Updated: Mar 18, 2020
In a rare and exclusive session on the What's Your Name Again? podcast, top ranked Hollywood Casting Director, Wendy O'Brien, was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to sit down with Creator and Host, Kurt Caceres.
Casting Directors are always living under the shadows of obscurity in the public eye. Though they are one of the most important team members on any film or television show, it's usually the actors, directors, writers or producers who get the interviews, awards and media attention. The casting room is one of those few spaces in the world that very few have experienced, but of which all of the world would desire to truly see the inside of the casting process. Everyone's favorite character's on television or film at one time had to go through the casting process before they were chosen for the roles they play that changed their lives or impacted the lives of society, forever. Casting Directors are kind of the "Gatekeepers" of the industry, siphoning through thousands of actors yearly and opening the highly competitive, super secret doors, only to those with the talent and tenacity to stand in front of producers, writers and directors.
This highly sought after Casting guru always has multiple projects going simultaneous. She is best known for such award winning hit shows as Son's of Anarchy and Mayans M.C., among so many others. "Sometimes I will only see two actors for a role if I know it's them, but often times I may have to see five-hundred if the producers don't know what they are looking for". It takes a special skill set and experience to filter through the pool of talent in Hollywood and fit the casting pieces together for Network Executives, producers, directors and writers. They are all depending on Wendy to bring them Celebrity Star names for every role, which often times she says, "I have to have passion and believe in the concept so I can convince the Star Names why they should do the project".
Actors talk. They swap stories. Share experiences. And Wendy is known in actors circles as everyone's "favorite". She has earned this, not only because of her eye for talent, but first and foremost, her empathy towards the actors process. The stress and pressure of the "Audition" has been compared to that of a "Fighter Pilot". Studies have been made on the brain functions and heart rate in the human body, and not many experiences in any career effect the body the same way as does an Audition.
Consider this if you have never Auditioned. You have to learn pages and pages of dialogue and be "off book", meaning, not reading from the page. Then you have to create a character, often times crying, showing vulnerability or going emotional places most of us would have trouble doing alone in private. Then when the words come out of your mouth you have to sound believable. But wait!! You also have to do all this in front of a room of strangers who are only sitting a few feet away. Could be a room with Four people or often times Fifty, if its a Network Test. They are all looking at you like a piece of meat, a commodity. They are judging you the minute you walk in the room. To tall? fat? short? ugly? pretty? white? black? dark? light? hair to long? hair to short? nose to wide? lips to small? etc.............then you have to perform with fluid and absolute perfection. One chance. No warm up. No rehearsal. One take! All this after you sat out in the waiting room for an hour surrounded by twenty-five other actors exactly your type. Carbon copies? clones? Your competition staring each other down before each walks into the room. No pressure right??!!
Unlike most casting offices, Wendy has learned a technique that surprisingly enough, most other Casting Directors have not adopted. Being empathetic to the audition process and bringing comfort and ease to each actor before they step into the room. She greets every single actor outside with a big hug and she says "I can learn a lot just from that hug. Some actors will be shaking and I'll hold them longer and help them get calm. Others will be tense and I try and take some of that energy off their back". This is why Wendy is hands down every Actors favorite Casting Director in Hollywood. It's a simple concept. The more at ease and comfortable an actor can become, the better performance they will give. In the end, its a win-win for everyone. The producers and director find their diamond in the rough, Wendy completes the puzzle and the actor books the job.
Thank you Wendy O'Brien. You truly are the best.