. You have to turn dialogue into a real, authentic conversation between two or more real people with real relationships in a real situation. I never underestimate the amount of work that it takes for an actor to do that or the amount of choices that an actor has to make, even in the most modest of scenes. That would be my top tip, never expose yourself to going into a situation where you’re unprepared because not only then will you not get the job but you may find it difficult to get back in that room again. Being as prepared as possible is the best antidote to nerves in my view.
Never forget that casting directors are all accountable to the producers and to the production, so if we bring in people who are either blatantly wrong for a role, or who are unprepared, or unprofessional, or are not taking the work seriously, then that will reflect badly on us.
What advice would you give to an aspiring casting director?
Casting is not an exact science. There is no right or wrong way to do it. You could have 25 casting directors in front of you and get 23 different opinions on something. There are various routes into it. If someone were very keen on getting into it, the reality is starting as a casting assistant. Your primary responsibility in those early days is administrative. The ability to multi-task and to be accurate with information. Organisational skills are key, being familiar with different computer programmes - like Word or Microsoft or Mac, Excel – and how to create spreadsheets. That’s one area where I think one needs to be strong, initially.
I would say to people watch actors, watch television, go to the movies and go to the theatre. Try and find out what your taste is because, at the end of the day, a casting director is employed for their tastes and their opinions. That’s exactly what we’re employed for so, in the early stages, even though the focus might be administrative, start working in the background. Start having a look at what you like, what you don’t like it, why you don’t like it, why you do like it and so on and so forth.
Eventually, if one is lucky enough to have a career in casting, your knowledge of actors needs to be encyclopaedic so you can’t start on that soon enough. Don’t be afraid to reach out to different offices. If you watch a series, a one-off, a film or whatever - look out for who cast it! There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to that particular office and seeing if there are any opportunities for work experience or internships.
These days, the CDG (Casting Director Guild) is very mindful of unpaid interns not being exploited in any way, so one has to tread very carefully with that. No-one wants to be taken for granted. But reach out: see if someone has five minutes to have a cup of coffee. Most offices are very busy – I can’t guarantee that the answer will always be yes but you have to try. In the meantime, work on administrate stuff, make sure you’re computer literate.
Start watching, start developing, start getting a sense of what your taste is, what actors you like. It can be a long old journey but it’s far from being an impossible one.
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