How to deal with audition curveballs


1 delivery in which the pitcher causes the ball to deviate from a straight path by imparting spin.

1.1 North American informal Something which is unexpected, surprising, or disruptive.

You’ve been in this situation. You have meticulously prepared for an audition. You’ve worked on the character’s arc, maybe you’ve even practiced an accent, but when you get in the room, the director or casting director throws you a curveball: throw it all out. It happens, they ask you to read for a different character or they tell you the whole character has changed and throw a new scene at you cold. What do you do? It’s tough and it sucks because you have to forget everything you just worked on, but don’t see this as a negative. Everyone else who came in has been thrown this same curveball, and the way you handle it can help you get the job. Here are some tips for being quick on your feet.

Go big or go home

If you find out the shy quiet babysitter is now a maniacal serial killer, go with it BIG TIME. A curveball gives you the opportunity to make bold choices so do it. If what you thought was a tense drama is now a raucous comedy, make it funny (really funny). Don’t let what you previously worked on control your new choices.

Don’t second guess yourself

Acting is like dating: confidence is attractive and indecisiveness is not. When you get thrown a curveball, just go with it and make the best of it. Be decisive and be yourself and don’t worry about saying and doing the wrong thing. They know you haven’t had the chance to prepare so don’t worry about it being perfect. If you make a mistake, just keep going.

Have a positive attitude

You may be thinking, “I can’t believe these fools just asked me to do something entirely different.” But the reason we probably asked is because we realized the sides weren’t working or because we think you might be better for another role. We’re not trying to trip you or ruin your day. Even if you feel frustrated, just smile and dive in. Being flexible is a great quality for an actor; we all know that no project goes exactly to plan.

Let it go

Please. Please. Please. Don’t keep bringing up what you prepared and how much time, energy, and thought you spent preparing. We know and we’re sorry but things have changed now. Pointing out the fact that you didn’t have time to prepare this new material is unnecessary. We know! Just do the best you can, and let go of what happened before you entered the room.





How to Make the Most of a Small Role

While some actors jump straight into lead roles, most actors start out their careers with small parts. You’ve all heard the phrase “There are no small parts, only small actors.” I agree, and I believe that a small part done well, can launch or re-start a career. Let’s look at a few examples from this year’s Oscar race.


Moonlight, the achingly beautiful narrative about a young man growing up in Miami, features two supporting nominees. Mahershala Ali plays Juan, a father figure for the lead, who takes the young boy under his wing. Although Ali only appears in the first third of the film, his absence looms in the last two segments. That is in part because Ali makes the most of his few scenes by delivering an honest and detailed performance that captures the complexity of a man who sells drugs while taking care of a boy whose mother is addicted to those same drugs.


Playing that mother, Naomie Harris, another Oscar nominee, makes an indelible impression on the film. Her performance provides the throughline of the film as three actors portray her son at different ages. Her performances covers 20 years but Harris had just three days to to tell Paula’s story. She met actor Trevante Rhodes for the first time just minutes before their emotional third act scene. Harris relied on her training to create her performance with minimal prep time. In just a few days on set, she put in a performance that captured a flawed woman’s relationship with her son over two decades.


Michael Shannon is no stranger to small but vital roles, he was previously nominated in this category for his work in Revolutionary Road. As a Texas detective prepared to break the rules when justice is denied. Shannon’s performance is the highlight of Nocturnal Animals. He doesn’t appear until much later in the film as a part of the story within a story at the heart of Nocturnal Animals, but Shannon’s performance provides an askew moral compass for Jake Gyllenhaal’s lead.

Small parts are vital and provide the backbone of a great film. Make the most of them.

How to Stand Out in a Sea of Talent


There are so many actors out there that it might seem like casting is really easy. I mean, all you have to do is walk down the street in New York and you’ll probably run into an actor. But the fact is that while the talent pool is vast, it’s not necessarily as deep as you might think. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that New York actors aren’t skilled and talented and well trained, they are, very much so. I’m saying that it can be hard to find talented actors who don’t… look like actors.

In a sea of headshots, does your stand out or blend in? Here are ways to separate yourself from the crowd.

Do something, anything, different with your hair.

This specifically applies to women but is also valid for men as well. Everyone has the same three hairstyles, and while it may be true that if I’m looking for an edgy girl with piercings and tattoos, we can achieve that effect through hair and make up, if your headshot makes you look like a soccer mom, it will be harder for the team to imagine you in the role. Don’t be afraid to do something different; try an asymmetrical haircut or a fun color. Even just short hair on a woman can be a strong choice or just wear your hair natural. You may not get called in for soccer moms anymore but you will get called in for every single hipster role.


Actress Madeline Kelsey then…


And now…

Madeline landed a campaign of online and subway ads for Smile Direct Club. Her choice of an edgy look helps her stand out.


Have a sense of style

I understand that actors want to be blank slates that can be transformed into anything, but sometimes a blank slate is just that, empty. Make bold style choices that give us a sense of who you are. Embrace your personal style and be consistent whether going to auditions are going to lunch. Have fun! Be bold! Dare to be different!

Get new skills

Learn a language. Take a tap dancing class. Buy a unicycle. Learn a new sport. You would be surprised at the many different skills I am asked to cast and how small those talent pools become when suddenly an actor needs to speak a foreign language or do trapeze.

“Hands of Stone” and the White Gaze


I’d like to preface this piece by stating that I think Édgar Ramírez is one of the greatest actors working today. He is an actor with so many layers and skills that it constantly frustrates me that the projects he gets offered never take advantage of his talent (Joy, Zero Dark Thirty). (If you are unfamiliar with Ramírez’s genius, stop reading, go to Netflix and watch Carlos now! The man can act in 5 languages!!!) There was a time when Robert De Niro was my favorite working actor. Now, that time seems long ago as he continues to play a parody of a parody of his old characters, but I went into Hands of Stone thinking that maybe this combination of Ramírez, De Niro, and the life story of enigmatic boxer Roberto Durán could be the breakout/ comeback film I had hoped it would be when I first heard about it two years ago.

Unfortunately, Hands of Stone is not that film. There are many things that don’t work in the film, but the most egregious issue is that Durán as played by the always luminous Ramírez, is not the center of the film. That space is taken up by the character Ray Arcel, Durán’s American trainer, played by De Niro. Once again, even though there is a Latino star and a Latino director behind this film, the story revolves around the white character. This is Durán’s story through Arcel’s eyes and because it’s clear that Arcel never really understood Durán nor his motivations, the film doesn’t understand Durán either. Ramírez breathes life into this walking contradiction of a man, but the filmmaker seems uninterested in understanding Durán himself and instead relies on Arcel to provide oppressive voice over and in a painful press conference scene, to try to explain Durán’s motivation behind his most well-known moment. It’s not a spoiler to say that especially in the US, Roberto Durán is best known for quitting in the middle of a fight against “Sugar” Ray Leonard, and uttering the now famous words “No mas.” Durán, an icon in Panama, deserves a better film, and Édgar Ramírez deserves stronger material.


Now, I hear over and over that it is difficult to finance a story unless there is a white guy at the center. (See Matt Damon wandering into 10th century China in the The Great Wall). Jonathan Jakubowicz, the filmmaker behind Hands of Stone even wrote a piece recently about the need for more Latino movie stars. I just wish Jakubowicz had made a better film and trusted that his star could be the true lead rather than centralizing the white character and making the story revolve around Arcel’s interpretation of Durán rather than Durán himself.  I still have hope though. I am waiting for some talented writer of any background to create a star vehicle for Édgar Ramírez where he actually gets to be the lead. This guy is a knockout.

