Monday, August 25, 2014

My interview with Casting Director Billy Hopkins ("Good Will Hunting," "The Butler")

Billy Hopkins is a casting director with over 200 film and television credits, including, “Good Will Hunting,” “The Butler,” “Precious,” and the TV pilots for “Sex and the City,” and “Roseanne.” He was also responsible for the casting of the 1992 Broadway production of “A Streetcar Named Desire, “ the 1990 Broadway production of “Six Degrees of Separation,” and the 1988 Broadway production of “Speed the Plow.” He has directed numerous stage productions, including the current staging of Roger Hedden’s “The Sky and the Limit” at 59E59 Theaters.

Billy Hopkins interview:

1. Would you talk about the callback? Because sometimes actors don’t know if they are supposed to reproduce the audition or make entirely new choices.

BH: Callbacks are tricky. If you do exactly the same thing, that never works, because then it’s stale. But obviously they want to see something similar. But I always think there has to be spontaneity, because if it’s not spontaneous, then it’s not going to be fresh. So don’t go back in and do something completely different, because that’s not going to get you the job. Hopefully they give you another scene along with the scene that you’ve done, because then there is something new to show. 

2. What are some ways that you have seen an actor sabotage themselves in an audition or a callback?

BH: Talk too much. Talk themselves right out of a job. At the same time, don’t be rude. Just come in, say hello, do your audition, if the director or casting director wants to talk, then they’ll talk. Second way, don’t be unprepared. Always be prepared for your audition. Usually people memorize the lines, I always say hold the sides. Other people have different feelings about that.  I can’t stand it if people have to stop and start because they have forgotten the lines. At least have the pages to refer to if you need it. At least know the lines. 

3. How has the job of casting director changed in the past 20 years? 

BH: It’s not as fun. When I started, we never put anything on tape unless you were doing an actual screen test. You just had auditions and then if you needed to show something you did a screen test. Then you had Betamax tapes, then things went to DVD and you had to burn dvd’s to send over to the director’s house. Now it’s all on computer and you download and upload things. It’s easy to send the things. But you have the director in the room a lot less now. In the beginning, when I started, you still had a screening process, but in order for the director to see the person, they actually had to be in the room with you. Sometimes you never even see the director. I’ve cast things where I’ve never met the director because they just watch it on the computer. That’s rare, but it actually has happened. Then there is self-taping, because they don’t want to fly the casting director, they used to fly me to hotels and places, but that rarely happens anymore. So you get self-tapes from Los Angeles or wherever.

4. Do you feel that there is less respect for the casting director?

BH: Well. Yes. Because if the producer says, ‘well, we’re just going to pay you this,” and I say, ‘no, I want more money,” they’re just going to go off and get somebody else.  I make less money for doing the same amount of work than I did 10 years ago. 

5. Do you feel that with your body of work, that you get some respect?

BH: Yes, I do. I do get some respect, but it’s different. I’ve had to change. I’ve been willing to be malleable.  Jobs that maybe I wouldn’t have taken ten years ago, I take.
I certainly do a lot more independent films, but I love independent films. Because I can get a lot of actors jobs that wouldn’t get jobs in big studio films. And I certainly do love to do studio films. I just have to do more jobs, because I get I get paid less on independent films. But I love doing independent films.

6. What are some of the projects that you felt really represented what you are about, and the kind of work you want to be doing?

BH:  Recently? “Precious,” directed by Lee Daniels, “We Need to Talk about Kevin, directed by Lynne Ramsay, I felt really proud of those and they had good casts. “Those were both independent films. “The Butler,” which was also directed by Lee Daniels. I don’t know what the Butler is considered, because it wasn’t really a studio film, but it had a studio film feel, so I guess it was like a gigantic independent film.

7. When holding auditions, do you give notes to actors? Do any notes become more common?

BH: I always ask them just to do it, to start with. And sometimes, I just have them do it once. It depends, because sometimes I think there is a value to just having the director see that first take, I just want to see what they bring to it. Sometimes, I give them a direction just to see if they can take a direction. So the direction might just be something--even if I liked what they did--to see if they can take some kind of direction. It may be an obvious direction, even if they don’t need it. Sometimes it’s an adjustment in the scene that I know the director wants. But I always like to see what they bring to it. To see if they’ve prepared, if they’ve made a choice, or if they haven’t made a choice.

