Casting and Acting on Screen
Actor Billy Barratt, his mum Carolyn Owlett and casting director Daniel Edwards CDG join us for a chat about working on screen.
In this episode, we speak to Billy Barratt, a 13-year-old performer who won the International Emmy for Best Performance by an Actor for his role as Ray in Responsible Child, a factual drama about a boy who gets put on trial for murder at the age of 12. Billy shares how he prepared for the role and offers helpful tips for other young performers who want to pursue a career in acting.
We're also joined by Daniel Edwards CDG who cast Billy not only in this role but also in the drama series Mr Selfridge. Daniel gives valuable insight into how he casts projects for screen and shares how he keeps track of young performers' developing careers.
Billy's mum, Carolyn, offers some great insight into how her own acting background has helped her navigate the industry as a parent of a young performer. A must-listen if you have a child looking to get into acting.
56 minute listen or a full transcript of the episode can be found below.
Kristyn Coutts: Hello, and welcome to the Spotlight Podcast. My name's Kristyn Coutts, I work at Spotlight and in today's episode I'm going to be chatting to Emmy award-winning actor Billy Barratt, his mum Carolyn, and casting director Daniel Edwards, CDG.
We'll be discussing how they all worked together when Billy was cast at 12-years-old in Responsible Child. It's the role that won him the Emmy for Best Performance by an Actor. We'll also be discussing casting in general, Carolyn offers advice for other parents, and Billy also comes up with some really helpful tips for other young performers. It's a podcast full of useful information and laughter, so I really hope you enjoy it.
Kristyn Coutts: Okay, so Billy, Daniel, Carolyn, thank you so much for joining us today on The Spotlight Podcast. I'm delighted to have you all.
Daniel Edwards: Pleasure.
Billy Barratt: Thank you.
Carolyn Owlett: Good to be here.
Kristyn Coutts: And first of all, I'd like to say congratulations Billy on your Emmy win last year.
Billy Barratt: Thank you very much.
Kristyn Coutts: Yay!
Billy Barratt: Thank you very much. Yeah, very excited. It was amazing. I wasn't actually thinking about it though, because when we were actually filming Responsible Child, I was not thinking about awards at all. I didn't even know what they were at the time.
Kristyn Coutts: I watched the video, and honestly, your face, you were so shocked. It was just amazing to watch. How was that whole experience for you?
Billy Barratt: You know what? It was really funny at the time, because I didn't think I was going to win, and neither did Mum. I was actually so excited that I just got the nomination. But then Mum didn't think it as well, so much so that she actually ordered a food shop to come at the same time as the award was being announced. So we're there, the guy's like, "Okay, I'm going to put you through now. Good luck." I'm just like, "Okay, okay, okay."
Ding dong, bell goes. Mum goes to answer the door, it's the food shop. She goes, "Oh my God, we have to unpack all the food." I was like, "They're putting me through to the Emmy and everything." So I'm just sitting there, trying to act normal and everything. She comes to sit down, she tells the guys to wait and then I'm just there like, "Okay." I was looking outside at something else, and then they called my name. I was like, "Wait, what?"
And then that was amazing. I said the whole speech and everything, and then afterwards she went and got the food shop. It was so funny.
Daniel Edwards: Bringing it back to realness.
Kristyn Coutts: I know.
Billy Barratt: Yeah, yeah. Straightaway.
Kristyn Coutts: I was going to ask how that moment was for you Carolyn, but I guess it was a surprise!
Carolyn Owlett: Complete surprise. I think for us we were just so mind blown that he'd been nominated at all. So that was enough for us. But obviously, not going to say no and hand it back, but it was amazing. But yeah, like Bill said, I don't think any of us had planned for it, and it was an amazing surprise. A true surprise, as you probably saw by my face if you watched the news.
Kristyn Coutts: Yes.
Daniel Edwards: Oh, yeah.
Kristyn Coutts: And then as part of your acceptance speech Billy, you thanked Daniel Edwards. And of course, Daniel, you cast Billy in that role.
Daniel Edwards: Yeah.
Kristyn Coutts: How did that particular project come your way? Do you get approached, or do you have to pitch for projects you're interested in?
Daniel Edwards: You have to pitch. I do get offered, I'm in a lovely position that some work I get offered, but some work I still have to pitch for. I used to be an actor, so I know what it's like to audition, so you sort of have to audition, and you have to talk about the process and how you would go about casting a particular show that you are meeting on.
I was asked to come in, I'd been recommended because I've cast children and young actors before. So I came into Kudos, had a meeting with Elinor Day, the producer and the Exec. Producer and the Director. And I talked about how, because we had such little time, usually for a child casting at this level and the enormity of what this required of this particular character, the character of Ray, I would hope to have at least three months to search for said exceptional child actor. But I had five or six weeks. So I said how I would go about that in a very, very short space of time, and I think that won me the gig because of my confidence in my relationship with agents, and in particular with youth theatres and child agents.
So I pitched for the job, and I got the job, and we literally got started straight away. I split it into two things. We did workshops at the weekend for young actors that I'd never met before, and then during the week we were meeting actors that I'd either cast before or I'd met before. And Billy was one of them, and obviously I got on very, very well with Billy's agent, with Julie.
I last cast Billy in Mr. Selfridge when he was seven or eight, and of course the next thing I'm looking at this photograph of this young man who's 12. I was like, "Where did that time go?" And always as a casting director, when you've cast a child child, as Bill was in Mr. Selfridge, and you know that they're still in the industry, you really hope that their skill has grown and evolved. Because there's nothing sadder in a way than when that disappears. I've worked with child actors when they're seven or eight, and then you meet them at 12, 13 and they've just lost the instinct and the naturalism that made them brilliant when they were young.
