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The Essentials
Actors and casting directors talking at the Spotlight Prize 2023

Image credit: Joanna Nicole Photography

The role of a casting director and why actors need to build relationships with them

Casting directors are often the unsung heroes of a production. It’s the casting director who will find the perfect actor for the role, l often emphasising the importance of diversity and new talent to the production company.

As an actor, understanding the role of the casting director and establishing a connection with them is vital if you want to get work. Even if you’re unsuccessful in an audition, making a good impression on a casting director means they’re more likely to keep you in mind for future productions they cast.

We spoke to a variety of actors about their experiences of working with casting directors and why they’re such an important and beneficial part of the industry for actors and productions. Here’s what they shared:

What Does a Casting Director Do?

Casting directors are hired by production companies to find suitable actors to fill the roles in their projects. As actress Tracy-Ann Oberman (The Witcher, It’s a Sin) points out, “Casting can make or break a project.”

Actor Jonah Hauer-King (The Little Mermaid, World on Fire) agrees, “[Casting directors] breathe life into the characters and the stories that we know and love and it’s their taste and expertise and talent that creates these incredible ensembles and these incredible stories.”

Choosing the Right Actor for the Right Role

The role of a casting director isn’t as simple as finding the best actor for the part. They’ll be casting multiple roles across a production and they’ll have to ensure that the actors they choose don’t just do a fantastic job of bringing the character to life but also work well with the rest of the cast.

Actor David Morrissey (Sherwood, The Walking Dead) says, “You might have two fantastic actors but they don’t work well together for some reason, so it’s finding that alchemy around an ensemble or a group of actors together and I think that’s what casting directors do.”

Finding New Talent

It isn’t cheap to make films and television shows, so a lot of production companies will insist on hiring certain actors who have been in previously successful productions as they’re seen as a safe investment.

Therefore, it falls on the casting directors to convince the production company to take risks on new talent – to champion the rising stars of tomorrow.

Actress Naomi Ackie agrees that spotting this potential talent is a talent in itself, “You start to see them as artists in their own right as people who have taken up a craftsmanship of figuring out not only the talent of someone in the present moment but the potential of someone once they work with the right people.”

Actor Daniel Mays (The Long Shadow, Code 404) adds, “The tireless work that they do to […] discover new talent is unquestionably an amazing thing.”

Improving the Production

Daniel Mays says, “[Casting directors] are involved in the process from the word go, with the relationship with the director, with the production, they’re reading the scripts.” 

This gives the casting directors an excellent understanding of the production that’s being created, which means they can help steer it in the right direction with their choices of potential actors for roles.

“You can have the best script, you can have the best director,” says Tracy-Ann Oberman. “But sometimes casting directors can think out of the box, can give parts and a vision to the creativity to actually start to flesh out what [are] just words on a page.”

Building Relationships with Casting Directors

Relationship-building is a necessary and useful skill for actors. Connecting and networking with your fellow performers can lead to future job opportunities – ensure you have someone to shoot self-tapes and showreels with and can help improve your mental health and wellbeing by providing you with a support network when things get tough. 

Networking with casting directors is just as important – especially if you’re an actor who’s just starting their career. Daniel Mays advises, “Build up an extensive list of connections with casting directors because they will be your first port of call, they’ll be the first person that sees you at drama school that knows your strengths and the ability that you have.”

A good relationship with a casting director will also have the benefit of putting you at ease in an audition. Jonah Hauer-King says, “When you have a proper relationship with [casting directors], you feel like they’re really in your corner.” 

“A lot of the time, it doesn’t necessarily work out because there are so many different factors on whether you’re right for a job,” he adds. “But when you feel like you have a casting director behind you, it makes it so much easier.

Casting Directors Want You to Succeed

Every time you walk into an audition or record a self-tape, just remember: the casting director wants you to get the job. They want you to be right for the role and bring their search to an end. They’re on your side, so be reassured by this and audition with confidence.

David Morrissey says, “[Casting directors] steady my nerves. If I’m really nervous, sometimes, when I was younger, they would say, ‘He just was too nervous, so we need to get him back.’ [They’re] able to get you to show yourself in your best light. They want you to be good.”

“No film or television show could be made without casting directors,” he says and thankfully, that hard work is now recognised by the CDG Casting Awards, the BAFTAs, the CDA Awards, the ICDA Awards, the Artios Awards and more. 

Take a look at our News & Advice section for tips from casting directors and more video interviews with creatives.