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.