Actually it was my associate Lucy, I couldn't get down to Sylvia Young, to Billy's school to meet Billy, but I thought, "It's fine, Lucy can put him on tape," because obviously I'd met him. And then his tape was just off the scale. I suppose two pronged things, one, I was so pleased that he had developed and grown as an actor, as a performer, from this shy little kid that came in with his bow tie for Mr. Selfridge, and sat there and delivered his little lines, he's mortified by that, to this young man with instinct. And he just really captured the darkness and the trauma that we needed for Ray.
And then from there on, he was straight into the recall groups after that. And then again, but he still had to go through the process that the other short-listed boys had to go through, which was a mixture of boys that have never done anything, and boys like Billy who were quite experienced. And that was going to be the hardest bit. It was the recalls, working with Nick, working with Elinor, working with me, working with the actors that we were looking at to play the brother. Billy just stood his ground, and it's one of those... I just knew. I just knew from the first tape he did with Lucy, I just thought, "If it's not Billy, then it's going to have to be somebody even better than he is doing it," and he was right at the top. And that's a really good yard stick for a casting director. If you find an actor that is really nailing it on so many things, you can then make choices about all the other actors around it. If they haven't hit that level, then there's no point in pursuing it.
Kristyn Coutts: Right.
Daniel Edwards: Does that make sense?
Kristyn Coutts: Yep.
Daniel Edwards: So Billy basically, in a nutshell, what Billy did with my associate Lucy on that first audition tape, to all of the recalls after that, and the chemistry reads. I thought it in my heart. You never want to think, "It's going to be Billy, it's going to be Billy," but I knew it was going to be Billy unless he suddenly came into a recall and just completely flopped. Because that happens. You come in, you're a bit knackered, you've had a row with your mum, you can't be bothered, and then suddenly you're just rubbish. But he wasn't rubbish.
I have to just say, I have to say this because it makes me laugh every time. Do you mind if I just bring this little story in? In the chemistry readings, because they were very intense, we had to get Carolyn's approval and Billy's dad's approval about the script and stuff like that. The content of the script, which was really, really important. Because we knew at the chemistry read stage we were going to have to explore, but Elinor the producer said, "I just think that maybe we don't swear." Billy was 12 at the time, and maybe we just tone down the language. And of course what we did is I played the father, I played the step-father in the scenes, I read the scenes they were trying to record, and I got so carried away, because Billy was so brilliant, and the actor that we'd shortlisted, his brother, I got so carried away, we were improvising. And I threw a chair, not at Billy, but I threw a chair across the floor, away from Billy, and then I just started swearing. Do you remember Billy? I started going-
Billy Barratt: I do remember that.
Daniel Edwards: ... Yeah, you remember.
Billy Barratt: Yeah.
Daniel Edwards: And what is hilarious is that Billy got the giggles-
Billy Barratt: I did.
Daniel Edwards: ... because I was f-ing and blinding, and I'd completely forgotten. And then I looked at Elinor, the producer's face, who was just rigid. Just like, "What are you doing, what are you doing?" And there's a beautiful moment in the tape of Billy just trying, I can't really demonstrate it because obviously you're just hearing audibly, but trying to muffle the laughter. Because he was just so taken aback by my f-ing and blinding, but it's a moment of joy because he managed to stifle the laughter, and then at the end of the take when we got through the scene, he just burst out laughing.
Billy Barratt: Yeah.
Daniel Edwards: He just looked at me and he went, "Swearing." I was like, "Oh, no." Anyways, so in a nutshell, a long-winded answer to your question, yes I interview, yes Billy was just absolutely exceptional.
And just tying into your question to Billy, you always hope the show that you work on. And like Billy and Carolyn, I was just so excited that the show was nominated, and that Billy, more importantly from a casting director's point of view, that Billy was nominated. It's not that I didn't think he would win, but you just think it's such a huge thing, and you've got all these other actors nominated, and he's effectively a ‘child actor’, how's that going to play with the voters? And for him to win, I just have never screamed so much in my life. Just pride, as well.
Anyway, I'm rambling now. Ask another question otherwise I'm just rambling.
I was really proud, because you look at the journey from Mr. Selfridge at the age of seven, eight, to the age of 13 obviously when the show was aired, but you look at that development and a huge sense of pride and also admiration for a skill set which is just off the charts.
Sorry, I just talked for about 25 minutes, didn't I?
Billy Barratt: Can I just say, thank you very much. That's very nice of you. Yeah. No, thank you very, very much. And also, I think the only reason I didn't cry at the Emmy's was probably just because I cried so much in Responsible Child that it just had to be laughter instead of tears.
Daniel Edwards: It's so true.
Billy Barratt: Thank you very much, that was very nice.
Daniel Edwards: You have no liquid left. We could wax lyrical about his performance and what won him the Emmy. There are particular scenes, but to bring that level of emotion and maturity. And I also think we have to tie in, and sorry if I'm pre-empting any questions, but I think because Billy's family are so supportive, and Carolyn you're just like the coolest mother ever.
Billy Barratt: True.
Daniel Edwards: But I think it makes a huge, huge difference that Billy's step-father, and Billy's dad and Carolyn were 100% behind him through the process. Because something that your dad said to us Billy, that he just wanted to check that you were, when we sent the script for him and Carolyn to approve, he said he just wanted just to dot the i's and cross the t's and just check 100% that we, as a production, were going to, that Billy's welfare was the most important thing. And I think that Carolyn and he just trusted that. And also, it meant that we were able to know that Carolyn particularly, who was obviously chaperoning Billy, were an emotional support for him. I think that's imperative for child actors.