Just Be Yourself

Remember that advice that you got on the first day of school “Just be yourself.” Well, it still rings true, especially for actors. The Daniel Day-Lewises of the world are the exceptions that prove the rule. Most actors will play characters that have similar traits to themselves, and there is nothing wrong with that.

A while back, I was casting a film where we needed an actor late 30s to mid 40s to play a European film director with a flair for the dramatic and a bit of a temper. The character was seductive and manipulative at once. It was a solid role. The creative team decided the character could be from any European country and we saw actors from France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Russia. Sweden, and a few more. What I found ironic was that after living in the US for a number of years, several of the actors we saw had worked hard to reduce their accents and they struggled to speak in their original accent. They struggled to tap into their original language. They had done so much work to “fit in” in the US that they forgot what made them stand out in the first place.

My advice: Just be yourself. Of course actors can stretch and play different parts and no one wants to be locked into playing stereotypes, but don’t forgot what makes you special and differentiates you from the other actors out there. Sometimes, the hardest types to find can be “real New Yorkers.” There are plenty of “real New Yorkers” roaming the streets, but a real actor who still has an authentic born and raised edge is a diamond in the rough, that is why the talented actors who have maintained that edge work all the time.

Separate yourself from the crowd with your thing. If you’re from Georgia, don’t lose the accent, just learn to modulate it for different roles. Hang on to what makes you special and it will serve you down the road.

Got a Case of the Rep Sweats?

On this week’s episode of the fantastic podcast Code Switch, hosts Gene Demby and Kat Chow delved into the complexity of getting a case of the rep sweats. The rep sweats are a condition common to people of color and some women, especially those of us invested in entertainment, pop culture, and identity politics. We know that opportunities for people who look like us don’t come along every day, so when a new project comes out that features our people, we feel pressure to support it by watching and/ or buying tickets.

Rep sweaters are also hesitant to publicly criticize projects from, by, and about our people for fear that a lack of a united front could damage the possibility of future projects about us (listen to the episode to learn more about Margaret Cho’s sitcom All American Girl and why it took 20 years to get another Asian family sitcom on network TV).  The fear is legitimate, and a failure for one of us can be viewed as a failure for all of us. One misstep can be referenced again and again as the rule and not the exception. We don’t make things any harder for people who look like us so we support and hold our tongues.

I’ve written about similar issues on the blog before, but I’m interested to know how others feel on this topic. I know that if I dislike a play, movie, or film by and about black people, I am more likely to keep that information to myself. I don’t tend to watch TV shows out of obligation, but I have been known to buy a ticket during the opening weekend of a black movie just to give it my dollars so there might be more opportunities for black filmmakers in the future.

Is there something you do to show support for people of color in entertainment? Do you make a point of seeing films by women directors? Are you hesitant to criticize these works because of the potential backlash? Sound off in the comments.

Friday Netflix Festival: Black Film Canon

If you’ve been hiding under a rock, you may not have heard about the Black Film Canon a compilation of essential films from black directors compiled by the folks at Slate. There are some real gems on this list as well as a handful of films I haven’t seen. The earliest film is from 1921 and the latest is from 2016 so there is a lot to explore.

For this Friday’s Netflix Festival, here are a few canonical films that are streaming on Netflix right now.

Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

This film from Barry Jenkins chronicles the intersection of two black indie people in a gentrifying San Francisco.


Pariah (2011)

A tough and touching coming-of-age story about a teenage lesbian and her first sexual experiences. Directed by Dee Rees and beautifully photographer by Bradford Young, this film stars Adepero Oduye in fine form.


Fruitvale Station (2013)

Ryan Coogler’s first feature chronicles the last day in the life of Oscar Grant who was killed by police. Michael B. Jordan turns in a star-making performance.

Ashes & Embers (1982)

A little know (until now) film about a black man returning from Vietnam. I haven’t seen it yet, and didn’t know it existed until the Black Film Canon was released, so I’m looking forward to catching up with it this weekend.



My Take on Strong Female Characters

One movie trope that we’re always hearing about is the strong female character.  She is shrewd in business or she is lethal in combat. She is able to compete in a man’s world and she can hang with the guys. She can drink like a fish and curse like a sailor. She is everything that we often associate with masculinity but she’s a woman and she’s really hot. This SFC trope has been used in films and TV for years, and it popped up multiple times recently, particularly in Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m taking nothing a way from those performances, but I am bothered by the idea that a strong woman is one who acts like one of the guys. As if male approval and assimilation is the height of feminine achievement. Let’s redefine that strong female character for the next generation. Here are my picks of the strong female characters from 2015 films. They are smart, inquisitive, vulnerable, emotional, accomplished, passionate, and mysterious.

Therese Belivet in Carol

Played by Rooney Mara, she is young and impressionable and not yet sure what she wants. Her ability to dig into her vulnerability allows her to take a chance that leads to adventure, heart break, and a greater sense of self possession.


Kate Mercer in 45 Years

Charlotte Rampling plays Kate so simply and perfectly. She is a woman who slowly realizes that everything in her 45 Year marriage may be built on lies. She doesn’t beat anyone up or stop an army. She does explore her own mind, her own weakness, and her marriage until secrets are revealed that cannot be unseen. Her strength is that she is human and flawed.


Bianca in Creed

Tessa Thompson takes a part that could simply be a love interest role and turns it into an indelible character. Bianca is smart, determined and fighting a battle of her own against hearing loss. Her music and her passion drive her. She brings Adonis into her life to supplement and enhance it, not because she needs him to make herself feel complete.


Lucille Sharpe in Crimson Peak

Jessica Chastain fills this role with a delicate balance of passion and restraint. As the sister-in-law who may or may not be a threat to a young bride, Lucille brims with danger and desire. She is such a magnetic character, that I forgot about the other characters when she was onscreen.



Building Relationships with Casting Directors, Agents, and Managers










I can’t tell you how important it is to build relationships in this business. From my experience, there are people in this industry who approach a director, manager, casting director, agent, writer with a selfish intent. I can always tell when an actor approaches me with the clear objective of getting work from me. When/ if they glean that they can’t get work from me, they quickly move on. They see me and my colleagues only as a means to an end. No one wants to be treated that way. Yes, you want to work, but this is not the best way to go about it.

I love that actors are so passionate, but a self serving approach doesn’t get you ahead. What does get you ahead is building relationships with people. For example, on a regular basis I get calls, emails, and dropbys from actors who ask some variation on “Do you have any roles for me?”

This phrase usually comes in the first moments of the conversation. Half the time, the actor doesn’t even tell me his name.  I get it, you’re looking for work, but I’m not a vending machine for acting jobs. I’m a person who works very hard and appreciates respect.

The best way to approach an industry professional, especially someone you’ve never met, is to look up how that person wishes to be contacted. Guides like Call Sheet state each office’s preferred contact method. If in doubt, send a personal postcard.

When you meet someone in person, pay attention to the social cues that person gives you. Short answers usually mean that we’re very busy. Don’t keep pushing and probing. Don’t just try to find what I can do for you. See what you can do for me, in a non-kiss ass way. This relationship should be a two-way street. We need talented actors to fill roles, and you need roles. We should be working together. Engage us as humans and we will do the same.

So, when building those relationships, it’s important to get to know people a little bit (but not pry into personal business).

The Definitive Word on How to Become an Actor


I get emails and comments all the time that ask the same basic question “How do I become an actor?” Often times the person asking the question is young and inexperienced; however, if one types into Google “how to become an actor” the results are staggering. There are thousands upon thousands of web sites, videos, podcasts, books, and social media exchanges related to this topic. So why are people still confused? Are they simply unsure of how to begin or does this go to a deeper question of what makes a good actor? Or are they really looking to find out what it takes to be famous?

