CASTING RIPPER STREET
An exclusive interview with Kate Rhodes James
And Louise Kiely
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
DAMIAN: Of all the aspects of film and television making, the casting director rarely gets interviewed or sees much written about them and yet it is a fascinating process with all its power to potentially make or break an actor. Why are you so mysterious?
KATE: I very rarely get interviewed. I don’t think many people have a clue what we actually do. It’s very hard to quantify how we work. Each CD [Casting Director] works in a way particular to them i.e. their taste, their specific knowledge. It’s hugely creative and instinctive and I think people massively underestimate that.
LOUISE: I actually get interviewed quite a lot. I guess because there are so few in Ireland, they come to the same small pool for info. It is not a job one can train or go to college for in Ireland, so perhaps getting into it becomes a little tricky or mysterious.
DAMIAN: By necessity, do casting directors need to be quite thick-skinned?
LOUISE: I don’t feel particularly thick-skinned.
KATE: Yes and no. You can’t be so thick-skinned that you are impervious to new ideas but you have to remember not to take things personally. It is ultimately a business.
DAMIAN: And in contrast, aren’t actors -perhaps especially the younger ones- rather vulnerable at the start of their careers?
KATE: They are as vulnerable twenty years in as they are when they start. To be an actor you have to remain vulnerable. Good CD’s are acutely aware of this and do their utmost to provide a safe and comfortable audition space.
LOUISE: Anyone who is auditioning or interviewing for a job can feel vulnerable. It is our job at that point to make them feel safe and assist in whatever way we can.
DAMIAN: Have you ever had to deal with someone breaking down in tears because you didn’t put them forward for a part?
LOUISE: Nope, thank heavens.
KATE: No. I have had abuse in person from actors who felt they should have got the role. But we are facilitators, once the actor is in the room it is up to them.
DAMIAN: How would you make the audition process a little easier for someone who was particularly anxious or nervous?
KATE: It depends whether I am on my own or with a team. If interviewing on my own I always ask an actor about themselves at the start and get a sense of who they are before we start talking about the project. If auditioning with a team I will prepare the actor before entering the room so they know what to expect. For instance some directors are not great conversationalists so I will pre-warn the actor that lack of chat does not mean the director is not interested.
LOUISE: Depending on the person, some people who are a little nervous prefer to dive right in. Others we have a chat about other stuff for a wee while until they feel ready.
DAMIAN: You both actually started out as actors yourselves. What were your own experiences like with casting directors?
KATE: Mostly good. I learnt an enormous amount from Maggie Lunn (who sadly died this year). I met her for a role and she told me immediately that I wasn’t right for the role and why. Then we just chatted about life. I felt like I had been treated like an adult and left the room with no false hope. I loved that.
LOUISE: Again, there were only a few in Ireland and they were all lovely. I didn’t train with anyone but I certainly drew from my experience and how I was treated by others. They were only ever really nice.
DAMIAN: So what made you both decide to stop acting and move into casting instead?
KATE: I knew I wasn’t cut out to act, I didn’t really believe in myself enough. I had always loved the idea of casting and had been knowledgeable about actors since my teens so it seemed the most logical step. I started as an assistant twenty-five years ago and went from there. It was clearly meant to be.
LOUISE: I was in a co-operative agency and it was 2005. One of the actresses in there, who is also a really good friend, and I decided randomly we would try casting. We really had no idea how to actually do it so winged it for a while.
DAMIAN: Kate, some of your early experiences in casting included working on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles which featured a dazzling army of guest stars and character actors. Are there any that particularly stand out as you look back?
KATE: I assisted on the last season so many of the memorable actors were cast before my time.
KATE: I loved working on the Bond films. Debbie McWilliams is the most extraordinary CD and taught me an enormous amount. Working on Bond films are rather like an out of body experience. There is nothing like them out there and I certainly have never had a similar experience.
