Ahead of the Artios Awards, Megan McLachlan chats with the President of the Casting Society of America, Russell Boast.
One of the most underrated aspects of producing a film is casting. After all, can you imagine if some of the best films of the year didn’t have the right actors? Judy without Renee Zellweger? Rocketman without Taron Egerton? Knives Out without, well, everyone?
The Casting Society of America’s 35th Annual Artios Awards celebrate casting in film, TV, and theatre, and will honor casting directors and professionals on Wednesday, January 30, with ceremonies held in Los Angeles, New York, and London. And while many of us are still disappointed about January’s Oscar snubs (Jennifer Lopez’s omission still stings), the Artios Awards nominated many of the films that failed to get Oscar nominations, including Clemency, Hustlers, and Dolemite is My Name, with these projects featuring people of color in the lead roles. Is this awards show more progressive than the Academy Awards themselves?
Ahead of the ceremony, I had a chance to chat with CSA President Russell Boast about the key to good casting and how the industry is becoming more diverse.
Interview: CSA President, Russell Boast
Awards Daily: The Artios Awards seem to be more inclusive than the Academy Awards, with many of the nominees being from films that the Academy snubbed. What does Artios look for when it comes to nominating films?
Russell Boast: The Artios Awards have always been about honoring our casting director members when it comes to both their creativity and their collaboration and creative producing partners. Our profession is so uniquely creative in that you get to take the imagination and the words of a writer, the vision of a director, and then have the big producers, and all of those things have to meld together and then you find the perfect actor. It’s a little different from the other awards, and I think in terms of the diversity of it, and we’ve had very important conversations about it. We’re super active in increasing diversity, and I think it’s starting to become evident in our awards show.
AD: Do you think there should be a casting Oscar?
RB: Here’s what I think about that. I want to say time will tell, in terms of having an Academy Award for casting. I’m mindful that there’s a lot that needs to be considered, but what I am enjoying is that our profession is getting so much great recognition now. I would love to see an Academy Award for casting.
AD: What’s the key to good casting?
RB: That’s a good one. (Laughs) I’ve never been asked that before. Yeah, that’s a really good question. The key to good casting is really collaboration. There’s a lot of creativity involved. It’s an art form—I firmly believe. It’s collaboration and being able to really, really work closely with the director or your writer or producers to really bring the vision to life. For me, that is an artistic collaboration second to none in our business. It’s that and then having relationships with actors, knowing actors, nurturing actors. Many casting directors have been instrumental in establishing actors’ careers and without those casting directors, you might not know those actors. It’s such an important part of what we do is form that relationship with actors.
AD: As a casting director, how do you realize a director’s vision? What if it clashes? How does that relationship work?
RB: It doesn’t always [work]. Once a project is greenlit, more often than not, we’re one of the very first departments to come in, and I don’t think a lot of people know that. We meet with the director or producer for the first time, and that common vision is something that formulates in that very first meeting. We’re on the same page or more interestingly, if we are challenging the vision, even in terms of what the writer imagined and then put into words, we have the luxury of sometimes going into a meeting and saying, ‘What if this role [were] a woman?’ We get to add those layers in some cases. I’ve been fortunate enough not to clash too much with producers in terms of vision. It’s a very honest, creative part of the project, when you really get to formulate that relationship. If that relationship works, you continue to work together to a point where there’s a creative trust. It’s like a marriage. You don’t even have to talk to each other—it just happens.
AD: Are there differences between casting for TV versus movies? What considerations might there be?
RB: It is different. For television, for the most part, it’s very fast paced. On a TV pilot, we generally have 10 weeks to put together a first pilot episode. In the normal non-industry world, it would be about 6 months of work that has to be done in 6 weeks. The pressure is high, and it’s incredibly fast-paced. On a feature film, you have the luxury of more time, where you get to sit down with the director, set up lunch for next week, and often you’re helping develop that project. That process takes much longer and for the most part you have more of a luxury of time, which makes the casting process quite significantly different. I think in the feature-film world there’s more exploratory capability.
AD: What do you think is a misconception about casting?
RB: I think a misconception about casting has come through the history of casting. Back in the days when the studios kind of created the start in the ’30s and ’40s, casting directors were in-house talent scouts. They were looking for potential property actors who were going to make those studios a lot of money and then bring them in in-house, putting them on contract for the studios, and then developing a commodity within those studios. And at that time, there was a lot of creativity going on. They worked one-on-one with the actors, and there became this misconception that there was nothing creative with our work in a sense of what we’re doing. And I think that misconception has hung around a little, and I totally disagree with it, because it’s all about knowing actors and being personable and being creative and being able to weave the fabric together, using our creative minds to produce an actor for a part.
AD: Obviously everyone is talking a lot about diversity when it comes to casting. Do you feel that things are changing for the better?
RB: 100 percent. Especially from my side and from being inside the CSA machine, we’re huge advocates for increasing diversity. I used to sit in rooms and talk to producers, directors, and casting professionals about not only finding the actors that should be getting these roles, but focusing on the next generation of actors who are going to take the lead in the next five years and what we’re going to do about it. Now there’s a lot of hard work and our work in the community has caught fire. We’ve done open calls for people with disabilities, North African and South Asian [actors], Indigenous people. That’s creating a big wave in the industry. Through that and through our journey, diversity has increased a lot. So many of my friends who couldn’t get into the room are becoming the leads of TV shows. It’s a huge transformation. It’s not about doing the right thing—it’s about doing what we should have been doing all along.
AD: What do you think casting directors are doing differently today than they did 30-some years ago when the first Artios Awards were held? How much has changed?
RB: I think what’s changed about it is certainly the technology of it all. It’s become much more fast-paced. I still remember, and I don’t want to date myself, but we used to use fax machines and we’d call actors and copy VHS tapes and put a whole bunch in the deck. So the technology of now being able to have an actor in the room and put him on tape and then immediately have the directors and producers see them within minutes by the time they leave the room [has changed].
The Artios Awards are Thursday, January 30, with ceremonies held in New York, Los Angeles, and London.