8. What about with actors you haven’t seen before, actors who are just coming out the door. 

BH: Yeah, with green actors, what I find exciting is someone who is new and I see the potential in them. What’s dispiriting sometimes is when you give a note and they don’t take it and then maybe you’ll try it again and they still don’t take it. It’s discerning whether they’re incapable of taking it or they don’t want to take it, they’re not listening. 

9. With an actor who is starting out, has an agent and is training, what is it sometimes that you wish somebody had told them before coming to the  audition?

BH: You’re going to be nervous, so don’t pretend that you’re not going to be nervous. Use your nervous energy, try to use it to your advantage. Because even experienced actors get nervous auditioning. There are some really experienced actors who still have to audition who get nervous. So try to channel that energy into your audition in a positive way and use it to your advantage, instead of pretending that it’s not there—because that will just screw you up. 

10. Is there any misperception that actors have about casting directors that you’d like to address?

BH: We’re actually your friends. And we can help you a lot more than you realize. 
You should be friendly to everyone in the casting director’s office from the moment you step in the door.  You shouldn’t be rude to the assistant or the intern, because everyone in the casting director’s office is there to help you. And if you give anybody attitude, they’re going to give you attitude right back. And we remember everything. Yes, sometimes it gets frustrating, you have to wait. That’s just the way it is, things get backed up. Particularly if there’s a director in the room, it gets backed up a lot more. And even when there’s not a director, it can get backed up and it gets frustrating. If you have to get to another appointment, ask nicely, if you just ask nicely, usually everyone is willing to help you out. We want everyone to do the best audition possible, it reflects on us too. Whether it’s a film, or a television show or a play or whatever, we want to get it cast. 

11. How do you think actors should spend their spare time?

BH: Dancers have to take dance classes, but actors can be really lazy.--because they don’t have to do anything if they don’t want to. If you have a nude scene or have to take your shirt off in a scene, go to the gym. If I see one more actor in a play and they have to take their shirt off and they’re out of shape, I’m going to vomit! If an actor says, “Ohhh, I’m not getting any work…” Well then, make your own work. Make your own creative work, have a creative outlet, at least that helps you not go crazy. That can mean taking class, taking a workshop, doing scenes with friends. Read plays, go to plays, I know theater is expensive but there are ways to figure it out. That’s why I like New York better than L.A. I know that’s going to get me in trouble, but I live here for a reason. Actors do have to go to L.A. because there’s work there, I understand that. There’s a lot of really good work that’s done in L.A. But that’s what actors should be doing, they shouldn’t just be doing nothing. Read a play…!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Quote: Uta Hagen: On Being an Actor "What does it take?"

"It takes talent. TALENT is defined in the dictionary as "the natural endowment of a person with special or creative aptitudes." In an actor, I believe, these endowments consist of high sensitivity and responsiveness to sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, of exceptional sensitivity to others, of being easily moved by beauty and pain, and of having a soaring imagination without losing control of reality. Once one is blessed with these endowments, it takes an UNSHAKEABLE DESIRE TO BE AN ACTOR together with a NEED TO EXPRESS what one has sensed and felt in the concrete terms of the characters with whom one will identify on the stage. The need to express should not be confused with a kind of vanity or a kind of "Look at me, here I am!" egotism, which is so prevalent in the theater. Nor should sensitivity be confused with neuroses or their personal display.

Theoretically, the actor ought to be more sound in mind and body than other people, since he learns to understand the psychological problems of human beings when putting his own passions, his loves, fears, and rages to work in the service of the characters he plays. He will learn to face himself, to hide nothing from himself--and to do so takes an INSATIABLE CURIOSITY ABOUT THE HUMAN CONDITION. 

It takes a SOUND BODY, as well developed and cared for as that of an athlete. It takes a TRAINED VOICE, as flexible as that of a singer, and FINE STANDARD SPEECH which must be developed for use in all the dramatic literature that makes greater demands on him than the regional speech with which he began his life. 

When a God given or genetically inherited talent exists, the would-be actor must face the fact that it is of little use without the TENACITY AND DISCIPLINE it takes to make something of the talent.

To be more than an adequate or serviceable actor, it takes a BROAD EDUCATION in the liberal arts. If this has not been provided for, remember that once you can read, you can educate yourself in the understanding of human beings and the social conditions under which man has struggled throughout history by reading not just dramatic literature, but also masters of the novel and the endless biographies that substantiate faith in the realities of the past. Your feet can take you to museums, galleries, libraries, theaters, concerts, and dance performances. Your need for enlightenment will increase as you realize the ways in which these sources stimulate your own creative drives."

 by Uta Hagen