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Bonnie Gillespie's Casting Q’s, live

LETTER FROM L.A.: Bonnie Gillespie's Casting Q’s, live

copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


            Back Stage West's Bonnie Gillespie has put her numerous interviews with CD’s into a book: Casting Q’s (from Cricket Feet Publishing - Together with Take One! Bookstore, she’s also been bringing CD’s together in person. Four CD’s appeared at the second of these sessions: Linda Phillips-Palo (long with Francis Ford Coppola), Mark Teschner (CD for “General Hospital” and “Port Charles”), Jenny O’Haver (who mainly works on commercials) and Twinkie Byrd (who mainly works on music videos.)

            She began by asking “What is the biggest single factor in the decision to cast?” Mark Teschner: “There’s no one single factor. It’s such a combination of things. I need dynamic, exciting, charismatic, sexy, people who can bring characters to life…. The only thing you have control over as an actor is your craft.” Linda Phillips-Palo: “It’s a thing of coming in and doing your best work.” Jenny O’Haver said, almost sheepishly, that in commercials it was much more about a look. But she added. “It comes down to being centered.” Like many commercial CD’s, she also stressed the importance of improv training.

            Twinkie Byrd said bluntly: “Music videos: it is what is…Come looking like you’re supposed to be there.” And she told of a director’s saying, “Those are Payless shoes!”

            On getting seen: Teschner gets 1000-1500 pictures for a role, which makes it important to have representation. But he also kept returning to the same message: be prepared as an actor. “If you’re 18-25, you may be getting into every door. It doesn’t mean you’ll stay there.” Byrd was very big on “H-Y-P-E”, and said how being an African-American woman with orange hair had helped her stand out as a CD in NYC. O’Haver: “It’s having a big personality.” She then mentioned one woman who’s always successfully crashed her auditions. Which prompted Phillips-Palo to say “Do not crash my sessions.” She went on to say that she was a “long-time person” and mentioned actors she’d known for 18 years.

            On coming out ‘for pilot season’: Pretty unanimous here: it doesn’t work anymore. Teschner: “There are too many seasoned actors.” Others added that they didn’t have much time during that period and that it takes time to get the kind of representation that’s going to get you in the door.

            On not looking like your headshot: It’s AMAZING how many CD’s continue to have this simple complaint. Every one of them joined in to say how much this keeps happening, and how much they hate it. Byrd: “ It’s a bad sign when people say, ‘Is this you?’”

            On making the CD’s life easier: The big complaint here was people who change their numbers frequently and/or don’t update their contact information with SAG.

            On special skills: Everybody agreed these were important IF you can really do them. Don’t, on the other hand, forget skills you do have, such as medical training or stenography.

            On color headshots: Teschner said they weren’t “necessary”, but Phillips-Palo and O-Haver like them. The African-American Byrd addressed the delicate issue of people of color; knowing, for instance, if someone is light- or dark-skinned can sometimes be important, and lighting on a black and white shot can be misleading in this regard.

            On favorite TV shows: An unusual question, but for what it’s worth, Phillips-Palo said “The Sopranos” and “Just Shoot Me”, O’Haver also liked “Sopranos”, as well as “Six Feet Under”, Teschner and Byrd “ER”. Byrd added that more and more music video directors are getting out of “rumpshaking mode” and going for narrative, since they all want to do films. As a result, she has to watch a lot of different things.

            On CD workshops: Teschner and Phillips-Palo said they’d already been following the new state guidelines, which they said hopefully would drive those who weren’t really teaching out of the business.

            On instant turn-offs (don’ts): Teschner had several: “Don’t preface negatively (‘I just got the part’)…Asking ‘when are callbacks?’..One person said, ‘I’ve never seen the show, what can you tell me about it?’” Others echoed these. (Byrd mentioned one person who asked Forest Whittaker, “Is this your first directing job?”)

            Lots more, but all just a taste of what many will find a very useful book.