I’ve been writing a book lately that has made me reflect a lot on this question. Here is my answer, for now,  (at least the short version, for a more in depth response, check out the book when it’s published).

To Become an Actor:

  1. Study acting: take classes, go to the theater, watch movies and TV.
  2. Study people: observe friends, family, strangers. Listen to the rhythms of people around you. Watch how they interact.
  3. Study yourself: look at yourself in the mirror, dig deep to get to know where you can and cannot go emotionally. Attempt to see yourself as others see you in the world. Develop your voice, body, and mind as tools of your trade.
  4. Start acting: put on a play, make a short film, work with fellow students on a webseries. Learn by doing as well as through practice.
  5. Develop a technique: create an approach that works for you based on your studies and your experiences. Use your technique as the foundation you build your roles on.
  6. Treat it like a job: get up every day and work toward being a better actor. Go on auditions. Keep working at it. Realize that your work has value. Be a professional.

What do you think? What advice would you give to an actor just starting out. How did you start? Do you think I should add or take away some thing?I look forward to your comments.

Friday Netflix Festival: South of the Border, Down Mexico Way

This weekend, sit back, relax with a tropical drink, and savor these films from our southern neighbor. Mexico has a daring and vibrant film culture, and these are just a few of the standout Mexican films you can watch on Netflix Instant right now!

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) It’s hard for me to express just how much I love this movie. This film marked the first time I had seen Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna and both are magical as best friends who go on a road trip with an older woman. This film is truly sexy, but also smart, and quiet. This remains my favorite film from future Oscar winner and Gravity helmer, Alfonso Cuaron. It is definitely worth watching again or seeing for the first time.

Like Water for Chocolate (1992) This sumptuous feast is sure to make you hungry. This vibrant and poetic film tells the story of a woman who magically infuses food with her emotions. It’s intense, epic and unforgettable.

Instructions Not Included (2013) This is not a great film. It’s sappy and sentimental and way too long, but man do I love it. Eugenio Derbez is playboy who gets saddled with his infant daughter after an old flame leaves her behind. He eventually moves to Hollywood to become a stuntman so he can provide for his little girl. That’s only a fraction of the story (yes it’s too long) but this film is deeply funny and harkens back to fun 80s comedies like Mr. Mom and Three Men and a Baby.

El Infierno (2013) There are a lot of films about the Mexican drug trade, but this one manages to rise above cheap violence and tell the story of a conflicted man. The film relies on humor to humanize its subjects but doesn’t shy away from the realities of small town Mexico.


For Your Consideration: An Oscar for Casting Directors

Have you ever watched the opening credits of a movie and thought about the work of the people who have made that film happen? Traditional opening credits include the main actors, director, producer, writer, cinematographer, hair, make-up, and costume designers, art director, editor, composer, sound and vfx director,  and casting director. All of these artists are eligible to win an Oscar for their efforts except the casting director (The Best Picture Oscar is awarded to the producer). Casting is a field in the film industry where women flourish; is it a coincidence that contributions of casting directors are largely overlooked?

Why are casting directors the odd ones out? The Emmys now honor casting directors, and the Academy now has a branch for casting directors. Why is there still no award? Some argue that casting directors don’t make final casting decisions so they should not be eligible for an award, but by that argument cinematographers and editors wouldn’t be eligible either. Who knows whether an acting choice was the idea of the actor or the writer or the director. Does that mean actors shouldn’t be eligible because all the choices were not their own? I think the tide is turning and in about 5 years or so, we’ll see a casting category at the Oscars. I predict the casting nominees will be CDs who cast large ensemble pieces or who discover new, vibrant talent.  Also, CDs who thought of casting an actor in light could receive this honor. Another casting challenge is finding actors to portray real people from history and biopics are some of the most successful properties come Oscar time. Finally, casting multiple versions of the same person (for example a film like 2002’s Iris) could prove award worthy as well.

Let’s look back at  a few of the last 10 years and consider what would or should have been nominated and who should have won.


Nominees:  Avy Kaufman for Brokeback Mountain, Sarah Finn & Randi Hiller for Crash, Chris Gray and Kimbelry Hardin for Hustle & Flow, Avy Kaufman for Capote, and Mary Venieu for Sin City

Anyone who knows me knows that I loathe Crash (seriously, I really really hate this movie. It’s Best Picture win still bothers me 10 years later)  but I definitely think that the ensemble piece would have been nominated and possibly if there were an Oscar for casting, Crash might have won that award and Brokeback Mountain might not have been robbed. My personal choice would have been Sin City, the range of talent in that film is stunning and they’re all giving top notch performances to match the cool comic style. Rutger Hauer, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Carla Gugino, Benicio del Toro, Powers Boothe, Nick Stahl, Elijah Wood, Michael Clarke Duncan… this was some cast.


Nominees: Ellen Chenoweth for No Country for Old Men, Avy Kaufman for American Gangster, Laray Mayfield for Zodiac, Richard Hicks & David Rubin for Hairspray, Jina Jay for Atonement and Laura Rosenthal for I’m Not There.

This is another solid year. Casting a musical is a daunting task, and I had to give props to the Hairspray team. Children are also difficult to cast as are younger and older versions of the same person which is why Atonement, with it’s Oscar nominated turn from Saoirse Ronan, makes the list. Zodiac works so well due to the three hefty talents at it’s center (Gyllenhaal, Downey, and Ruffalo), and No Country for Old Men is still best known for it’s inventive use of Javier Bardem. For me, though, there’s no greater casting achievement than I’m Not There. It’s got Cate Blanchett as a gender bending Bob Dylan, Christian Bale and Heath Ledger as two sides of the same coin, and then Richard Gere and a little kid. Throw in chronically underappreciated Ben Whishaw and you’ve got a masterpiece.


Nominees: Mary Vernieu for Black Swan, Laura Rosenthal for The Kids Are All Right, Kerry Barden & Paul Schnee Winter’s Bone, Ellen Chenoweth True Grit, Sheila Jaffe The Fighter, Lisa Miller Katz for Easy A

In a year with few true stand out films, there a few casts that draw special attention. The Kids Are All Right has some very strong performances and believable teenagers which are always difficult to cast. Also, more Ruffalo which is never a bad thing. Winter’s Bone was the breakout for now omnipresent Jennifer Lawrence, and The Fighter garnered multiple acting nominations, but I would give it to Black Swan for bringing together unexpected choices Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis along with the amazing Vincent Cassell 9and lest we forget Winona Ryder).


Nominees: Sophie Blanvillain & Bahijja El Amrani for Blue is the Warmest Color, Kerry Barden & Paul Schnee for Prisoners, Ellen Chenoweth for Inside Llewyn Davis, Francine Maisler for 12 Years a Slave,  Tracy”Twinkie” Byrd & Nina Hettinger for Fruitvale Station.

This is another strange but exciting year. I’d like to point out that any repeat nominations are purely coincidental, I looked at the films released first and then looked to see who cast them. It shows that certain casting directors are always at the top of their game. So, I chose Blue is the Warmest Color because of the magical pairing or Léa Seydoux and the breathtakingly awesome Adèle Exarchopoulos. Prisoners stands out due to the top notch casting on all levels. Evry actor in that film could carry any movie. 12 Years a Slave gets a nod for “discovering” Lupita Nyong’o.  I would give the victory to Fruitvale Station mainly because of its young leads, Michael B. Jordan and Melonie Diaz.