DAMIAN: There are far too many amazing projects for me to mention them all but I think my readers would be particularly interested in the fact that you did the casting for Byron, Sherlock Holmes and the Silk Stocking, the 2005 BBC miniseries Bleak House, Jekyll (2007), The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Jekyll and Hyde (2015), The Missing, Line of Duty and Sherlock. First of all, I thought Rupert Everett was a brilliant Holmes in Silk Stocking and I would have loved to see him play the character again. Do you know why Tiger Aspect productions didn’t make more with him in the role?
KATE: Well thank you for that. I have been incredibly blessed to work with extraordinary talent. As for Tiger Aspect not continuing with Rupert Everett as Holmes you would have to ask them!
KATE: I can’t answer that!
KATE: Bleak House will always be very precious in my heart. Believe it or not, no! We had a very specific remit to make this not a reverential BBC period drama piece but to place modern, recognizable faces. The trick was placing those faces in the right roles, as opposed to putting them in anywhere. We actually got a lot of snooty responses from agents, who thought we were making a terrible mess of it all. One actor, who will remain nameless, took themselves out of the piece as they thought it would be a flop!
DAMIAN: Back to you Louise. You have at least five projects in pre-production at the moment so I’m wondering if you work on each one at a time or is it an ongoing process particularly with reference to television?
LOUISE: They are all motoring along at the same time. I have a team who are all delegated work.
DAMIAN: Some of your work includes the mystery thriller series Jack Taylor (starring Ripper Street’s magnificent Iain Glen from the fifth episode of series two), the crime drama Red Rock and the recent EastEnders spin off Kat and Alfie: Redwater. Presumably all these have the potential to run and run so I’m wondering how you manage to juggle existing projects while also pursuing new ones?
LOUISE: I have found a real strength in numbers. I could never have taken on as many projects as we do now, when I was on my own. We “hive brain” a lot – for ideas etc.
DAMIAN: Game of Thrones, The Frankenstein Chronicles, The Truth Commissioner, Line of Duty, Morgan, The Secret, The Fall and many more! Why are production companies queuing up to film in Ireland?
LOUISE: We are so lucky! I guess it started with great tax incentives. They still remain. We also now have very skilled cast, crew and beautiful locations.
DAMIAN: And of course, another one filmed in Ireland – Ripper Street. Kate, you cast from a wide pool of international actors while Louise casts the local talent in Ireland. Can you tell me how you both became involved with the show?
KATE: Will Gould the Executive Producer sent me the piece and I loved it and it went from there. I knew Stephen Smallwood of old and we were a terrific team. I loved working on this show and it’s a very special piece for us.
LOUISE: I had an interview with the Producer Stephen Smallwood. I had never done a TV series on this scale before so I worked very hard to get the job.
KATE: They hadn’t a clue! I am sure they won’t mind me saying that. It was a journey that we all went on it together. The trio was the result of a collaborative casting process. We all had the team that we dreamt of.
KATE: Same. Bear in mind that it’s so much better when everyone doesn’t have a pre-conceived idea, makes it much more enjoyable for everyone.
DAMIAN: Whenever I’ve done interviews with the actors, they all tell me about this great chemistry between them. To what extent do you try to account for this and have you ever found the perfect actor for a role only to find that you’ve had to recast because they don’t quite have the right chemistry with another actor?
KATE: It actually stems from the creative team. We all got on really well and Tom Shankland who directed the pilot episode was an essential part of the process as well. We then cast actors that we all liked and because we had done our job well they all clicked. It might sound too simplistic but it really is how it should be. We all listened to each other and respected everyone’s thoughts. I’ve never had to recast anyone.
LOUISE: I have never had that issue to be honest. We go for the best actor for the role.
DAMIAN: Adam Rothenberg auditioned and was cast rather late in comparison to both Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn. Was there another actor in mind or was it a particularly difficult role to cast?
KATE: That is true. There was someone else that we had in mind but it didn’t work out for endless reasons. But every cloud has a silver lining. We were meant to have Adam.
