e-TALENTA and Breakdown Services – We connect Europe to Hollywood

Russell Boast

Interview with Russell Boast, Casting Director,
Vice President Casting Society of America

You were born in South Africa and you’ve worked on films all over the world. How did you get into casting in the first place?

I don’t think we choose to be in the entertainment business, I think the entertainment business chooses us. I had no idea what casting was and a producer friend asked me to go out and find performers for a commercial. Many of my friends at the time were actors, singers; acrobats so I signed them up, easy peasy. I had no idea that this would become my fulltime career.

For many years after that commercial, I did location based casting which meant that I travelled to distant and remote locations where there were no agents, managers or even trained actors to work with real people and get them camera ready for International Films. I was giving people who never imagined they’d appear in a film the opportunity of a lifetime and seeing the positive impact that had on their lives motivated me to eventually relocate to Hollywood to continue making dreams come true on a much large and more powerful scale.

What has been the most challenging project to cast and why?

The most challenging was an indie called From The Head. I was given less than three weeks to find over 60 speaking roles and the majority of the film took place in a New York strip club restroom so every character had to look and sound totally different so the audience didn't confuse any of them. My team and I had a blast and saw almost every actor in town, in three weeks!

Which is your preferred method for actors presenting themselves to you?

I think this differs from actor to actor. Some actors are great networkers and some feel like great stalkers. For me it’s all about how an actor approaches me. If your presentation says; “Please hire me, I need a job!” My answer is; “I need a job too, do you know anyone who’s looking for a Casting Director?”. If an actor approaches me like a peer; “I really want to make this movie with you and your team”, everyone feels more comfortable and then we decide if this group of people are a good fit for the particular show.

Tell us a little bit about the obstacles European actors might face when wanting to be considered for roles in US productions.

First and foremost is getting your 01 Visa or Green Card, which for the most part, isn’t easy. Immigration laws are strict in the US and unless you are at the very top of your game in your home country and can prove that you have an “extraordinary ability” and have a track record to prove that ability, you’ll struggle to get working papers and without those you cannot work. Secondly, the Hollywood market is a very, very big pool of actors and becoming a known entity takes a lot of time and dedication.

How important are European actors becoming for international castings, specifically in the US?

I think in the recent years the demand for European actors in the US has grown exponentially. The American versions of hit international shows have created a demand for authenticity and the American entertainment business has become a lot more cosmopolitan.

What positive attributes have you noticed in European actors applying for US productions?

With all due respect to the hardworking American actors I know, European actors love to do the work. At a certain definitive point in their careers, American actors become “offer only”, meaning they no longer audition for a certain level of role as determined by their management team. The majority of the European actors I have met in the USA are ready to audition, improvise, quote Shakespeare, do backflips in the blink of an eye and they are passionate about the work. Showing up on time, consistently doing excellent work and being enthusiastic and passionate about the process goes a long, long way in Hollywood.

What would your advice to young casting directors be?

Make friends with actors, watch TV and Films, go to live performances, immerse yourself in art and culture and find a mentor who is working in Casting either at home or abroad.

What is the best cast you have ever seen assembled in a film or TV series and what made it so great?

I am a huge advocate for diversity in the media. I think that in the past, producers have been so focussed on stars who were ‘known quantities” that the diversity lines got warped and we wasted opportunities to be inclusive on screen and in turn ignored a large group of potential viewers. Shows like This is Us, Sense8 and Stranger Things are huge hits because they are relatable, accurately representing life and real people. A “known quantity” is becoming less important to viewers.