Casting Director David Rubin Reveals What He Looks for in Talent

November 14, 2016

In this PBS interview, Casting Director and Academy Governor David Rubin shares insights into how he makes casting decisions. Rubin’s casting resume includes a long impressive list of box office hits including Gravity, Men in Black, Hairspray, and The English Patient. He’s also received an Emmy for casting HBO’s Game Change.

According to Rubin, “The most important thing for an actor to bring to the table is themselves, their own idiosyncrasy. And so many actors get preoccupied with what they thing the filmmaker is looking for. And frankly, what we’re looking for is them.”

He has expressed similar ideas about this topic last year 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 gives 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.”

Rubin also addressed what actors sometimes do that stop him from considering them 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!”

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. “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 executive 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.

And actors should keep in mind that when they believe they’ve  botched an audition, don’t worry about it. 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.

Audition Tips from Casting Session Director Jeric Wilhelmsen

August 1, 2016

In a series from Keep It Real Acting‘s Callback Class videos, Casting Session Director Jeric Wilhelmsen shares a number of helpful insights with aspiring actors. Experienced session directors like Wilhelmsen operate the camera and give direction to potentially hundreds of actors on any given day. In other words, they have a tremendous vantage point in the casting process. For instance, they often assist various casting directors, and support the work of commercial executives, directors, and producers. Moreover, they work with a vast quantity of auditioning actors. And specifically, they see the energy actors bring into the room, observe the creative choices they make as well as how well actors receive direction. Session runners also see which individuals ultimately land roles.

With all of this casting knowledge, Jeric asserts just how important an actor’s state of mind is when he or she enters the audition room. “I think the number one key in auditioning in callbacks is feeling comfortable and confident in the room,” he says. While it can be a challenge to feel at ease in a room with casting professionals inspecting every move you make, Wilhelmsen insists:

“[The casting professionals] are not monsters. They’re just people like us. And they’re doing their job. And their job is to look at you, and see is this the right person…You’ve got to walk into that room like you are offering them a solution. Because they’re searching, they need somebody that can be themselves, who can read this dialogue, and make it look natural, and really sell it.”

Believing you are the answer to their talent search stands in stark contrast with trying hard to please casting.“They’re not looking for someone who’s scared they’re doing something wrong,” Jeric says. And he aims to empower each actor that comes his way as he asserts, “My job is really to allow you to be yourself and show what you’ve got. And then we’ll give a direction whichever way we think it should go…and we’ll see if you follow that direction.” 

According to Jeric, if an actor’s take after direction seems stronger than the initial read, sometimes he will edit the audition tape so that the director sees that stronger read first. But he admits he never assumes he knows exactly what casting is looking for in any particular role. Sometimes his convictions don’t match those of the director; and sometimes in the fluid world of casting, the qualities that seem so important in the beginning end up not being so important after all.

“There’s been so many times where I’ve had an impression of what they’re looking for, and I’ve directed actors like that for the first call. And then we come to the callback, and the director is doing something entirely different…So I don’t fine tune people; I just allow them to be themselves,” Jeric says.

Ultimately, fitting the physical characteristics of the role at hand, feeling comfortable in your own skin, and being confident in your ability to make creative decisions are all key aspects of auditioning well in commercials.

And if Jeric looks familiar to you, it might be because he lands commercial acting roles himself!