The relationship between the director and casting director is crucial: Interview with Mike Leigh and Nina Gold
Casting is a vital part of the creative process in any production and the relationship between the director and casting director is crucial. The relationship between Mike Leigh and Nina Gold is a wonderful example of how a multi-award winning, uncompromising director, with a unique, individual approach, finds the casting process so important, that he insisted we interview them together.
ML: When somebody comes into this room for an initial interview, it’s never scheduled for less than 20 minutes. And there’s never anyone else in the room. If I’m going to work with an actor and find a language that only that actor and I speak, from the word ‘go’ it’s got to be private. And – this is very important indeed- when I’m at the casting stage of one of my projects, I have no idea what it is. The meeting isn’t to do with me and my project. So – what do we talk about in that 20 minutes? We talk about them! Not about me, they know about me. We talk about them and their work and their personal things and I give them some space to be the person they are. After the initial conversation, I then call them back for an hour. One to one with nobody else there, and we actually do a bit of work on character of some kind. With my stuff it is absolutely all about character acting. It’s all about people not just playing themselves. One is not looking for raw personalities whom the character will then become. We are talking about actors who are versatile and intelligent and sophisticated and witty and have some sense of society and all of those things.
NG: Also, unlike practically everybody else, you don’t tape them.
ML: Putting the actor on tape would be a enormous distraction, a complete waste of time and as far as I’m concerned – the minute you have a camera there you are at some level creating an artefact and we are in the business of not doing that. We’re doing something that is organic and immediate and in the moment and its about finding things out, it’s research.
NG: In fact, even when they get the part it’s going to be hell of a long time before the camera gets involved.
ML: Yes, I never tape rehearsal, ever, never!
NG: Because they need to be fully right there with their character before they’re ready to move on.
ML: At this stage there is no question of who or what the character is. I am looking for a versatile actor and, once I know that person is there on board, then I can collaborate with them to find something very interesting and make it happen. The fundamental thing that I do is give them space and find out about them and get the hang of how to get on. Plainly our way of casting is very idiosyncratic but what I do, that has an application in all types of casting, is to work backwards from what is there. i.e. look at what’s there and don’t start demanding what they haven’t got. Go to it with an open mind. If you know who your characters are and you’ve got your script, be creative and imaginative and ask yourself, could this slim, black, female actress, could she actually be that tall, fat, male character that you have in your mind?
NG: A lot of directors want the actor to walk in the door and, by random fluke, present them with the ready made, perfect version of the character they have in mind.
ML: Without any work –
Nina: Yes, without any real work, or starting point.
ML: One of the great occupational hazards of all of this is that actors, because of the conventions of having to just turn up on set and do it and because their agent says ‘Well wear this’, ‘lose weight for that’…it makes actors behave in completely bizarre and unnatural ways and creates bad habits.
Nina: Like when you ask the question ‘How old are you?’ an actor answering ‘How old would you like me to be?’
ML: In a word, ‘hope’, gets in the way and it grabs you and you become more and more deformed, because of the conditions of the industry.
Nina: It gets in the way of the process and stops them doing the proper acting.
ML: Absolutely, so acting takes the back seat to a whole lot of other stuff.
INT: You end up trying to be what you think they want you to be.
Nina: Yes and they give you no input on telling you what that is.
ML: So the actor doesn’t know and actually nobody knows, which is why you get situations where the director says ‘Well no actually I don’t really like that actor’ and each person you present them with ‘Doesn’t feel quite right’ and that’s because nothing is quite right and that comes back to my point of working back from what there is.
NG: One of the things that makes Mike really good at casting is that he’s been out there looking at actors practically every night in the theatre for years, and he’s got an incredibly wide ranging, detailed knowledge of British actors.
ML: (to NG) much helped by your even wider knowledge of this…
NG: Yes but you know a lot and you take an active interest in discovering what people are doing and what they are all about. Which is a great starting point for directors who really want to figure out how to do casting.
ML: And if we’re talking about young directors then they do need to get their asses in gear and look at stuff.
Excerpt from The Casting Handbook: For Film and Theatre Makers by Suzy Catliff and Jennifer Granville © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.