How I Became a Casting Director - PART 1
I became a casting director quite by accident. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I knew nothing about casting for film or tv. In my mind casting directors lived with the Gods and rarely descended unto earth, except to cast a film. They were powerful beings who, with one look of their withering gaze, could make or break an actor’s careers. They were mysterious and they worked in a medium that was more baffling and futile to me than accounting.
I, by comparison, was an artistic director who worked exclusively in theatre. I did not watch television or film except European arthouse ‘stuff and only very occasionally; fearing to sully my theatre eyes (or so I told myself!) I had never owned a television. I came to America blissfully unaware of how to operate a dvd player. My first American students at Western Washington University would reverently grab colored cables and plug them into various devices with an efficiency and confidence that would garner them a straight ‘A’ for doing so. I was a theatre scholar, an actress, a director, and I felt quite strongly that the very best of film/tv could only hope to be a poor relation to the very best of live theatre. I banned my actors from watching anything on screen whilst working with me on stage. And I gave my word that I would NEVER work in film or tv. Ever ... Ever.
One day a friend handed my destiny to me on a plate. I recognised neither the destiny nor the plate on which it came. It is very humbling to reflect on the many offerings (gifts) that we cluelessly resist, daily. The aforementioned friend, an actress and casting director, was in a show I was directing. Rather apologetically she asked me if she could drop out of the (unpaid) theatre show, in order to go and work on a paid film and also, would I mind casting her project while she was gone; she thought I would be good at it! I was THUNDER. Struck. She gave me a few tips about how to cast a film and how to serve the director, then tootled off to Portland despite my protests and threats of life-long unforgiving! Thus the rather unceremonious entry of Nike Imoru Casting into film and television.
I approached casting my first movie as though I was casting a play.
As such I came to the script in a highly organized, literary and theatrical manner beginning with multiple readings of the whole script. I combined this with a strong (theatre) director’s eye. Yet the script would not hold up under this kind of scrutiny. It seemed simpler than say, Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller or Scenes from an Execution by Howard Barker, or dare I say it, Hamlet! The film script seemed ‘looser', the language seemed ‘unrich’ to my untutored eye. What I later learned was a "1st draft", read like a corny under-grad soap opera. I was baffled. And yet, the brain is an extraordinary recording device, is it not? Open it up to an idea, just once, and you can be sure that idea will return when called upon however long ago it was first thought.
I began to recall the film courses I had taken years ago in England…vague recall of ... the camera as protagonist, the smallness of acting for the camera, the intimacy required of the actor, etc. I recalled the films I had seen and loved as well as films I wanted to see. I began to allow a love of the medium I previously spurned. Once in session with camera and actor, I allowed a different consciousness to come into place, by surrendering any ideas that would not serve the present purpose. Predominantly intellectual engagement with the script gave way completely (necessarily so) to the actor as the truthful expression (conduit) for the emotions and the story. This was just the tip of the iceberg. Amazingly, after more than two decades of studying and training the theatre actor, here were new gifts for the teacher: a different ‘actor-animal’ in a different medium.
I had to know both...