Amy Hubbard on the Work of a Casting Director

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Award-winning London-based casting director Amy Hubbard, best known for her work on “The Hobbit,” “The Lord of the Rings,” the Showtime series “Homeland,” and the History Channel’s miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” considers herself to be part of a casting dynasty. After all, she’s the fourth in her family to work in the field of casting.

During a Spotlight interview, Hubbard described the casting process from her vantage point.

Starting on a new project:

Upon receiving a script, Hubbard reads it to determine if she’s interested in the project, specifically assessing if it’s quality material. “The second thing you do is break down the script. So you work out exactly how many scenes each character has. So you know without any doubt who’s the lead, who are the supporting leads, right down to who has just one line,” Hubbard explains. Sifting further, she determines which extras might require strong reactions, and thus need to be cast as well. She creates a breakdown and starts her search incrementally—focusing on the leads first, and once they’re cast, moving on to the supporting roles. It’s important for her to pace her work so she doesn’t get overwhelmed with too many responses all at once.

Hubbard’s favorite part of casting:

Hubbard starts by finding a star or stars to ensure that a project will be able to attract sufficient investors to the film. Once that’s established, her favorite parts to cast are the small roles in which the actors have only one or two lines. She shares, “Those actors have got to be so talented to come in and be a nurse or be a teacher or a policeman or whatever the role is, and in one line, you’ve got to buy that you’re in a hospital or you’re a mother who’s just been told your son’s dead. The things you see actors do for one line in a film or television is extraordinary, so they’re my favorite.”

During auditions, Hubbard is clear on what she’s looking for: “On everything I work on, no matter what it is, we want natural…you’re looking for that certain base palette of someone being 100-percent credible when having a conversation. ”

After seeing all the talent, she checks in with the director. When final decisions are made, Hubbard helps with the proper paperwork, setting the terms of the job so everything is spelled out before the actor steps foot on set. Although her job is technically done once the shoot begins, she does make a point to make a few phone calls afterward.

Checking in after the shoot:

Post-production, Hubbard makes sure to reach out to agents, producers, and the director to see how her actors conducted themselves while on set and to check if they were prepared for the part. Of importance to Hubbard is whether the actors arrive on time, and she likes to get a sense of their general level of professionalism. I do want to know for future reference,” she says. Indeed, in the cases in which Hubbard has needed to recast, it’s largely due to unprofessionalism on set. “[Behavior] is a huge element of acting now. You’re very judged if you’re not on time with a great attitude.”

She contrasts the current expectations with those of the past when more negative behaviors were tolerated, such as drug addiction. Nowadays, she insists, “You have to be polite. You have to be somebody that people want to have around.” She recalls her work on the three-part film series “The Hobbit,” saying, “That’s years of working together in a small community in New Zealand.”

Hubbard thinks the strong emphasis on professionalism can also be attributed to tight budgets and schedules. Always fair-minded, Hubbard also checks in with the actors she casts to make sure they feel they were treated respectfully, and whether they were properly tended to while on set. She wants to make sure she’s only working with teams that are on the up and up. It’s a two-way street—these days it’s no longer tolerated for directors to be overbearing with the talent either. Hubbard calls those lax days of unprofessional on-set behavior, “A thing of the past.”

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