Associate / CD Q&A Series: Associate Alice Merlin interviews her CD Angela Demo
1. How did you get your start in casting?
I started working at a commercial casting office after I quit the agency, and I loved it right away. I had been a floater and an assistant at CAA for a few years but I knew I didn’t want to be an agent so when an opportunity came along to try casting, I said $100 a day, score! Wonderful! I had no idea what I was doing but I loved working with actors. Commercial Casting Directors aren’t very involved; they don’t get to go into sessions because they’re always setting up the next day, so they just give instructions to the camera person to direct the actors which I found so bizarre. But sometimes I’d get to go in and give notes if they were having a hard time finding something, and I really liked that aspect of it but I wanted to do it on a larger scale. I wanted to do features or TV, so I worked for about four months and made some extra money, and then took an internship for a feature casting director who worked on a lot of independent movies and she was wonderful, Emily Schweber. With independent movies though, assistant fees are often not in the budget, so I did that for maybe four months and learned so much from her and then she gave me a great recommendation and I started meeting around town, and that’s how I met Denise Chamian who became my mentor.
2. That brings me to my next question; have you had any mentors in your career and how has that impacted your journey?
For me it was Denise Chamian. I was with Denise for 7 1/2 years and it was just incredible. I had an instinct that casting was for me, doing the internship with Emily, but when I started working with Denise I found the level that she would work at and the director clients that she had were just spectacular and I knew that I had found what I was supposed to do. I wanted to do it at the high level that she did and I wanted to have my own company one day and just learn everything I could from her. I was her assistant and then her associate and then she would share credit with me on certain projects. She was incredible and continues to be incredible and was really supportive of me going off on my own and we’re still friends and very close.
3. What is a career highlight for you, and a proud casting moment associated with that?
A recent career highlight for me was casting “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, a process which went on for a couple years in true indie film fashion. When I read that script, it was just so special and it spoke to me and I felt I had to cast it. It was similar to the way I felt about “The Spectacular Now” which was the first thing I had gone off to work on and I just really felt a connection to the characters and to telling that story and once I knew Alfonso’s [Alfonso Gomez-Rejon] vision for it, I just was dying to be a part of it. I’m so proud of my work on that film, and I felt like the producers and the financier really allowed us to cast the movie creatively with the right actors. There wasn’t a requirement to put big names in the roles and I loved that we could cast virtual unknowns. I mean, we know who Thomas Mann is but no one else did at the time. I tracked him since he was 15 and knew him when he moved to LA and when I first read that script I knew that he should play that role. It became a very long process to convince everyone else of that but when we did it was just amazing. And then it went on to win the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for drama at Sundance and we received a standing ovation at the Eccles Theater. I’ve never felt anything like that before, it was such an incredible moment. It was electric, the energy in that room, and the film was so well received. I knew that it was special from seeing rough cuts, but I could never have imagined that it would be that way. That was a really proud moment for me.
4. What qualities do you think a person needs to be a good casting director?
I think the most important quality to have to be a successful casting director is that you have to love actors. I think that if you don’t have an enormous amount of empathy for actors you can’t be good at your job. You have to appreciate and understand what actors go through and what their process is and how vulnerable they are when they put themselves out there every day and are rejected most days, over and over. I think it’s a very special, difficult profession and if you don’t understand that as a casting director and you’re not sympathetic, I don’t think that you’re on the same team as the actor and you’re not helping them succeed. So, I think you have to put yourself in their shoes (in any job you do!) and make that connection to help them do their best which will help you do your best, and then you can cast the role and move forward successfully. I always want to create a warm atmosphere when actors come in and I want them to feel comfortable to make mistakes or find a wacky character. I always want them to trust me and know that I have their back and that I know they work hard to come in and do a good job and make me look good, and I always want to help them look good as well.
5. If you could tell your younger self a piece of advice what would it be?
To be brave. I think that when I first went off on my own it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done and I just remember panicking and thinking...will anyone return my phone calls? Will I ever get a job? And I was so scared to leave Denise’s company where I could roll from big movie to big movie and always have a paycheck and it was just a really scary and difficult time but it was also the best thing I ever did. And it worked! So I just try to remind myself of that always because I think some of the best things I’ve done are the scariest things, and everyone is faking it until they make it in many situations and that’s just the nature of life in everything, personally and professionally. So even now, I get scared about interviewing for new jobs or something and I always remind myself to be brave and everything will work out as it’s supposed to.