DAMIAN: Did Matthew or Jerome actually audition?
KATE: Matthew didn’t audition but Jerome did. Poor chap had to come in a couple of times but was terrific each time.
DAMIAN: And I’ve also interviewed some of the actors you’ve cast which are based in Ireland. Is there a particular look that you’re after when going through headshots and CVs when casting for something period like Ripper Street?
LOUISE: We did have to take into account that this is a period piece when reading actors. That said, we always went for the most talented and suitable artists for the role. Hair, Makeup and Costume worked their magic then.
DAMIAN: I remember watching Interview With A Vampire which was a great film but I couldn’t help thinking that while Brad Pitt was fine, Tom Cruise looked somewhat out of place as a vampire originally from 1791. Do you think there is such a thing as a period or contemporary face?
KATE: It’s tricky. A while ago I would have said yes but these days not so much. We can get very hung up on period opposed to contemporary faces. The longer I work in this business the more I think it’s not really a valid discussion. Cast the right actor and the rest melts away.
LOUISE: That is one of my favourite films of all time. I guess it is not something we may have expected from Tom Cruise but I love that he did it and pulled it off, I believe, with aplomb. I guess there are “more contemporary/period” looks but I would never discount anyone for that at the top of the process.
DAMIAN: There has been an amazing array of guest stars on Ripper Street over the years including some of my favourites like Anton Lesser, Iain Glen and Joseph Gilgun. Have you ever thought, well, I’ll try their agent but they’ll never do it?
KATE: Always!! You must always ask as you never know what the outcome will be.
KATE: I’ve known Joseph for a long time and adore him. We needed a physical actor and he has terrific physicality. We were thrilled that everyone agreed and cast him.
KATE: It was mine. But that is my job !
DAMIAN: Is it almost something of prerequisite than when an actor finishes work on Ripper Street, they move onto Game of Thrones or vice-versa? – I’ve counted at least fifteen so far who’ve appeared in both!
LOUISE: I shall defer to Kate on this but I gather they just cast the best actors for the roles. Some wonderful actors in both.
KATE: Sheer coincidence. Bear in mind a lot of actors are in GOT so you cross over all the time.
DAMIAN: In the beginning, are there character breakdowns for each script that the production company sends – can you take me through the process of casting a show like Ripper Street?
KATE: We do the breakdowns and issue to the agents.
LOUISE: We would send out the character briefs to agents and select from there. We would also invite people without representation to audition, should they be suitable.
DAMIAN: And how does a casting director go from looking at a headshot and CV to deciding that they embody a certain character perfectly?
KATE: You can’t really. You need to meet and read them
LOUISE: I guess we read them for the role and see how we get on.
DAMIAN: What I find particularly interesting about all this is at the end of the day, isn’t it down to instinct and gut feeling and isn’t there a certain amount of subjectivity involved here and perhaps no two casting directors might cast a project the same way?
KATE: I totally subscribe to that. This is a personality based business. I just love actors and what they do. I love challenging them and casting against type. I know immediately if someone is for me the show etc and go with that. Times when I have not trusted my instincts, it has not been so successful. My team challenge me all the time and that is healthy.
LOUISE: I like the idea that someone potentially has a different taste to me. Within my company, I find discussion around who we choose interesting. At the end of the day, it is the Director and the Producers’ decision. I loved working alongside Kate on this show. Kate has incredible taste.
DAMIAN: What is the single most difficult role you’ve cast on Ripper Street?
KATE: God – where do I start! There were quite a few which I now can’t remember.
LOUISE: I think it was possibly BARNABY the giant or possibly the Victorian Circus.
KATE: They do indeed. It is one of the perks of the job. I go to the theatre at least twice a week. But I also take myself. I don’t expect agents to take me but it’s lovely when they do.
LOUISE: Sometimes although I go the theatre and cinema a lot myself also.
DAMIAN: Kate, Louise, thank you both very much indeed.
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
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