Kristyn Coutts: Yeah, that's actually what was going to be my next question, is to Carolyn, as a parent, how involved are you through auditions and filming? Obviously the subject matter of this was pretty heavy, so how does that work for you as a parent?
Carolyn Owlett: Well, I think personally, on a personal level for me, at the end of the day Billy's my son. So beyond him being an actor, and beyond him bringing something that's brilliant to the table, I have to think, "Okay, is my son going to be okay after this, and is this something that he wants to do?" So I think from the get-go we've just been very honest and straight with him and said, "Look, this is the script, this is what it's about, this is what you'll probably have to bring to it." And look at all of the potential pitfalls that might come up for him. Would he be too frightened in that moment? Would that be something that he felt uncomfortable with?
We've turned scripts down before. He's really, really lucky he's got such an amazing team around him. The team at Sylvia Young, as Daniel said, they're just incredible, and they really have fought for him over the years. But also turned a lot of things down which, as an agent, I imagine is probably something that doesn't happen that often. But with this one, they were very much like, "Look, this subject matter is quite hardcore, and you need to be very aware of the whole script before you even show it to Billy," kind of thing.
It was a very difficult situation in terms of are we making the right choice as parents to put him up for this one. But he just took it all in his stride, and I think because everybody on board at the BBC and at Kudos, and everyone was just, I don't know, at every point people were concerned about him, and is this going to be okay for him. To the point where I was like, "Honestly, it's absolutely fine if he sees that. That's not a problem." Down to the fact that there were certain scenes where Billy couldn't even see any blood, so it was somebody else's hands altogether in certain scenes, and you think, "Wow, actually, on Halloween this kid is covered in blood head to toe, chopping axe out, everything." And you think wow, they're really going that extra mile to ensure that his, I suppose his psychological well-being is as looked after as everything else."
I think because we all just felt so comfortable, and because it's a BBC production, we had a chaperone on board as well, Ranjana Mitra, who's incredible. But it was really important for me that she was somebody that he would really get on with. Because we've had chaperones in the past that perhaps haven't always gelled so well. But she was just brilliant, and so for me as a mum, it's quite difficult to be on set with somebody else who's technically in charge of your child. But I wanted to be there as well, because I thought, If anything does go wrong, I will know.
Kristyn Coutts: Yeah.
Carolyn Owlett: You know your own child, and you know there's a point at which you're like, "Okay, we're getting to the zone where perhaps he isn't comfortable here." But that didn't really happen, and I can't thank everybody enough because they were so good for him. And they have been ever since. They check in all the time, which is lovely as well.
Kristyn Coutts: Oh, that's really good to hear. And then for you Billy, what was the filming process like for you on that, and how did you prepare for your role?
Billy Barratt: Okay, we obviously had Miranda Harcourt and she was amazing. Another thing I really liked about the whole process of filming Responsible Child was that... because I've obviously done films before, but they never really did full-on rehearsals where everyone is there. Like everyone is there. And I just think that was really amazing, that we had the opportunity to do that.
But then also there was me and James [Tarpey, who played Ray's brother Nathan], so basically, we all got in a room together, and we just sat down and we practiced these different techniques of when we go on set, get into that character, embody the character of Ray, and then when we go home, just leave it there and not hold onto... because obviously there was some pretty gruesome scenes, and as my mum said, they were very... what's the word? They were-
Carolyn Owlett: Carefully choreographed.
Billy Barratt: Yeah, they were very careful to what I was seeing and everything. So I think that obviously helped, but then also just some of the scenes, even acting it was really... actually there was one scene, I think it was one of the last ones, it's the scene where he's having that realisation, that breakdown. We did two takes, and after those two takes I just literally, I walked out and I had to just sit down with Mum and just-
Carolyn Owlett: And have a cry.
Billy Barratt: ... and just have a cry. Because that was also that moment that Ray is realising what happened. I also just really realised that this is someone's life, this actually happened. I just think that yeah, everyone involved, it was really amazing. And I think-
Carolyn Owlett: We're lucky.
Billy Barratt: ... I'm very lucky. I'm very lucky.
Kristyn Coutts: It was pretty powerful TV, I have to say. And if anyone hasn't seen it, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer, which I thoroughly recommend.
You mentioned it earlier Daniel, but this isn't the first time that you and Billy and Carolyn have crossed paths because obviously, you cast him when he was in Mr. Selfridge. Does seeing actors previously make it easier to bring them back in later on? How do you follow the careers of all the kids you're casting, because there must be quite a few.
Daniel Edwards: There are. You remember the very, very bad, and you remember the very, very good. And you obviously remember the people that you've cast. I said earlier that you hope that there is a positive transition with child actors as they grow and change. Because they grow and change so quickly. As I just jokingly said when we came on this, Billy's voice is getting deeper and deeper. So he's growing up, so he's becoming a different actor, and I'm sure there will be a time in the future that I will cast Billy again. It's exciting for me, because he's 13 now and if he stays in the industry he's got another, well I've probably got another 15 years left in casting that I feel relevant. So I'm hoping there will be many different stages of Billy Barratt that I'll be able to cast.
Starting back at the beginning with child actors, yeah you remember the ones that you've cast. I have to be honest, it's two things here. It's like I said, Billy was so professional and polite in his audition for Mr. Selfridge. He came in, he was in the last series, series four, which is in the 1930s. And he came in with a little jacket and a little bow tie, and it was just such a lovely touch. I'm sure that was Carolyn's doing. But he came in with-
Carolyn Owlett: Do you know why that was?
Daniel Edwards: ... why was that?
Carolyn Owlett: Because you asked him to come in a school uniform, and at the time he didn't go to a school with a school uniform.
Daniel Edwards: That's right.
