Every film about aspiring actors has this scene. A bright-eyed hopeful is reading a script in a small room, pouring their emotions out in front of a video camera. Right before the climax of the scene, an assistant or a phone call interrupts the whole thing. The audition is over, and the casting director is already screaming for the next person before the defeated hero is even out of the room.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling say that the cruel rejections of the audition scenes in La La Land are based on their own experiences. But Nina Gold says that not all casting directors are apathetic dream crushers. Sitting in a suite at the opulent Peninsula hotel in Hong Kong, she laughed before I could even finish my first question, knowing the cliché all too well. ‘I’ve never met a casting director who would be as mean as those [in La La Land],’ Gold says. ‘All the casting directors I know are really kind, encouraging and helpful to the actors.’
All adjectives you can ascribe to Gold. I’ll add straight-to-the-point. Her work has placed many actors in the spotlight, but the modest casting director is not used to being in it herself.
For 30 years, Gold has worked as a casting director for music videos, television shows and films. She has worked with world-class directors such as Mike Leigh, Ridley Scott, Jane Campion and Edgar Wright. Her projects include Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Imitation Game, The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, Bridget Jones’s Baby and most recently Netflix’s The Crown. Without Gold in the casting chair, actors Eddie Redmayne, Emilia Clarke and Daisy Ridley might never have had their moment in the spotlight.
A casting director’s work happens in the pre-production stage. The producer sends the script to the casting director; they then look at hundreds of faces and audition an equally daunting number of actors.
The work may seem simple in concept, but it also involves skills that aren’t easily quantifiable. ‘You need a very good memory and a lot of patience,’ says Gold. ‘You have to be interested in people and actors, in what makes people different from each other.’
Contrary to Hollywood stereotypes, movie stars don’t magically appear to a casting director in a sea of faces; but Gold thinks talented actors aren’t hard to spot. ‘It’s quite clear when someone
stands out from the crowd, when somebody seems to get it and would be a good match with the character on the page,’ she says. ‘It’s always exciting when that happens.’
Claire Foy, whose portrayal of a young Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown recently won the Golden Globe for best actress in a TV drama, says that Gold – who also cast Foy for the role of Anne Boleyn in the BBC’s Wolf Hall – never goes for the obvious choice. ‘She meets people like me, fresh out of drama school, who haven’t got any idea what they’re doing, because she’s interested in finding different personalities for different characters,’ said Foy, in a video tribute for Gold’s Bafta Special Award last year.
In addition to the Bafta, Gold’s eye for talent has earned three Primetime Emmy Awards (out of nine nominations) for her television casting work. Yet, casting is the only major creative department on a film that isn’t generally recognised by film awards.
‘I think casting is the thing that other people feel they can take ownership of, because it is collaborative,’ says Gold. ‘Once a film has been made and the actors start winning awards, if you acknowledge that there was a creative process by a casting director, it makes you question that part of it. People just want to think about the end result and how great it is. To acknowledge the position of the casting director in that is slightly confusing at that point.’
Nevertheless, the casting community has been lobbying film organisations to recognise casting directors over the years. Gold jokes that award ceremonies are not keen to add another award to their shows – but she also believes that the Bafta helps the cause.