The art of storytelling is composed of talented, passionate and hardworking show business aficionados. As artists we live out our days admiring the directors, writers and actors who bring our favourite narratives to life. We are all visionaries and the truly gifted understand the importance of collaboration when bringing a creative vision to life.
At the forefront of this collaboration are casting directors; their job is to work with directors, producers and writers to ensure only the best actors are discovered and hired. It goes without saying that a great casting director not only is a champion team player but also holds a remarkable eye for talent.
With a career in the entertainment industry spanning 10 years, Nicki Katz has cast over 75 Award-Winning commercials, feature films, TV series, and short films, which have screened at festivals around the world. Nicki has had feature films premiere at Sundance film festival, including Sophie and The Rising Sun, and has cast box office hits including Annabelle: Creation. Her indie thriller Excess Flesh premiered at SXSW and was distributed through Midnight Releasing. Nicki has also worked on several Emmy Award-Winning television series, including Transparent, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Training Day. Her national commercial work recently includes McDonalds, Dominos, Hot Wheels, and Toyota campaigns.
Originally from San Diego, a devoted traveller and dog rescuer, I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Nicki and her newly adopted chocolate poodle at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood to discuss the narrative of casting.
Alixandra: Relationships play an integral part in this industry. What advice can you give to actors who are looking to develop and maintain new alliances with casting directors?
Nicki: Be unique and look at your career as a creative form of expressing yourself. When casting directors see you in the room, bring something that’s personal and a little bit different to what is shown on the page. It is also great to meet people by going to local theaters, get out there, go to your friends screenings, support your fellow artists. When promoting yourself, it is helpful to have a website to showcase your work. Be on the radar of the people you admire and have an authentic story to share. If you have a vision, people will want to collaborate with you.
A: When an actor walks into an audition what are three essential things the casting director looks for?
N: That’s a tough one! The first thing is that you’re calm, not nervous. Be relaxed and confident. The second thing would be to show up prepared. We can feel your energy when you walk into a room. The third thing would be to connect with the person in the room. Connect to everyone. Otherwise you might be in and out and you might not have the chance to show them who you truly are. Remember that the casting associates are there to help you succeed, we are on your side.
A: From your experience what differentiates the actor who doesn’t book the job from the actor who does?
N: Usually the actor who books the job is someone we remember from the relationship we develop with him or her in the room. We root for the actors that have a natural portrayal of the character and have an honest connection to the script. It varies widely between each project I cast since no two roles are the same.
A: If an actor doesn’t book a job yet gave a great audition, are you likely to remember and get in contact with them later on when a role that’s appropriate for them surfaces?
N: There is no formula for how often we connect with actors who don’t book roles, but I do look out for people that I have worked with so I can continue to see them grow. If an actor is a runner up, it keeps me wanting to see them do more so I may look at their IMDB page and see what they are working on. The difference between booking a job and not booking a job is that usually it’s the best actor. or someone that really understands the story and has a true connection to the writing.
A: Last but not least, what is your greatest casting experience to date and why?
N: When I got hired on the CBS Television show, Training Day starring Bill Paxton, I got to work on the lot at The Culver Studios. The crew and the actors were there almost everyday, we got to see the sound stages. We had a fast turnaround with casting an average of 10 guest stars and co-stars per episode, so it was a busy office. I love working under tight deadlines. Casting characters for a crime-thriller was enormous fun because there was a ton of drama in every episode and we worked closely with the writers whose offices were right next door. The writers and executives trusted us and we would constantly be casting people morning and afternoon. Every so often when I had a break I would go to lunch, and one time I got to spend time sitting with Bill Paxton. Bill loved being on the show and he wanted to show people that he was more than an actor, that he was a committed artist. Throughout the season, we also got to work with Bill’s son. A lot of times if there were big actors we liked for one episode and we didn’t hire him or her, we would remember them for another episode.
I recently worked on a feature film titled Princess of the Row, and we worked closely with Martin Sheen and I cast a teenage girl named Tayler Buck who was in Annabelle: Creation. The film is set in the streets of Los Angeles’ impoverished Skid Row and follows 12-year-old Alicia Willis who, bouncing around the sometimes abusive foster care system, will stop at nothing to run away and live with her homeless, mentally ill father. This was a challenging experience to cast such deep and emotionally damaged characters.