Black is the New Black

It’s official: black folks are in again! With the success of new TV shows like How to Get Away with Murder, Black-ish, and Empire, networks and studios are hungry to get their hands on more black properties. Next season there are multiple shows with predominantly black casts or with a black actor in one of the lead roles. Here are some of the potential highlights.

Minority Report (Fox) stars Meagan Good as a detective working with a former precog (Stark Sands) in this follow up to the film of the same name.

Rosewood (Fox) stars Morris Chestnut as an accomplished and ambitious doctor who lives life to the fullest.

People Are Talking  (NBC) stars Tone Bell and Bresha Webb as a modern  suburban couple.

The Player (NBC) will feature Wesley Snipes in a lead role.

Uncle Buck (ABC) starts Nia Long and James Lesure with Mike Epps as the title character.




5 Books By Black Women that Should Be Turned into Movies


Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

50% science fiction, 50%  historical fiction and 100% awesome, Kindred tells the story of a modern woman sent back to early 1800s Maryland to help an ancestor. For those who don’t know their history, Maryland was a slave state and this is pre- Civil War era. Our heroine’s journey is epic in scope and yet deeply personal and specific. Kindred is provocative, intelligent, and full of tension. It would make a taught historical, science fiction, thriller.

32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter

A girl who was bullied in high school reinvents 32Candlesfinalcoverherself in glamorous Los Angeles, but her past catches up to her and threatens her new life. This riff on the John Hughes film 16 Candles has a cinematic feel and a charming heroine.  This could be fantastic vehicle for Nicole Beharie, Yaya Dacosta or Adepero Oduye. It would be great to see a smart romantic comedy that it is actually funny!

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans


This series of 8 short stories is so visual and full of life, that you could easily make 8 beautiful short films. The characters are so rich and vivid and come from different walks of life, but Evans imbues them with such distinct voices that it’s hard to believe that each story has the same author. She is a great talent, and short film adaptations of these stories would keep black and multi-racial actors working for years.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Twelve tribes of hattie

This novel explores the life of Hattie and her descendants over some of the most difficult and defining years in American history. There is so much for a filmmaker to play with in this novel; the imagery is staggering and the language is heightened and poetic.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Salvage the Bones

This visceral novel is steeped in mythology and jam-packed with visuals. Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award winner explores the life of Esch, a teenage girl exploring the nature of love and sexuality in the days before Hurricane Katrina. It is raw, stunning, and definitely worthy of a first-class adaptation. Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg would shine in this role.

What is Black Cinema?


In the Morning, part of the BAM New Voices in Black Cinema Festival.

A few weeks back, I attended a screening in the New Voices in Black Cinema Festival.  I often seek out films by and about black people because I want to support my community and like every one else, I have a desire to see images of myself reflected on screen. After watching that film and others like it at similar festivals, I was struck by an important question: what is Black Cinema?

The poster for the 2012 action war film Red Tails

At first, I decided that a black film is one that has a black protagonist and is either written or directed by a black filmmaker. Fruitvale Station fits and so does The ButlerHowever, the latest efforts by respected black filmmakers John Singleton and Antoine Fuqua do not (Abduction and Southpaw, respectively)Under my definition, a film like Spike Lee’s Inside Man would be a black film so would Amma Assante’s Belle, but I don’t really think the term fits either film.  It seems slightly more fitting for Red Tails, but even with a majority black cast and a black writer and director, I don’t know if I would say Red Tails is a black film. My inadequate definition leaves room for the dubious Eddie Murphy vehicle Norbit as well as Tyler Perry’s entire oeuvre. Ride Along and Think Like a Man would qualify while Dreamgirls, The Color Purpleand The Help would not. It’s a curious question – what makes a black film– I believe I’ve yet to find the answer.

Mega Sized Movie Poster Image for Newlyweeds

The poster for Newlyweeds

When most people I know talk about Black Cinema today, they’re talking about independent films like Big Words, Newlyweeds, Mother of George, and In the Morning (the film I saw at BAM  a few weeks back). There are other films with largely black casts like Beasts of the Southern WildBlue Caprice and Gimme the Loot, but without a black writer or director behind them, can they truly be black films?  Ultimately, does it even matter? Is it still important to have a separate cinema?  Are the relatively few people who go to black film festivals the only ones who even vaguely care?

Time to weigh in. What’s your definition of a black film? Is there even such a thing? Have black filmmakers become part of the mainstream? Sound off in the comments.

Is This the End of the Socially Awkward White Male Genius?


Allegiance, the ever so derivative Russian spy show on NBC, has been cancelled after 5 episodes. I’m always a little sad when a TV show gets cancelled because that puts people out of work, and Allegiance shot in New York and I know a few people who worked on it in one capacity or another. However, it was yet another show where a genius white guy solves mysteries that the regular cops or FBI or CIA can’t possibly figure out. But wait! He also doesn’t understand social cues, or humor, or sarcasm!

Sound familiar? A socially awkward white male genius (who almost always has a female partner) who solves crimes but can’t seem to connect with people emotionally? Well it should only sound familiar if you’ve seen House, The Mentalist, CSI, Scorpion, Elementary, Sherlock, Dr. Who, Criminal Minds, Monk, Backstrom, and/ or The Big Bang Theory.  In the TV world, the fact that these guys are good at their jobs excuses them from being decent human beings (well, some of them are half way decent, but they all lack connection to the real world). This kind of on screen behavior is primarily afforded to white men. While there a few exceptions, Dr. Temperance Brennan on Bones springs to mind, these characters are almost exclusively male. They are also overwhelmingly white which says two things: white men are smarter than the rest of us and because of their far superior intelligence, we mere mortals should excuse their rude, angry, insufferable, sexist, racist, insert-negative-word-here behavior.

I’m over this TV trope. First, being a genius apparently does not make you that special because every network has a few. Secondly, these characters are so lacking in originality that it’s often hard to tell one from another. Finally, if women and people of colored were offered these roles more often, I might not be as dismissive. Antisocial behavior from women and people of color is not excused and forgiven in our society. A cime-solving Latina genius who is also a socially awkward misanthrope might be fun and provocative, but for now it seems intelligence and jerky behavior are the white man’s terrain.

So, while it sucks that Allegiance was cancelled, I hope this will make way for a show that doesn’t wallow in these same tired racist and sexist tropes that have dominated TV for years now. Men shouldn’t simply be excused for their anti-social behavior and women and people of color can fill genius roles as well.

Why Don’t Actors Think They’re Worth Minimum Wage?

I work with actors on a daily basis. Actors spend a lot of money developing their craft. Classes, coaches, workshops, and headshots are not cheap. Then when all the effort and investment pays off and an actor gets hired for an AEA showcase or an independent film, that actor is often paid less than minimum wage.

Is your skill and craft worth less than $7.25/ hr?  (the current federal minimum wage. It’s $9/hr in CA and $8.75/hr in NY) Then why are you accepting so little for your work? I’ve touched on this subject before, but now with a new AEA 99 seat contract looming in LA, the question remains. Why don’t actors think they’re worth minimum wage?


The debate over the new 99 seat contract in LA is about paying actors minimum wage for their rehearsal and performance time. Producers and actors have come out overwhelmingly AGAINST paying actors minimum wage. We want to raise the minimum wage for fast food workers, security guards, and retail employees, but when it comes to acting, even actors are against paying themselves minimum wage. That, my friends, is messed up.

The answers I most often hear are:  If I ask for more money, they’ll just go with someone else or The theatre can’t sustain itself if we pay actors minimum wage.