Carolyn Owlett: The only thing we had was a tuxedo.
Daniel Edwards: Brilliant. Oh, that's brilliant. I love that. Because you weren't at Sylvia Young's then were you, you weren't full time at the school?
Carolyn Owlett: No.
Daniel Edwards: So I think you remember the things, and also he was so professional. He delivered the lines, he was really engaging with the director and the producer in the room. And interestingly, it's the same room that Billy auditioned for Mr. Selfridge that we did the chemistry reads for Responsible Child. So it almost came full circle, which was quite trippy, a little bit.
Billy Barratt: It was weird, but it was amazing. Yeah.
Daniel Edwards: It was weird but amazing. So, in answer to your question Kristyn, yes, you try and keep track. You can't keep track of everybody, but obviously, a lot of the work that I do, I tend to cast the darkness. Apart from Mr. Selfridge, which was probably the most glossy and uplifting show I've ever cast, but everything else is usually crime-based, which is the work that I do best. I like the nitty-gritty.
So you keep track of young actors' skillset, and there are always... if you're looking for a great child actor that fits that age bracket, you're always going to automatically, and it's the same with adults, you automatically go first to the people you've met before, the people you've cast before. And then around that, you can start to bring in new people and discover new people. And with children, because they change so quickly, it's imperative that you're always seeing new people.
But with Billy, yes I kept track. And also Julie, Billy's agent and the team at Sylvia Young, keep me abreast of what's going on in their clients' lives. So, "Billy's grown now, or Billy's doing this now, or Billy's doing that there." That's a really good agent. Somebody who knows that I like that actor. So yeah, a casting director, it's part of our job. It's imperative that we keep track in particular of those young actors, and all actors but in particular young actors, that have resonated at some point, and keep track and see about their journey.
You look at Billy and again, it links into what I was saying earlier on about having a fantastic support network is that I can't imagine how overwhelming it must be to be a successful actor at 13. Because actually, I cast actors in their 20s and 30s who struggle with how to compute this level of success. So for Billy to... I've never had like a, "Oh my God, this is going to be too much for him? He's just won an Emmy, he's the youngest ever actor to receive an international Emmy. Is this going to be too overwhelming?" But then you only have to look at his mum and his family, and also you have to look at Billy's Instagram feed to know that Billy's absolutely fine. He's grown up in a performance family.
So my point being that that is exciting. That is exciting to see, that is exciting to acknowledge, that is exciting to see that Billy at seven, Billy at 13, what's Billy going to be like when he's 26, if he's still in the industry if he's not a musician? What's Billy going to be like as a 30-year-old actor, or a 19-year-old actor? The world is opening up for him, the industry is opening up for him. And that is part of our job. We support, nurture, guide, cast, and I think even more so with young actors, with child actors, because we have a duty to support that. And when they are as exceptional as Billy is, then it's exciting to watch that grow.
Kristyn Coutts: You just alluded to it a little bit there, but Carolyn you're also an actor. How helpful do you think your experience and knowledge has been for navigating the industry and helping Billy navigate the industry?
Carolyn Owlett: Well, I think what I really try and explain to Billy throughout is that you have to develop characters as you get older. When you were younger, you could say the lines and that was enough. But as you get older, if you want to be an actor you've got to know everything about that character. I think he's been really good at that, is understanding that when I'm asking what Ray eats for breakfast, he doesn't turn around and go, "Why on earth would I need to know that?" He just gives me what he eats for breakfast. "What football does he support?" This one. And it's things that he'll never, ever say that on-screen, you'll never hear any of these things, but it just helps him get in the mind zone of where he's going with that.
That's something that was taught to me quite young, was just to know your characters inside out, and to know your lines inside out. If you're still thinking about what your lines are when you get to set every day, you're not going to bring what you need to bring to the table. So I guess I tried to impress that on him quite early, just to be as prepared as you can be, and to just continually keep learning. Learn every single person's role in that room, because you might be an actor today, but in 10 years' time you might want to be a focus puller or something else, you don't know. I just think it's really important... we've always said to him you're an actor now, but you're also a child. But you don't always have to be an actor. There's no one saying the door is shut now, that's it, you must stay an actor. You can be anything you want to be, and when you've had enough of acting you can go and do something completely different.
But it seems that this is the path that he wants to take, and we're just here to support him. My kids can do anything they want to do. If he'd said he wanted to be an astronaut I'd have questioned his maths, but other than that I think we would have tried to do what we could to support him. As a parent of a child actor, the only thing I can say is just be there to support them, and understand that it is quite a journey, and it's quite a commitment as a parent of a child that's doing quite well. Unless you're prepared to sign them over to a chaperone full time. You have to be prepared to be there at all the castings, go through all of the scripts, look at other films that might be able to bring something to the table from a character that you've seen previously to give them something to reference on. Because at 13, his life experiences, sorry to say this Bill, but it's like he hasn't had that much life experience yet. Especially to go into some of these situations. I think just supporting as much as you can, bringing what you can to the table, is all you can do, really.
Kristyn Coutts: And then Billy, I know you've had a varied career already, and you've got experience in musical theatre in both film and on stage with Mary Poppins Returns and Big Fish. They must feel very different. Do you enjoy both as much?
Billy Barratt: Okay, so I did one theatre show and that was Big Fish, and I loved it. It was great fun, I obviously made some great friends on there, and it's quite funny to see how different audiences react to different things. In fact, different audiences react to the same thing that you do every night. And it's just funny.
I love theatre, I love going to watch people do theatre, and I really enjoyed the experiences when I did do it. But I think at the moment, I like doing TV roles more because of the subtlety. I feel like at the moment, being more subtle and natural and realistic with it, for me that's what I prefer at the moment. Obviously, I'd love to do another theatre show, but I think I do prefer that subtle element of TV. I just feel it's more natural.
