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In a PBS News Hour interview, casting director David Rubin, who also serves on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, shares insights about casting. Rubin’s prolific resume includes an impressive list of box-office hits, including “Gravity,” “Men in Black,” “Hairspray,” “The English Patient,” and “Wild.” He also won two Emmy Awards, for casting both “Game Change” and “Big Little Lies.”

According to Rubin, the most important thing an actor can offer in the audition room is “themselves, their own idiosyncrasy.” He explains, “So many actors get preoccupied with what they think the filmmaker is looking for. And frankly, what we’re looking for is them.” 

Rubin expressed similar ideas about this topic when interviewed by the Academy. When asked the number-one thing that he looks for as a casting director, he responded, “I look for compelling and, ideally, unexpected ways of portraying each character. Our choice of each actor must help tell the film’s story in a particular way, and hopefully give it a depth and a dynamic that might even go beyond what the screenwriter and other filmmakers had originally envisioned. In order to do that, I’m looking for actors who are skilled in their craft and who bring an individuality that makes them distinct from so many others.”

Mistakes can work on the actor’s behalf

Actors need not worry when they believe they’ve botched an audition. Any “mistake” just might be what most intrigues casting directors like Rubin. “Often those are the most illuminating auditions to me—those kind of organic moments where an actor connects with a character even though they may not even realize that they’re doing it,” he says.

What Rubin considers to be essential in the audition room

Rubin also addressed what stops him from considering certain actors for roles. He said, “The most important thing for an actor to do in a casting situation is to prepare well and make clear choices for your character in the audition scene. We realize you often don’t have access to a complete script and are making guesses about the character, based on little information, but making firm choices and playing with conviction is the key. So what really turns me off is the lack of distinct choice. Even if an actor is wrong for that role, if they’re true to their instincts and are committed to their acting choices, I’ll remember them and happily have them in for a future film!”

On casting diverse talents

In his quest to deliberately open up roles to actors among a diverse talent pool, Rubin has a practice of ignoring screenwriters’ character descriptions early on. Rubin said, “It’s not that I don’t respect the intentions of a screenwriter. But writers describe characters very specifically—not for the filmmakers, but really for studio executives and financiers, so they’ll read the script and see a movie in their heads, which they’ll hopefully want to finance and distribute. But once a movie is in pre-production and we’re contemplating casting options, I think it’s best to forget about specifics like age, race and gender and just think about who are the actors who would be believable in a role, and help drive the story forward in interesting ways.” Broadening the casting options becomes an important part of the conversation with filmmakers as they explore various ways to bring life to each of the characters in any given project.