Let’s start with the first one. You may be right, if you ask for more money you may be passed over in favor of someone cheaper. In a relationship, if you assert your value and make it clear that you won’t date a cheater, your girlfriend may break up with you, but who wants to date a cheater? Who wants to work on a project where your skills aren’t valued? If your answer is, “I do.” That, my friends, is messed up.

I work with film students on a daily basis and somewhere along the line, they’ve been told that actors are a dime a dozen and that you don’t have to pay actors or treat them well and you’ll still get what you need from them.

Now, imagine that if in the above sentence, I replaced “film students” with “men” and “actors” with “women”. It would read:

I work with men on a daily basis and somewhere along the line, they’ve been told that women are a dime a dozen and that you don’t have to pay women or treat them well and you’ll still get what you need from them.

We’re outraged at blatant sexism but disrespect for acting doesn’t seem to ruffle any one’s feathers. We demand equal pay for women but balk at paying actors minimum wage. That, my friends, is messed up.

The second argument is that the theatre won’t survive if actors get paid minimum wage. To that I say: okay. If theatres fold because they can’t afford to pay actors a minimum wage, then so be it. They clearly have a flawed business model if they are reliant on an underpaid workforce. Wouldn’t we say the same thing about a business that paid low wages under the table to undocumented workers and then forced them to work in substandard conditions? Why do actors think they deserve to be treated this way? That, my friends, is messed up.

My hope is that by collectively asserting the value of acting, actors will actually be able to make a living from their work. Actors and non-actors: let’s talk about why this under valuing of acting talent exists and what we can do to make a lasting change.

The Blair Underwood Effect or Where Are My Good Black Men?

When I was a kid, Thursday night was the only night that mattered on TV. In the late 80s and early 90s, Must See TV consisted of The Cosby ShowA Different World, Cheers, some random show at 9:30pm, and then in the 10 o’clock slot, L.A. Law.


Blair Underwood shutting it down as Jonathan Rollins on L.A. Law.

I was just a kid so I didn’t understand everything that was happening on the show, and my parents often sent me to bed not too long after the episode started. However, there was one abundantly clear thing about L.A. Law: Blair Underwood was on the show. For those unfamiliar with this American TV classic, L.A. Law was a drama about a law firm that starred an array of beautiful people pretending to be lawyers. Corbin Bernsen, Harry Hamlin, Jimmy Smits, Susan Dey, and a host of others filled out the cast. They handled a docket of complex civil and criminal cases. In season 2, Blair Underwood arrived on the show; he played a cocky, young, brilliant attorney named Jonathan Rollins. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t hurt that Blair Underwood was and still is drop dead gorgeous, but I remember being enthralled by this strong, self-assured, educated black man. I had never seen anything like it on TV, not even on St. Elsewhere or comedies like The Cosby Show and A Different World. My parents are both college educated. I grew up in the suburbs so I understood that black professionals existed, but actually seeing a skilled and respected professional black man at work  on TV (not just on the basketball court or the football field) it was life changing.


Viola Davis plays a top lawyer on How to Get Away with Murder


Terrence Howard plays a drug dealer turned rapper turned mogul on Empire.

Today when I see Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union, Nicole Beharie and other strong, intelligent complex black women on TV, it still means a lot to me and I know it means a lot to young people too. But, I have to ask, where are the good black men on TV today? I don’t need them to be saints, and we all know that the black women on TV have their flaws (which is a good thing) but would it kill us to see a black man who is not a by-the-numbers detective or criminal. A criminal in a suit is still a criminal. When the best roles for black men on network TV are still drug dealers, I have to wonder if in some ways we’ve taken two steps forward and two steps back. Don’t get me wrong, I love Empire, but I wish there were more roles for black men than just drug dealers or cops. Look at the dramas you watch, and count the number of black men who are neither criminals nor cops. I don’t think TV characters need to be role models, but I think diversity is important. Images matter because we can be truly inspired by what we see, and we can be muted by the stereotypes that limit the way we are perceived.

Is it Time to Leave Your Agent?

I talk to a lot of actors who are trying to get an agent. They think that if they can just break through and get representation, that will catapult their careers to the next level. A trickier dilemma for many mid-career actors is when to seek different representation. There are issues of loyalty at play as well as the fact that many actors do not know how to navigate the process of changing agents. I’ve put together some thoughts on how to decide if it’s time to move on and how to land the new agent who will help build your career. First, the reasons to jump ship:

1. You’re not getting sent out on auditions

Your agent works with you and for you. It should be in your agent’s interest to send you out. If you are never going out, there is some sort of disconnect. Either your agent isn’t working for you or your materials aren’t speaking to the CDs who are casting. Maybe your agent is submitting you for the wrong projects. There can be many reasons why you aren’t getting auditions through your agent, but at the end of the day, your agent is there to connect you with more work so if you aren’t even being seen, there’s a problem. If you aren’t getting sent out, schedule a meeting  with your agent (face-to-face) to talk about the kinds  of projects he/she is submitting you for.  Find out if you’re on the same page about the kinds of auditions you should be getting. Which leads us to….

2. Your agent is never available

The job of a talent agent is difficult and thankless, but you should still be able to schedule an occasional  sit down with your agent. At the very least, you should be able to schedule a phone call. Your agent should respond to your messages in a timely fashion. When your agent is incommunicado, it might be time move on.

3. You’re not growing

It’s important that actors continue to grow. The agent who was able to get you in the door for the projects you wanted 5 years ago, may not be able to give you access to the projects you want now. That’s okay. I always say, you never want to be one of your agent’s best known or most experienced clients (unless you’re represented by CAA, WME, UTA, etc) If you’re the most well known client at a small agency, the chances are that your agent isn’t able to get you to the jobs that the other actors at your level have access to. That’s not always the case, your agent may be working tirelessly on behalf of his best client, but if you’re not getting sent out as well (see #1) then it is probably time to consider your other options.

Jeremy Piven

Jeremy Piven as everyone’s favorite talent agent on Entourage.

So, now that you’ve decided to see what’s out there, how do you find a new agent? Chances are your last agent found you at a showcase or film festival and now that you’re looking to move out, you might have to approach a new rep on your own.

1. Do your research

Investigate every agency that seems like it might be a good fit. Talk to friends and colleagues about their relationships with their agents. Look at an actor who is your same type who is where you want to be in 3 years. That person’s agent may be an excellent choice for you because she has already guided someone along that same path. Also, it’s important to review any contractual obligations you might have to your agent before moving on. You need to know if this potential break up will cost you.

2. Make sure your materials are on point

A new agent wants to see the best side of you so make sure your headshot, résumé, and reel are up to date. If you haven’t already, start updating your social media accounts and make it clear that you are an involved and active member of the acting community. The same goes for your website, blog, and other pages. An agent is going to investigate you so make sure you’ve got your best materials out there.

3. Get a recommendation

The best way to make yourself known to a new agent is to be recommended by someone that agent knows and respects. The strongest recommendations come from that agent’s clients and casting directors that agent has worked with. Don’t be shy, ask someone who has a connection to that agent AND knows your work to recommend you. It really makes a difference.

4. Strike while the iron is hot

Do you have a film in theatres or at a festival? Are you going to be on TV or in a high profile play? When your work is current and you’ve got a bit of buzz that is the perfect time to engage with an agent.

5. Be the good guy/ girl

Parting can be such sweet sorrow, and actually leaving your agent can be difficult and uncomfortable. Just try to be the bigger person and let your former agent know how grateful you are for everything he did for you. A parting gift and a heart felt card go a long way. You always want to stay on good terms with people in the industry.