Kristyn Coutts: And how does the audition process differ between theatre and screen for you? I imagine it's a longer process for theatre.
Billy Barratt: I think it-
Daniel Edwards: It's a longer process.
Billy Barratt: Yeah, it's definitely more brutal, because they get all of the kids that are auditioning to play the role, and they line you up. Obviously, they've given you a song and a script to learn, and sing. And then they just line you up and they just point at you and they say, "Right, you do this, you do this, you do this, go. Go now, go." I don't know, it's just like you have to just get it there and then on the spot, otherwise they're just like, "Okay, see you later, have a good one." Sorry, that was a really bad impression.
Daniel Edwards: No, it was actually quite good.
Billy Barratt: Yeah, so I think it's definitely more brutal, because you just have to get it there and then, and you don't actually meet any of the kids that are auditioning to play the role in a TV thing. You always meet them in theatre though, and it's just straight up, get it right now or see you, goodbye.
Daniel Edwards: Go home.
Billy Barratt: Yeah.
Daniel Edwards: It's interesting hearing you say that. I was a child actor, so it brings back horrendous memories for me. But it's true, in television and film, the only way that you would meet the people that you are up against is in a workshop setting, which I tend to do. As I said earlier on, we did workshops for the role of Ray, but they tend to be with kids who I've not met before, and not as experienced. But it's interesting that you would put, I can't imagine a world where we would... when we did the chemistry reads for Responsible Child, some of the boys saw each other cross over in the waiting room, but I can't imagine a world where we would have the Rays all in the same room. You just couldn't. I suppose it's very hard to articulate the science behind that.
Kristyn Coutts: Like a head-to-head kind of thing.
Daniel Edwards: Yeah. And actors, regardless of their age, know that there's a competition. And I hate that word competition, because it's the wrong vernacular, really. Because I think especially for young actors, for kids, I just think to instil that they may be better than someone else, or they've got to fight for something, I think the word competition gives the wrong feeling, and I can't really think what a better-suited word is. But it's the difference between, I find, that young actors tend not to worry so about that. And I'm always looking out for when you can see that they're worried, when you can see in the audition process they're really aware of who else might be in and stuff. Because that's problematic, that's a red flag for me.
Most child actors that I know, they're in the moment. They've come off, they want to be like Billy, he wants to be skateboarding. He said to me, "I've just come on my skateboard," and I'm like, "You came to the audition?" "Yeah, my stepdad's out there, but we just came in." He's got his skateboard under his arm, so actually, we're interrupting his flow. He's got things to do, he's got people to see, he's got music to play, music to write. And actually, this is the perfect, Billy and other young actors and actresses when they come to an audition, and it's not that they haven't thought about it, it's not that they haven't really brought loads of stuff to the table, everything that Carolyn was saying about the prep, but actually, this is just one part of everything else that's going on in their lives.
I'm always very concerned when I meet child actors where it is everything for them. And even more for their parents, that's a red flag to me. A child actor would have to be so exceptional that I wouldn't worry about an overbearing parent or the fact that that child seems quite anxious. It's my responsibility to then speak to the producer and say, "Listen, I think you've got a problem there. I think all this child has done this week is just obsess about this audition and has nothing else going on in their lives." That is problematic, especially for something as potent as Responsible Child. Whereas Billy, and all the boys that we short-listed, just had a sense of freedom, and a sense of happiness, and a sense of joy, and humour. And you know that if they didn't get the gig, as disappointing as it may have been for them, and always will be, that not getting a gig, especially if it's something you want, they've got other things in their lives they just get on with.
I think it's a real responsibility for all casting directors. We take on a huge amount of responsibility, and I'm very able to see that with parents. I have a horrible story that I do tell. I was a casting assistant on, the film version. I think Billy wouldn't even have been born, which is scary. No actually, you were probably about two. But anyway, we saw thousands and thousands and thousands of kids. And I went to a stage school, actually. Not Sylvia Young, she'll be pleased to hear, and a certain boy that I'd seen for a lot of things, amazing kid, but there was something very sad about him. I walked into the hallway, and all the kids and the parents were all in the hallway and I saw his mum poke him really hard in the back of the neck as if she was trying to hide [that she was trying] to get his attention because he was looking down at the floor. And I heard her say, almost spit in his ear, "That's the casting director. Smile."
Kristyn Coutts: Oh my gosh.
Daniel Edwards: It was so creepy and so inappropriate, and so against everything that I stand for as a former actor, as a former child actor, as a human being. And I realised then, after having seen this kid since he was about three, and he was now about eight, the pressure that was being put on him by his mother. I didn't cast that kid, as brilliant as he was. I spoke to the team about it, I spoke to Sam Smith, who was the casting director I was working for at the time because that is majorly problematic.
Kristyn Coutts: I wonder if it's quite off-putting for the child as well. That just doesn't make it a happy experience, does it?
Daniel Edwards: It was horrendous. How is he supposed to… I remember, I'm old now, but I remember every moment my mum had a go at me. I can remember it so viscerally like I can remember being shouted at in the middle of Debenhams, I can remember doing something wrong and my mum just getting so irate. And we remember it, don't we Billy? We remember it when our mums get angry with us. I remember, and it sticks in your heart, and it remains in your head because you know you've done something wrong. But can you imagine being shouted at, or poked at, and you actually haven't done anything wrong, you've just stood there. I just think it's such a, how is he then to enjoy a workshop experience after that?
Kristyn Coutts: Yeah.
