I got to do some casting once, for a series of CBC Television promotional spots, and I had a blast. The directors were looking for characters to represent typical CBC viewers. I was given details like age range, sex, ethnicity. Storyboards outlined the action and environment. These thirty second mini-films were designed to remind viewers why they had chosen to watch Canada’s national public broadcaster. They told brief stories of typical Canadians; an older woman watching a bird in her garden, a couple of young street musicians, a woman flying a kite.
It was easy for me to see the final film in my mind’s eye, as I explained the project to a number of local talent agencies. Combing through the 8 x 10 glossy headshots that arrived was both fun and unnerving. Fun to imagine some on the set. Disconcerting to know I was eliminating some perfectly competent actors based purely on their physical attributes. I felt badly that there wasn’t enough work for everyone. And to be honest, I felt powerful in choosing those lucky few to make it to the audition. I was most proud of inviting a local musician to audition. I’d noticed his zany performance in a documentary I’d seen a year or two earlier and managed to track him down. His energetic audition impressed the producers and he won the role.
It was the simplest of casting jobs, and it gave me a taste of the magic that uses a person’s natural individuality to create a believable character. Much more challenging is finding someone for a lengthy or recurring role. How do you balance a person’s instant look with their ability to draw you into a character’s inner world? Actors can use posture, timing, an intensity of regard, a tone of voice to imply and reveal. It’s all about choices, and finding the result that is most true to the story.
Take a look, for example, at the actor originally booked to play the captain of the starship Voyager. Geneviève Bujold strikes me as fundamentally worried. She seems to have other things on her mind, an inner turmoil about some personal challenge. The men around her seem powerful but restrained, held back waiting for her instructions. The clarity of their voices compared to Geneviève’s soft monotones underlines her less vigorous intent. I’m wondering what she’s thinking, whether she’s considering a safer offer to be an admiral, or whether she might face a mutiny once her crew decides it’s tired of waiting for her to issue orders.
With Kate Mulgrew’s performance, however, it’s all about the action. Clearly this ship is going somewhere where hostile things will be faced, and she’s up for a fight.
Two different approaches. Two different stories.