It Took the DGA 5 Years to Tell Us What We Already Knew: Now What?

If you’ve been keeping up with industry news, you will know that the DGA (Director’s Guild of America) has been working on a five year study to compile information on the gender and ethnicity of first-time episodic TV directors.  The results reflect what we already knew. There are limited episodic TV directing opportunities for women and people of color. Of the 497 new first-time TV directors hired in the last 5 years, only 18% were women and 13% were people of color. Keep in mind these are first-time directors. This is not a case of established male directors getting jobs over less experienced women and people of color. These are all rookies. This research shows that of the 497 people who were handed their first opportunity to direct an episodic, about 408 were men and approximately 430 were white. This kind of discriminatory hiring is unacceptable.

DGA Women

So Now What?

When you break down the numbers, it becomes clear that first time directors are being chosen from three main pools of talent: writers (28%), ADs/ UPMs and directors in other genres (35%), and actors (18%).  If the on-screen talent is mostly white and the writers rooms are mostly male, how can we expect to hire directors from diverse backgrounds? Also, the DGA has to look at itself. If you go to the DGA’s diversity page, you’ll find a number of directing initiatives from different networks and studios but none guarantees any actual opportunity to direct an episodic.


How to Move Forward

I’m a casting director, and I know that sometimes I have to ask directors and writers about diversity. Sometimes I’ll say “Would a woman work in this role?” or “Do ALL of the characters have to be white?” Almost every time, the director and the producer haven’t even considered the idea of hiring a woman or a person of color. It’s not that they’ve set out to be racist or sexist, they’re just reflecting what they see on screen. They’re oblivious. We need to take the same approach here, let those who hire directors (execs, networks, studios) know that you want to see more diversity behind the camera as well.

As TV watchers, we can do something even more radical. Here is the Worst List from the DGA (scroll down), it includes shows that hired fewer than 15% women and/ or people of color in the 2013-2014 season. Some of those shows are no longer running (research always lags behind) but the worst list includes shows like Hannibal, Fargo, and Resurrection three shows that hired zero women and zero people of color during the 2013-2014 season. The list also includes Mom (5%)The Mindy Project (9%), Castle (13%) and Once Upon a Time (14%) four shows that are almost exclusively watched by women that feature strong female characters.  Do we march? Boycott? Write letters? Tweet? How do we open up a closed shop?

Let me know in the comments.

2014: Not a Banner Year for Black or Female Filmmakers

So, I’ve been negligent about updating the blog. However, it’s that time of year when people try to do better so I’m doing just that by writing my first blog entry in months. Look for some changes in 2015. In addition to (hopefully) more frequent posts, I hope to shift the focus to a blog that specifically looks at issues of diversity in casting and feminism in filmmaking. Yes, I used the f word.

On that note, if you read this article for the New York Times from two years ago, you might feel encouraged about increased opportunities for female filmmakers. However, if you read this article from the New York Times a couple weeks ago, you might be discouraged by the fact that only 3 major studio films released in 2014 were directed by women. What gives? Are things getting better for women filmmakers or not?

Ava Duvernay

Selma director Ava Duvernay

My three avid readers may recall a post from late 2013 that talked about what an exciting year it was for black filmmakers and actors. Readers should not be surprised to find that there will be no such post this year and 2014’s crop of  films by and/ or  about blacks was pretty thin. There were a handful of films with black protagonists (Get On Up, About Last Night, Annie) and a few with black directors (Selma, Beyond the Lights, Ride Along, Think Like a Man Too, Dear White People), but that’s pretty much it, and other than it being a breakout year for the Sony-criticized Kevin Hart, it appears that things have gone back to status quo for blacks and women in the industry. So, for every article you read about Ava Duvernay this year, (like this one or this one or maybe even this one), remember that she is the exception and not the rule. It’s perfectly fine to celebrate her and Angelina Jolie and but let’s not forget that we have so much further to go before we make any real and lasting progress. In 1976, Lina Wertmüller was the first woman nominated for an Oscar for Best Director, nearly 40 years on, only three other women have joined in her that accomplishment. Will another 40 years go by before women filmmakers achieve parity? WIll we even have films 40 years from now?

A little ove a year ago, I also wrote this piece about mainstream Mexican films. However, that appears to have been a brief blip on the radar screen as well. Men and particularly white men still dominate screens in the US and the world. I like white guys. They’re great. I’ve even dated a few, but I’m tired of only seeing their stories on film.

I hate to Debbie Downer; I believe in problem solving, not just complaining. I invite everyone to post possible solutions in the comments. Please let me know ways we can improve and increase cultural/ ethnic diversity and female representation in the film industry. I’m starting by forming a think tank to discuss representation issues and then set about finding real solutions. If you want to be a part of that, feel free to email

Happy New Year!

GQ Just Dissed Adam Driver’s Awesome Theater Credits

Adam Driver GQ

Adam Driver graces the September 2014 cover of GQ

Adam Driver is on the cover of GQ which is awesome. Do you know what’s not awesome? The way writer Jessica Pressler completely dismisses Driver’s impressive theater credits in her article

“Three years ago, Adam Driver was a former Marine with little more than a degree from Juilliard and a guest spot on Law & Order to show for his acting career. Then he landed on a show called Girls.”

Really? Three years ago, let’s see, that’s 2011: the year Driver starred on Broadway in Man and Boy opposite Frank Langella (that’s three-time Tony Winner and Oscar Nominee Frank Langella) in a play by lauded playwright Terrence Rattigan. That same year, he also replaced Zachary Quinto in the lead role of Louis in the critically acclaimed Signature Theatre Revival of Tony Kushner’s landmark two-part play Angels in America. He even got a nice write up in the New York Times. Four years ago, Adam Driver made his Broadway debut in Mrs. Warren’s Profession opposite Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins, and he even found time to star in The Forest at Classic Stage Company along with two-time Oscar Winner Dianne Wiest. Five years ago, he graduated from Julliard and starred in Slipping at The Rattlestick along with fellow rising star Seth Numrich and The Retributionists at Playwrights Horizons with fellow up-and-comer Cristin Milioti (she has a new TV show this fall, check it out).

Mrs. Warren's Profession

Driver and Cherry Jones in Mrs. Warren’s Profession

Between graduation in 2009 and the premiere of Girls in 2012 he starred in two Broadway plays and six Off-Broadway productions (I’m counting Angels as two productions and throwing in the Off-Broadway revival of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger which premiered at the Roundabout before Girls first aired in early 2012). Most actors would kill to have so little to show for their careers three years post-graduation.


Driver, right, with Michael Urie in Angels in America: Perestroika

“… Success wasn’t exactly immediate for Driver in the years after college. He did a few Off-Broadway plays, the obligatory Law & Order episode, a couple of easily missed movies.”

Here again, Ms. Pressler dismissively refers to “a few Off-Broadway plays” as if Driver performed spoken word in some guy’s basement apartment. What Ms. Pressler fails to grasp is that it was his performances in these plays that got him noticed. His diverse stage work over the course of a short period was a springboard into these highly visible film and television projects. Writers are always quick to say some actor “just came out of nowhere” when the fact is that a lot of actors have been performing at a high level on stage for years before Hollywood comes calling.  I’m a casting director, and I knew who Adam Driver was before he was on Girls because I go to the theater. This is how we find actors, it’s not the only way, but it is one of the best ways.