Daniel Edwards: While he's still got in his head his mum poking him in the neck going, "That's the casting director. Smile." So I think it's a real responsibility of, obviously, parents are raising their children, it's not for me to tell a parent how to raise their child. That's another thing, my relationship, me and Carolyn got on immediately, and there was a shortcut there to understanding her needs as well as Billy's. But it's navigating parents, navigating producers, and directors, and the production's needs for that child actor, and what they're going to require to tell the story. But my absolute 100% priority is the child. It will always be the child. And adults as well, and I think we must never lose sight of that. I think we have a responsibility. It was important, that's why I, thankfully Carolyn's cool and Billy's really cool that my swearing at her child, in the heat of giving drama, I didn't get into trouble. But the importance of making sure that every time Billy auditions, or any time any child auditions, that their experience auditioning should be one of positivity.
Kristyn Coutts: Yeah.
Daniel Edwards: So that if they get the gig, it's just a bonus. Oh my God, I've got the gig. Oh my God, I've won an Emmy. It's just the gift that keeps on giving. But actually, if you break it down, if Billy hadn't even got through to the next round after meeting Lucy that day, was the experience of Billy sitting in the rehearsal room at Sylvia Young's that afternoon with Lucy, was that experience in itself a positive experience for Billy? That's all that matters. And that every audition following on from that, that every time I've got to play psychologist. The importance, I'm constantly checking.
And then when Billy leaves, or when another actor leaves the room, me and Elinor Day at this time, and Nick the Director, sit down and not just talk about their ability as actors, but we have to talk about every aspect of them. Is Billy mature enough? Does Billy's parents... I said, "Go downstairs and meet Billy's step-father and his little brother, and you will see a family that just enjoy each other's company and are having a laugh. I have to feed that information, and we have to make a collective decision, not just about his ability to act, but all the other stuff. That's the hardest part about child casting is it's a lot of responsibility and a lot of different boxes to tick, and boxes to ensure we're covered. Was that a bit of a long-winded speech there? Sorry.
Carolyn Owlett: It's always a good one though.
Kristyn Coutts: It was very good.
Daniel Edwards: Was it good? I've written it down. It's all here.
Kristyn Coutts: And then I suppose your own experience as a child actor has definitely influenced how you interact with kids now you're a casting director? To what extent do you think that played a part?
Daniel Edwards: I think it's every… I've got eight godchildren. My oldest godchild is 27, my youngest is two. I'm now at an age where I can't remember their birthdays, so I'm really pleased that most of them I can just give them money. I've got their bank accounts, so I just put money in their bank account, which is good. But also because I'm infantile and silly, and I think that you have to treat a child actor as you would treat anybody, obviously within a certain... you have to show them respect, and they've come in to audition. You believe that they're right for the role, so as soon as they come in you need to show a young actor that they're not some silly kid that doesn't know anything. And show them some responsibility, show them that you're accessible, be responsible, and also so that they feel safe.
It's a lot of things to juggle, and I always find that actually I can't bear patronising kids. I can't bear, "Are you okay?" I can't bear any of that, because I think they, Billy is 13 going on 35, so what is the point in my talking to him like he's two? I have to find a middle ground that I know is acceptable and appropriate to talk to child actors to get the best out of them. And I find, from my experience, that when I auditioned as a child actor, back 100,000 years ago, that actually it was the people who smiled, it was the people who were warm, that cracked a joke that was genuinely funny, it was the people that kept the energy up. Kids get bored very, very quickly. Very, very, very quickly. And if you've got kids in a workshop setting for an hour, you're going to lose them in 10 minutes if you don't keep that energy up in the room. And I remember that as a kid, I remember that not just as a child actor, but as a kid myself, there was nothing more boring than boring adults.
So actually, I put on a bit of a show, a bit of a performance, and I always have a team member with me, and we try and keep the energy up from the moment they come in. And it links into what I said before, that they have to go away with a positive experience. Like, "Oh my God, yeah it was great. He was really silly, and he made farty noises, and told silly jokes and stuff." I think you have to, and in particular, especially when the subject matter is dark.
Kristyn Coutts: Yes.
Daniel Edwards: I think it is even more important that the child knows that yes, they're going to have to get to a certain level, which will be the parent's responsibility, as Carolyn mentioned. They had to talk to Billy about the script and what was expected of him. But also, I need to instil that, for example, using Billy as an example, that Billy's going to go, "Okay, I know I've got to go to some dark places here, but if the casting director's this ridiculous and fabulous, and the director and the producer are fun, then I'm going to have a really nice time on set. And therefore I can go to those dark places, because I know that they're going to say Cut, and I'm going to be able to have a laugh with people." And that's really, really important, and it's something that I teach my team. I've got a really lovely team, and they're all the same as I.
We're all actors as well, so I think that really helps. Carolyn says it helps fuel her relationship with Billy, she understands how the industry works. So yes, as a child actor myself, I think it's important that we respect the child actor, don't patronise them, but make sure there's an energetic sense of fun to the process.
Kristyn Coutts: Love it. Thank you. And just to take a little bit of a turn. Billy, when did you realise that you wanted to be an actor?
Billy Barratt: It all started when Mum's friend decided to cast me, or just put me in a film she was directing. I thought it was really fun, and then Mum was like, "You're enjoying this?" I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love it." And then she found Sylvia Young and found out they had an agency. They tried me for the agency, I got in, and then literally two or three weeks later I meet Daniel, and then we did Mr. Selfridge. Yeah, on set I loved it, I love playing someone else. And obviously, at the time, I was just saying lines. I wasn't very good at it, but I really liked it. And yeah, everyone was really nice, I love seeing all the different jobs. The only bad thing about it was, it was like some pretend ice cream on there, and then what was it instead of ice cream?
Carolyn Owlett: Mashed potato.
Billy Barratt: No, it wasn't.
