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July 23, 2001

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Question: Why is it so hard for an Indian male like me to get into the industry? Sometimes I feel they discriminate? Is it true? What does a casting director look for in an actor? Looks or talent? --Bhairav

Answer: Oh, Bhairav, I feel for you!

It's so hard to be anything other than what EVERYONE else is, in the flavor of the month-loving industry that is this one. People who are very much the type you're sure you see on screen all the time may lament the fact that there are no roles for them, just because they have blue eyes instead of brown, or because they are 5'10" instead of 6'1".

Casting directors are known for saying that they "know it when they see it." Producers, writers, and directors will communicate to the casting directors their needs and sometimes they won't do so in concrete terms. Sometimes they'll describe qualities, rather than physical traits, and it becomes the casting director's job to bring a variety of types to the callback for the others to see.

As Donna Ekholdt, Senior Vice President of Talent Development and Casting for Big Ticket Television, once told me, "Casting is like cooking. And I'm a master chef, trying out all sorts of ingredients until I find the right blend of flavors." Many times, a casting director will think she needs one flavor, but then she learns the director has chosen a different flavor than originally anticipated. Well, that shifts the whole recipe, and there's another need to fill.

Flexibility is a job requirement of a good casting director. So, to answer your question about what they look for, it's talent, it's a look, it's a vibe, it's chemistry with the other actors in the scene, and it's a connection to the material.

So, do good work, get your resumé the best-looking it can be, make sure your headshot is excellent, and then build those relationships. Good work gets noticed. And believe me, everyone is saying "now is the time" for minority groups to get that long-overdue notice. Non-traditional casting is becoming the norm--and that's great news for you!


Casting QsBonnie Gillespie is a Los Angeles casting columnist, the owner of Cricket Feet Management, and the author of Casting Qs: A Collection of Casting Director Interviews.

Posted by bonnie at July 23, 2001 4:43 PM