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The Industry

We catch up with Bernard Telsey and Kristian Charbonier to chat about casting ‘Theater Camp’, what makes for a good audition, and knowing when an actor is right for a part

Bernard Telsey and Kristian Charbonier are prolific in the world of casting. Based in the USA, The Telsey Office cast everything from films, TV shows and theatre productions, and have worked on the likes of This Is UsWickedIn The HeightsThe Gilded AgeInto The Woods, Cabaret, and numerous other big hitters.

They recently worked together on casting the brilliant and hilarious Theater Camp (in cinemas now) and took time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions for us on finding the right actors, auditions, and how to transition from screen to stage.

How did you come to be involved in the casting for ‘Theater Camp’?

Kristian: Bernie has a long history with Ben [Platt], Molly [Gordon] and Noah [Galvin], having worked with them on multiple projects as actors over the course of their careers so far. When they reached out, we of course jumped on the opportunity as we’re fans of the type of work they involve themselves in and also just personally enjoy their spirits.

What was the casting process like? And did it differ from other projects?

Kristian: This casting process was very entertaining and inspiring. Because so much of the script was influenced by the talent who would eventually be playing the roles, it was incredibly exciting to find so many immensely talented young actors who were so inventive and honest. All of the talent we saw for the film had us laughing for days on our Zoom callbacks with their wit and comedic chops. This project also had an incredibly tight timeline. We had our first meeting in March 2022 and started filming in June 2022, meaning that we had approximately six weeks to cast all of the core cast to get them ready for rehearsals and pre-records ahead of shooting. It was a tight timeline but it made for a very fun process and momentum was kept up the entire time!

Casting director Kristian Charbonier

What is your favourite part of the process and why?

Kristian: The surprises that happen in the audition room are one of our favourite parts about the process. Seeing those sparks fly and feeling the energy in the moment when everyone silently responds with, ‘This is it!’ is worth it every time.

Over the course of this process specifically, we had the young talent improvise quite a bit to see where they could go and to see how long they could continue to invent. It was inspiring and unexpected at moments to see the young talent come alive and be so confident in their ability and delivery.

For a project like this one, that was so dependent on who the talent would eventually be, there were so many of those, ‘This is it!’ moments. One of the challenges of this project was that we loved too many talented young people and didn’t have enough space for all of them.

How do you know if an actor is right for a part?

Kristian: There are moments where you read a script or treatment, or even just a character breakdown, and immediately start to process who in your brain – whether that be from previous audition experiences or performances you’ve witnessed – could seamlessly fold into the material in question. That could be because of physical characteristics that the character on the page is described to have, or a sensibility that the character seems to contain or develop over the course of the piece, etc.

An interesting and exciting moment of any casting process is when we come to the realisation that someone who might not fit as obviously or inherently as is described or understood to be comes in and shines light on what the character could be. Many projects have had the ‘unexpected choice’ or initially ‘not right’ idea be the person that ends up getting the role. The process and the journey we take over the course of a casting process allows us and the creative team to see what any role could be.

What makes for a good audition or self-tape?

Kristian: Preparation for an audition, in-person or self-tape, is what we think ultimately makes for the best audition. Preparation only leads to a level comfort in the room, and that comfort will assist the talent in being fully present and giving the best performance they can give. We’ve been through many processes where we say to each other that if the talent had only been more prepared with the material, that job would’ve been theirs.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?

Kristian: As we briefly touched on before, finding roles for all of the talent that we know and come to know over these processes becomes a challenge because there are only a certain amount of open slots on each project. We feel so strongly about so many of the incredibly talented performers we come to meet, and only being able to hire one person is always heartbreaking. A good challenge to have, nonetheless.

Casting director Bernard Telsey

What have been your career highlights?

Bernard: Working on Rent from the beginning. Getting to meet those amazing actors and watching their careers take off afterwards is still such a big highlight for me.

Kristian: Working on Tick, Tick… Boom! was surreal to me. I’ve always been a huge fan of the cast recording and of course of Jonathan Larson and Rent. Getting to work on the film was a beautiful artistic moment, making a film about making art and a film about someone who revolutionised our art made it all even more special. Working with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Steven Levenson, Julie Oh and Celia Costas, who all had so much love for the piece and the process, was incredibly inspiring. And getting to cast some of our favourite New York actors in a film like this one that is so deeply about our world and the creation of art was more enjoyable than one could expect.

Do you have any advice for actors looking to transition from stage to screen?

Kristian: The work is much more similar than some anticipate it is. Having the perseverance and the confidence to stick with trying to make the transition happen is what’s going to get one there. So many of the creative teams we work with come to New York specifically to work with talent who haven’t had an opportunity to get onscreen, but are more than ready and capable of succeeding onscreen. Everyone on the creative team side is rooting for the talent and wants to assist the talent in making that transition.

What other exciting projects have you recently worked on? And what’s next?

Bernard: What I love most and feel very lucky about is getting to work with all the other casting directors in the office. Like actors, they are all amazing individuals and bring so much to their projects. We recently got to work with Rob Marshall and John DeLuca on The Little Mermaid and Jon Chu and Marc Platt on the Wicked film. We’re currently working on the Broadway revival of Cabaret, directed by Rebecca Frecknall and starring Eddie Redmayne.

Thanks to Bernard and Kristian for taking the time to answer our questions. Check out ‘Theater Camp’ in cinemas now!

Read more casting director stories on our website.

Image credit: 20th Century Studios

Headshot credit: Nathan Johnson