Carolyn Owlett: No, it wasn't. It was some kind of weird Angel Delight or something. And then he was told, "Don't eat the ice cream Billy, it's not real ice cream." And of course Billy's like, "Hmm, I'm going to eat the ice cream."
Billy Barratt: And then I ate the ice cream.
Carolyn Owlett: 20 takes it took, so 20 different ice creams.
Billy Barratt: Yeah, and it wasn't, the car journey home wasn't great.
Kristyn Coutts: Oh, dear.
Daniel Edwards: Was that on Mr. Selfridge?
Billy Barratt: That was Mr. Selfridge, yeah.
Daniel Edwards: Excellent, excellent, excellent. I've just cast your Mr. Selfridge mum Amy Morgan for the second time, who sends her love by the way. Billy's parents in Mr. Selfridge, Greg and Amy, who are wonderful actors, Greg's becoming a big American superstar now, and Amy's a phenomenal actress. But when you got Responsible Child, I messaged them and said, "Your on-screen child has gone from being a cute little seven-year-old to a quite exceptional 12-year-old." They both messaged me back saying, "Oh my God," when you got the job. And then when you got the Emmy, I messaged them and said, "Billy's just won an Emmy." And Amy said something like, "Yeah, it's me. It's how I raised him." In a nod to Mr. Selfridge.
And also, another thing that was perfect when we cast Billy in Mr. Selfridge is that he had a resemblance to Greg, who was playing his father. There was a similarity between them in terms of the shape of their face, the colour of their eyes. It was like a whole added bonus, which worked so beautifully.
It's so lovely for me to hear you say, and I know because I've known since then that you had an amazing time on set and stuff, but I didn't know about the Angel Delight disgusting, fake ice cream thing.
Billy Barratt: Oh, yeah. That happened. That did happen.
Daniel Edwards: That was real.
Billy Barratt: Yeah.
Daniel Edwards: Excellent.
Kristyn Coutts: Am I right, Carolyn and Billy, that you've both worked together on a film recently?
Carolyn Owlett: Well, yeah. We did a film. It kind of just happened. We were in Croatia, and Billy was filming. They were looking for a badass, and then the girl that was casting out there spent three weeks with us, and then just went, "Why don't we just cast Billy's mum as the badass?" I was like, "Actually, yeah, why don't you just cast Billy's mum as the badass."
Kristyn Coutts: Amazing.
Carolyn Owlett: And then that was it really.
Billy Barratt: And we went back to England, and then Mum was like, "Right, I'm going for a short time." I was like, "Oh, where you going?" She goes, "Serbia." I was like, "What's that for?" And she goes, "Oh, it's for The Islander."
Carolyn Owlett: Just finishing off your film.
Billy Barratt: Yeah. I was like, "Okay then." But yeah, that was funny. That was very funny.
Kristyn Coutts: That's amazing. Did you do any scenes together, or were you just both in Croatia filming?
Carolyn Owlett: We did. We did actually, with Caroline Goodall. We can't say too much about it yet-
Daniel Edwards: Oh, love Caroline.
Carolyn Owlett: But yeah, she was on the other side to where Billy was on, so I was on her gang, in her team.
Billy Barratt: The other baddy. Baddies.
Carolyn Owlett: Yeah. We can't say baddies.
Kristyn Coutts: You had an amazing character name, didn't you? Oh, I should have written it down. But you had an amazing character name, I saw on IMDb. I can't remember what it was now.
Carolyn Owlett: Yeah.
Billy Barratt: Oh, I have no idea what my name was.
Carolyn Owlett: Oh, my character's name. Well, currently it's Bazooka Baby, but it might change.
Kristyn Coutts: That's it.
Carolyn Owlett: It's quite manga though, it's quite manga style.
Daniel Edwards: Oh, that's so manga.
Billy Barratt: You know, it was weird though. It's like it happened so long ago, and it's not even out yet. I've just remembered... Oh, am I even allowed to say the name?
Carolyn Owlett: Yeah, you can. I always find it's quite weird. He's shot quite a lot of stuff that's still waiting to come out, and that's just the way productions turn out sometimes. But if I'm looking at the pictures and people are saying, "Yeah, there might be the odd pick-up we need to do," and I'm looking at Billy thinking, "He literally looks like a different person now." So you really can't do that with him now. At the moment, if it's not done within a six-month period, you're going to have to just go with what you've got because he's totally changing all the time.
Daniel Edwards: That's the biggest thing about child actors, the change is so quick. I cast something recently, and I brought in, it was Responsible Child, of course it was. It was Responsible Child, and I brought in the boys that I thought were going to be perfect for a 12-year-old, and they were 14, 15. Still looking very young, but they came in talking like that [imitates deep voice]. And you just think, "I only saw you a year ago, and you've suddenly become now an adult." The change is so quick, so in answer to your question earlier on Kristyn, you have to keep in real close contact, because they do change all the time.
My relationship with Julie, for example, if I was auditioning something I had Billy in mind, I would check in with Julie and say, "Listen, do you think he is too old now for that, or is he still young enough to play that?" And the great thing about a good relationship with an honest agent like Julie at Sylvia Young is that she'll be completely honest with me. She'll say, "I just don't think he can play that age anymore." And that's the importance with child actors and really good child agents keep close contact.
Kristyn Coutts: I think it's also the importance of keeping your Spotlight profile up to date.
Daniel Edwards: Absolutely.
Kristyn Coutts: We always go on about it, keep it up to date, keep it up to date.
