SUSIE MAIZELS – casting secrets from the inner sanctum

Susie Maizels, one of Australia’s most successful Casting Directors, began her ASDA Conference session with the following question: How can a casting director work with the director to get the best r
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Susie Maizels, one of Australia’s most successful Casting Directors, began her ASDA Conference session with the following question: “How can a casting director work with the director to get the best result?” The answer? Predominantly, by being in direct communication, to ensure a partnership is formed.

Susie spoke of her desire to listen intently whilst the director talks, often in a stream of consciousness, about the character in question. From there, emerges a stronger understanding of the character, rather than relying on a brief summary. She only works on scripts that she believes in – a story she can be drawn into.

What is her job description? (The question she hates most at dinner parties.) Her dilemma is – who is the right person for the role? In order to keep her finger on the pulse, Susie avidly investigates film, TV, mainstream/fringe theatre as well as overseas productions. From this rich source, she will comply lists of potential actors. It is a creative process where she immerses herself in the character, then checks the reality of their availability. Inevitably there is one character in every film that is elusive and seemingly impossible to cast. But her search is tireless.

An often strange part of her job is to track which actors may be battling with “demons or drugs”. This information is passed on in order to protect everyone involved, given that an actor in personal crisis may have trouble sustaining an extensive shoot.

Susie will always use a ‘reader’ to help the auditioning actor concentrate more easily on their task – preferably an actor completely unsuitable for the role so as to discourage competition. Often humbled by what an actor can bring to an audition, she is equally “lemon-lipped” when actors arrive ill prepared. It’s an indication that they don’t care.

Susie is aware that actors have highly individual needs. Directors also have distinct requirements. Some may want a taste of what the actor can do, rather than make definite choices about character before embarking on their rehearsal.

Susie spoke highly of her experience of casting Lantana. When looking for the actor to play the gay character, she and the director, Ray Lawrence, looked at a number of straight actors who tended to ‘camp’ it up. They were looking for a very ‘ordinary’ bloke in order to avoid the clich?. Susie suggested Peter Phelps, who had only played very regular ‘blokie’ roles. He was perfect – bringing subtle surprises to the role. Going against type is always more interesting. Susie will not bring in an actor because they played a good axe murderer last time for the same kind of role. She believes in stretching an actor.

Ray, having just returned from the US, had discovered a new auditioning approach he wanted to use. After a couple of rehearsals, the actor would do the scene three times in a row without breaking for further discussion in between. The first performance often appeared self-conscious; the second, more comfortable and the third, mostly progressed into a relaxed performance. Many of the actors appreciated the approached because they were able to ‘warm up’ into the scene.

Trying to make the actor as comfortable as possible is Susie’s focus. The only people allowed an ego are the actor and director. Susie sees herself as an observer who often witnesses extraordinary chemistry inside the ‘inner sanctum’ of the audition room.

Kay Pavlou
About the Author
Kay Pavlou is a director of drama and documentary. Credits include Mary and Under One Roof.