Real People Casting

“We want REAL PEOPLE” not actors.  Because obviously actors are not real people?  ;)  I used to hear the term “Real People Casting” and cringe, because it meant so much more work for me.  What the heck?!  I’d wonder why we couldn’t just cast actors that look the part and can deliver a performance.  Instead I had to go out looking for people, put a camera in their face and expect to strike gold with exactly the specs the client was looking for.  Needless to say, it was not something I was excited about- until I really learned what Real People Casting was all about…

After a couple jobs of “real people casting”, I found out exactly what it was all about- authenticity.  It didn’t REALLY matter if the person was an actor or non-actor, all that mattered was the authenticity of the person- the story behind the story.  Actors ARE in fact real people too, crazy right?!  When a client is looking for “real people” they just want someone authentic to the story they are trying to tell.  It comes out naturally, it’s not staged, it’s not forced.

I have met some truly incredible people with amazing stories, specifically in the real-people casting element.  Many of these people have been actors too, with stories that don’t get told during a scripted audition.  Real People Casting has become one of my absolute favorite things to do.  People give you a porthole into their lives, and you feel their passion and emotion for what they do, who they are and what they stand for just by sitting behind the camera and listening to them.  They are authentic and not “putting on a show”.  Often times, I get the opportunity to open a door for them that they may have never thought possible.  It’s a very cool experience.

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with an incredible director on a big national commercial that was not even shooting in Boston.  He had been casting in NY and LA and not finding what he was looking for- authenticity.  So he decided to come to Boston.  One of the first conversations I had with him, he told me he had never cast in Boston before but he just had a feeling that the people were more “real” here. 

As our casting conversations progressed, he encouraged me to see both “real” non-actors and “real” actors.  With the actors we brought in to audition, we learned more about them, more about their heritage, the life story.  It showed that “real” side of them.  When auditioning the required scene, we asked them to almost “do nothing” and just sit with their thoughts.  It was incredible to see the truly authentic performances that came out. 

In conjunction with the actor auditions, the director asked me to “journey out into the field” and find an amazing Irish Grandmother.  So I did.  One person led to another person who led to another.  Funny enough, my best connection to this woman came from a local actor!  I met Marie, an Irish Grandmother in her 80s with an amazing Irish brogue.  Aaron Kahl and I showed up at Marie’s house for our appointment a little early and she answered the door with a curler in her hair, completely flustered that we were early and she was not “made up”.  It was perfect.  This was the “real” Marie.  She invited us in, made us Irish soda bread and offered tea- it was exactly like walking into a movie where you are visiting your Irish Grandmother.  As we sat and chatted with Marie, we got to know her and her family history.  We asked her if she would mind if we filmed, she didn’t.  As our conversation continued on camera, we came to realize Marie was a beautiful singer when she started singing spontaneously.  She showed such emotion, both happy and sad, when talking about her life and her past.  It was all so beautiful.  I walked out of the house and looked to Aaron and said, we’re done- we found our girl.  He agreed immediately.  To cut a very long story short, Marie survived multiple auditions in Boston and New York and ended up landing the lead role in this project alongside another local actor, a young girl who couldn’t have been more amazing.  I cannot wait to see the result, I know it will be authentic, beautiful and “real”.

Through real-people casting, I have become a better casting director for both scripted and non-scripted projects.  If someone I am auditioning has never done anything like this before, I get the opportunity to make it a great experience and memory for them.  I do my best to ease their nerves, as putting anyone in front of a camera for the first time can be a little intimidating.  My goal is to show that I am listening and interested without verbally telling them so, because the client is not interested in hearing me say “wow, interesting, so cool, yup, absolutely” every other minute.  If it is an actor that I’m auditioning for a “real people” spot, I get to know them on a personal level and it actually helps me connect with them more for future auditions as well.  Real people casting has taught me to be more engaged and more present in every single audition, and now I’m always the first to jump in and take over a real people casting job :)

- Ashley