Daniel Edwards: Keep it up to date, keep it up to date. I think it's hard for a lot of parents. If your child is working, that's fantastic. But a lot of child actors and their parents, if you were to have new photographs, between the age of say 12 and 14, the amount of changes between 12 and 14 is so fast. As Carolyn said, it changes every week, every month. So to have an updated photograph is really hard. But then that's the great thing about iPhones, other phones do apply. Other phones are available. Better to get practise with a really good iPhone photograph, that if your child is changing rapidly and you can't afford or don't have access to a regular photographer, because there is overkill, that if there is a major change like beards start coming through, etc. then get a good basic head and shoulders shot with an iPhone and make sure that that photograph is up to date.
Kristyn Coutts: And here's my last question for you, because I know you've got to go. What are you guys watching or reading at the moment?
Billy Barratt: This is something that I want to say to everyone, just actors, or actresses. You need to read because I don't read enough and I need to start reading more. It really helps, definitely really helps. In fact, as this is the last question, I just want to say a few things about acting and stuff.
Kristyn Coutts: Go for it.
Billy Barratt: It's sort of like tips, I don't know. But I've just thought of these things. First of all, you want to know your script inside out so you could literally do it standing up on your head.
And as you spoke about earlier, the second thing, know your character. How they walk, their reflexes, what they ate for breakfast, what team they support, everything. In fact, I did this a lot with Ray. Just so it's really natural, and if you can have a conversation you know what that character would do.
And also about line learning, that's the last thing you want to be thinking about is lines, "Oh God, I forgot my line." And it is okay if you forget your line, you just do it again. But that is the last thing you really want to think about.
And then the last thing is if you do get a job, just listen on set because you learn so much. In fact, I've learned more than you can even teach, and I think that's also part of the reason I love doing this is because you just learn so much. And also, you always play someone different. And you also make this mini family on set as well, that's why it's so sad to leave because you just made this really good connection with everyone on set. So I think just listen, learn your lines, and know the character inside and out. Yeah.
Carolyn Owlett: And read more books.
Billy Barratt: And read more books.
Kristyn Coutts: Read more books. That's amazing.
Daniel Edwards: Brilliant.
Kristyn Coutts: Thank you. Some excellent tips there. And Daniel, what are you watching, or reading?
Daniel Edwards: I watch everything, so there isn't anything I don't watch. That's part of my job is to watch as much as possible, although I am a teledrama addict. So I watch everything. Currently, just at the top of my head because I'm watching it in block form is The Great.
Kristyn Coutts: Yes.
Daniel Edwards: Too adult for Billy, but I love The Great just because the casting and the actors are fantastic. I need to watch as much as possible, and I do. I watch across all platforms, Netflix, Amazon, BBC, iTV, Channel Four. I do have two shows coming out at the moment, so I'm going to plug.
Kristyn Coutts: Go for it.
Daniel Edwards: Line of Duty Series Six, and also Grace. Grace starts on Sunday (14 March, 2021), and then Line of Duty starts the week after.
Kristyn Coutts: Cannot wait for Line of Duty, by the way. I've binge-watched all the other series waiting for this one.
Daniel Edwards: Hey, excellent. Excellent. But just to echo Billy, my reading, I used to read novel after novel after novel. But when I moved from acting into casting, I struggled to read novels because I read so many scripts. As a casting director, we have to read every single draft of a script. And I'm on multiple projects at the moment, so you can imagine if there's 12 drafts of one episode, I have to read all of those. So my attention span for sitting down and enjoying a novel... I am reading Akala's Natives. incredible book.
Carolyn Owlett: Oh, yeah.
Daniel Edwards: But it's taken me months to read it because I've got scripts. So I'm like Billy. Read more if you can, and I think it's really important that all actors, young and old, watch as much as is suitable for them, watch as much as you can. Get inspiration from other actors. And not just the actors. Directors, cinematographers, costume, make-up. Have a look at how it all works, and how it all comes together. Get excited about things as a young actor.
Kristyn Coutts: Wonderful. That's us. Thank you both, thank all three of you so much for your time.
Daniel Edwards: Pleasure.
Kristyn Coutts: I really appreciate it.
Carolyn Owlett: Thank you.
Billy Barratt: Thank you.
Daniel Edwards: And well done Billy, I'm so proud of you, mate. I can't tell you.
Billy Barratt: Oh, thank you. I couldn't have done it without you.
Daniel Edwards: My heart is full. Well, you could. Listen, I just opened the door, you came flying out that door and listen, I'm so proud. And we don't want this to be a podcast of lovey-ness, but I'm proud of every actor that I've ever cast, and proud of everything they do. I think for Billy to be the youngest ever international Emmy winner, for a performance, as you said at the beginning Kristyn, go to iPlayer and watch it, because it's not just a child performance, this is a performance, full stop, of such magnitude, and brilliance, and nuance, and then extremity. It's regardless of the fact that he was 12 when he shot it, this is an actor's performance, worthy of any actor of any age. Anyway, that's enough of the-
Kristyn Coutts: It had me absolutely hooked as well.
Daniel Edwards: ...Yeah. It's amazing.
Kristyn Coutts: So good.
Daniel Edwards: But listen, sending lots of love to you both, Carolyn and Billy. And enjoy school and thank you so much, it's been a pleasure to do this.
Kristyn Coutts: Thank so much for listening to this week's episode. If you have any questions or queries about anything you've heard, feel free to get in touch with us. You can do so by emailing us at [email protected], or feel free to send a tweet to @SpotlightUK.
We have lots of content on our website for young performers, and the casting process in general. If you want to have a look at that, go to Spotlight.com and navigate to the news and advice section. Until next time, goodbye.
- Guests: Billy Barratt, Daniel Edwards CDG and Carolyn Owlett
- Producer and host: Kristyn Coutts
- Production: Nicholas Peel
Main image by Juja Han via Unsplash.