Dear Actors: Stop Being Douchebags on Social Media

I’m friends with a lot of actors, both in real life and on social media. I follow a lot of actors on Twitter. Actors continually pop up in my news feed on Facebook. Recently, more and more, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. I’ll call it: the rise of the douchebag actor. How do you know if you’re being a douchebag on social media? Follow these tips to steer clear of douchebag-ville.

A douche by any other name would smell as sweet.

A douche by any other name would smell as sweet.










1. Stop bragging about your auditions

I got an audition for a TV pilot opposite a major actor. #blessed

I’m running from this casting office over to that casting office because I’m so in demand right now. #actorlife

Who cares? Did you book it? If you book work then feel free to humbly express how excited you are.  Getting an audition is no great feat. Also, actors often come dangerously close to revealing private, sensitive information about upcoming projects. Just keep your audition schedule to yourself. Who are you trying to impress? Or are you just trying to intimidate other actors? If you must, post something about how you feel about an upcoming audition so you can express your feelings to your friends.

I’m really excited about today’s audition

I’m nervous about my audition tomorrow, but I know I can handle it.

2. Stop telling people how busy you are

I’ve gotta get across town in time for my fitting before a musical audition, and rehearsal for my one woman show #busy

Filming all day and then studying up for my huge commercial audition tomorrow #setlife

I get it, work can be hard to come by in this industry. It’s great that you’re so busy, but imagine if all professions did the same thing.

Meeting my client for arraignment followed by quick trip downtown for a settlement conference #lawyerlife

Just took out Mr. Johnson’s appendix, now a quick wash up before cutting into Mrs. Bradley’s gallbladder #thedoctorisin

These posts are annoying and unnecessary. There is a fine art to self promotion. Actors have to be a little selfish to get ahead in this business, but constantly posting about your busy schedule just makes you look self-absorbed.

3. Stop asking me to contribute to your crowd funding campaign

Look, if we are actually friends and you’ve been over to my house and or had a private meal with me, then go for it. However, if we met once at a casting event or at a friend’s birthday, I am NEVER EVER EVER going to contribute to your campaign. EVER. There are actual charities I like to support, so unless you actually know someone personally or truly believe they will have a specific interest in your specific project, stop begging people for money on social media.

4. Keep the political stuff to a minimum

Again, if you are talking to your actual friends, feel free to say whatever inflammatory thing you want. However, when posting to a wider range of acquaintances or, in the case of Twitter, the whole world, what you say can come back to bite you. Your religious and political beliefs are protected under the first amendment, but the constitution does not protect you from other people’s opinions of what you’ve said. Your posts affect the way you are perceived. I’ve seen more than a few objectionable posts from actors that have led me to reconsider whether I should be calling them in for auditions. Be smart and think before you post.

5. Stop asking for sympathy

I didn’t book that big job. An actor’s life is so hard. Gotta get back in the game.

The casting director said my voice was all wrong. Why do I keep putting myself out there?

Newsflash: acting is not hard work. It’s a skill. It’s an important part of our cultural experience. It’s a craft, but back-breaking labor it ain’t. You aren’t spending 12 hours down in a coal mine. Lives do not hang in the balance. There are people out there with actual problems. People who suffer from war, violence, poverty and disease deserve sympathy. Get some perspective and stop whining about every rejection. Acting is 90% rejection, if you can’t handle that (without whining) maybe it is time to find a new field.

What Does Diversity in Casting Actually Mean?

I was looking for something to watch over the weekend so I decided to check out the recently cancelled Mixology on Hulu. ABC describes Mixology as:

One bar. One night. Ten single people. Welcome to Mix, a high-energy bar in Manhattan’s trendy meat-packing district and the backdrop of a sexy new comedy from the writers of The Hangover.

As someone who lives in Manhattan and has be known to hit trendy and not-so-trendy bars in the meatpacking district, I was interested to see how New York singles would be represented. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t deliver on the “sexy” or “comedy” claims in the write up, but I’m always more interested in the casting anyway. The cast includes: Adam Campbell, Adan Canto, Blake Lee, Andrew Santino, Craig Frank, Alexis Carra, Frankie Shaw, Vanessa Lengies, and Kate Simses. On the surface, this group passes “diversity casting” muster: Craig Frank is black and Adan Canto is Mexican. Also, research shows that Ginger Gonzaga has Filipino-Dutch heritage and Alexis Carra is of Spanish, Cuban and Argentinian descent. Vanessa Lengies is a Canadian actress born to a German father and Egyptian mother. In life this is a diverse group of people, but onscreen they look like this:




Diversity isn’t just about sprinkling in a few faces with darker hues, it’s about diversity of culture and perspective. The diversity of our cultural and familial backgrounds is part of what makes us unique, but too often on TV we see racially diverse actors playing culturally similar characters. How do we go beyond token diversity and create multi-faceted characters who embody the full cultural, spiritual, economic, and lifestyle diversity of Americans? Or am I asking too much from a comedy made by the guys behind The Hangover? Sound off in the comments section!

Casting Lessons from The World Cup

I love soccer (also known as football). The World Cup is my favorite sporting event. I love it even more than The Super Bowl and The Summer Olympics, and I’ve been watching game after game with excitement. I’m always a casting director, that’s just how my brain works, and some of these players should go into acting after their playing days are over. One of the other joys of watching soccer is that it helps me to practice my Spanish. I love to watch the games on Univision and hear the answers shout “GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!”

While watching Univsion one day, I was struck by the below commercial for Hyundai, not because of the content or originality, but because I had seen it before. The exact same Hyundai commercial, with the exact same actors had aired on ESPN and only the language and the uniforms were different. Watch and be amazed!

What is the lesson here for actors? Doesn’t this just mean less work to go around if the same actors are playing to different markets? Well, yeah, but it also means that actors need to expand their language skills and think outside of their ethnic backgrounds to see what other ethnicities and backgrounds they can reasonably portray. Hyundai tweaked this commercial for a different market with a simple change of language and jersey. Who knows, they may have aired this same ad all over Europe with the same actors in 10 different languages!

Actors, I encourage you do make a list of the ethnicities you could realistically play and see how you might be able to crack into commercials for that target market. I watch The World Cup and see diverse squads like Brazil, Germany, England, USA, Algeria and more with people of every hue playing for their countries. The world is getting smaller, and it’s time for actors to diversify their portfolios.

Why I Love My Job!

Being a casting director is awesome. I enjoy working with producers and directors to bring their vision to life. I pine for that ideal moment when the right actor comes in and we all just nod to each other in mutual agreement. I love discovering new talent, but my favorite thing is when my hard work and research pay off.

Being a casting director rocks!

Being a casting director rocks!

In many cases, I work with young filmmakers with little casting experience. It’s up to me to educate them about the details of the casting process, and often times, give them pointers about working with actors. Auditions are my favorite part of my job, but so much goes into making that audition a reality.

Before I can get into the audition room, there are hours of meetings and preparation. There is a ton of paperwork before and after the audition and then there’s the research. I know some actors think that a casting director just posts a breakdown and then calls people in to audition, but that’s not the case. I’m working every day: I read the trades, watch TV shows, go to movies and film festivals, see plays and musicals, and watch actor reels. All of this information goes into a talent database that I often rely on when casting. If I could tell people one thing about my job, it would be that a casting director is part of your creative team. Don’t hire a casting director just to set up auditions times or just to make offers. Hire a casting director who has the experience, skills, access, and passion to find the best cast for your film.

Advice for Actors: Keys to Confidence


I meet a lot of actors. I would estimate about a thousand or so a year, maybe more. The actors who have confidence without being cocky are the ones who ALWAYS make the best impressions. Those who are timid and lacking in confidence often don’t make an impression at all.

Here are the keys to finding your confidence as an actor (and these tools work in life too).

1. Accept Compliments

There are few things more irritating than a person who doesn’t take your compliment. Maybe I’ve just seen you in a show, afterward I tell you that I thought you did a great job. You respond, “I felt really off tonight” or “Last night was better” or “I totally skipped a whole page of dialogue.” Now, you have dismissed my compliment and told me that I must be blind and crazy to think that was a good performance. You just made me feel like crap for giving you a compliment. Thanks, jerk. Next time, just say “thank you,” even if you thought your performance was terrible. That person saw something in you that you didn’t see or feel, maybe you’re a good actor after all.

2. Stop Caring So Much

God I hope I get it! I hope I get it! Yes, everyone has those lines from A Chorus Line running through her head at a big audition. It’s important to keep these nerves in your head and not actually say them out loud. No one likes desperation, and there are few things less attractive than a desperate actor. Sure, there’s a lot at stake, but just try to relax. Remember that the whole world does not depend on whether you get this role. Show that you care but not that your life depends on it (because it doesn’t). It’s important to have perspective and realize there are so many things more important than this particular job. Desperation is not sexy.

3. Ask for What You Want

I meet lots of actors (as previously stated) and some I have gotten to know a bit over the years. Often times, an actor will meet me in a casual setting and then wait months or even years to ask me, “Is it okay if I send you my headshot?” Really? Just get to the point already. If you are interested in being considered for a project, don’t wait to be asked just reach out to the casting director (via email or snail mail whichever he/ she prefers because nobody prefers phone calls) and ask for an audition. Don’t wait for an invitation to the dance, get out there and cast yourself.

4. Be Comfortable with Your Type

So many actors tell me, “I don’t have a type.” If your name is Gary Oldman or Daniel Day-Lewis, this may be true. If your name is anything else, you’re just resistant to the type you’ve been assigned. Look at the roles you’ve been cast in. Have you played heroes or villains? Leads or character roles? Moms or prostitutes? If you legitimately have played many different types of roles, you might need to type yourself. Find the types of roles where you really shine or focus on the type you played in the roles in your reel. Accept it or change it, but don’t pretend like you’re so versatile that you don’t have a type. Actors love to be versatile but from my perspective that just makes you harder to cast because I don’t know where to put you and I don’t have the time to keep looking at your materials to figure out how to cast you. Help me help you!

New Leaf

So, I promise to update my blog more often. I’ve been really busy (which is good) so I haven’t stayed on top of my blog (which is bad). I’m back at it and will do my best to post every Monday and Friday for the rest of 2014.  Woo hoo! Let’s get started.

What Next for Lupita?

Is Oscar win just the beginning?

Is Oscar win just the beginning?

Winning an Oscar is a momentous point in any lucky actor’s career. Sometimes the award is bestowed on an established actor as an acknowledgement of a full and versatile career (ie Peggy Ashcroft, Melissa Leo, Judy Dench). Sometimes, the Oscar heralds a particularly surprising and not expected to be repeated performance (ie Monique, Jennifer Hudson, Brenda Fricker, Linda Hunt). And sometimes, particularly for young women, the Oscar is the industry’s investment in the future. It’s a sign that Hollywood insiders are putting their stamp of approval on a new star (ie Jessica Lange for Tootsie, Marisa Tomei, Goldie Hawn, Mary Steenburgen, Mira Sorvino, Anna Paquin, Anne Baxter, Jennifer Connolly, Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer).

After winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, Jennifer Connolly, Mira Sorvino, Angelina Jolie and other similarly talented and relatively young actresses were offered more lead roles than before their wins. Do you remember Jennifer Connolly in Dark Water and The House of Sand and Fog? Mira in Mimic and The Replacement Killers? Angelina in every movie from the late 90s to early 2000s ( 2 Tomb Raider movies, Taking Lives, Beyond Borders) The Oscar win in a supporting category brought them leading roles in major studio films. Will the same hold for Lupita? Is there a place in Hollywood for a young, black leading lady? Only time will tell, but I’m an optimist and I’m betting that Lupita is set to break down some barriers.

Twelve years ago, Best Actress winner Halle Berry, definitely saw an uptick in her career in the aftermath of her Oscar win. Interestingly, Berry often stars in roles that are not ethnically specific, for example, Gothika and Catwoman could have starred an actress of any race. Will Lupita get those same kind of offers or will her offers be relegated to specifically black roles in period films? Personally, I hope Hollywood embraces her fully and gives her at least the chance to play a few diverse roles. Why not a romantic comedy or a spy thriller for Ms. Nyong’o? Maybe an action movie? She’s on your screens now in the Liam Neeson juggernaut Non-Stop. Let’s hope the roles keep coming non-stop for her!

Favorite Male Film Performances of 2013

Finally, it’s time for the guys. Here’s an eclectic group of standouts from last year. All are worth checking out.

Gael García Bernal is one of my favorite actors, and he put in a stunningly understated performance in No. (I realize this film was up for the 2012 Foreign Film Oscar, but it wasn’t released in the US until 2013 so I’m including it, so there!)

Chiwetel Ejiofor holds a special place in my heart. I saw him in Blue/Orange at The National Theatre in London 13 years ago and he was amazing. It’s great to see what a litttle hard work and years in the theatre can do. If you haven’t seen it yet, run don’t walk to see Twelve Years a Slave.

Also featured in Twelve Years a Slave, Michael Fassbender had another excellent year. The Counselor wasn’t a great film, but Fassbender really stood out as a Texan who crosses a moral line and pays the price.

In in a disappointing adaptation of my favorite book of all time, Joel Edgerton proved to be a bright spot among a miscast cast. He is a real talent and I can’t wait for him to have a meaty role in a better movie.

I have adored Michael B. Jordan since I first saw him as troubled teen Reggie Montgomery on “All My Children.” Now he is finally getting the chance to come into his own, and Fruitvale Station has given him the springboard to a magnificent career. I look forward to seeing more amazing things from him in the future.

In what may just be my favorite film of the year, the never predictable Joaquin Phoenix fully embodies his sweetly awkward character. Her is magic, and Phoenix’s complex performance is on display in every scene.

Another flawed film with a lovely lead performance, if you’re reluctant to see The Reluctant Fundamentalist, check it out purely for Riz Ahmed‘s breakout performance.

Matthew Goode rarely gets juicy roles, but he killed it in this odd little gem. Stoker boasted a fabulous cast and creepy story reminiscent of some 1960s horror films. Here’ hoping Goode gets more juicy roles in the future.

Adam Driver is another theatre trained actor who has made a mark in film this year. Driver and fellow stage vet Stark Sands were the best part of Inside Llewyn Davis

Speaking of stage actors, one of my favorites is Colman Domingo. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen him on stage, but for now be content to check out his small but pivotal role in The Butler.

Pedro Almodovar is one of my favorite directors, and once again he did not disappoint with I’m So Excited! The three flight attendants played by Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo, and Carlos Areces are funny, flamboyant, and fabulous!

Benedict Cumberbatch is another actor who has enjoyed a great year. His smug, snarly characters have thrilled me for years, but in Star Trek: Into Darkness he devoured the scenery like a champ!

Another British scenery chewer, Idris Elba, tore it up in the grossly underrated Pacific Rim, and then flipped the script in a tender and nuanced performance in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. This guy can do no wrong!

Last but not least, if you haven’t seen Prisoners, rent it, pay per view it, redbox it, or netflix it ASAP. This taut thriller features the two best performances by Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal ever! These guys are both at the top of their form and it’s a shame that they haven’t gotten more recognition for this film.