After transitioning from extra to a casting director in 1991, Chad Darnell developed a reputation for being blunt, yet effective, when it comes to casting the right talent and getting the best performances. Having spent several years in Los Angeles working on the likes of “Alias,” “Spider-Man,” “Selma,” and his own award-winning film “Birthday Cake,” Darnell had planned to retire from casting and return to acting. But after he got the call to work on “Magic Mike XXL,” he was back in the casting director’s chair.
“I’ve always been a huge [Steven] Soderbergh fan, so knowing that he would be involved was why I immediately jumped on it,” Darnell says. “I had heard that Channing [Tatum] was a really great guy to work with, too. It was everything that I wanted it to be and more.”
While the starring roles were already (un)covered, including Tatum, Joe Manganiello, and others reprising their roles from the first film, Darnell handled the Georgia casting of both principal actors and extras.
“Channing was really involved in the casting process,” says Darnell. “They wrote the role of Caroline for Kimberley Drummond out of Atlanta because they loved her so much. I had Kimberley’s headshot on my wall and in her reading she was terrifying. Channing kept saying he wanted to see this “scary girl” and I pointed to Kimberley and said, ‘That’s the girl.’ He said, ‘That’s not the same person.’ I had to cue up the tape to where she said her name. She was so amazing, they created the character of the divorcée that Donald Glover sings to for her.
“Belle Omabelle, the girl in the club scene with Michael Strahan, was my intern,” Darnell continues. “I thought, ‘This is going to be so awkward because she’s not going to be able to act and I’ll have to be like, “Oh, no. You were great. Maybe take some classes.”’ But I had to turn off the camera because I couldn’t stop laughing. It blew my mind that this girl who had been interning for me was such a phenomenal actress. Now she’s pursuing a career as an actress in Atlanta.”
With “Magic Mike XXL” continuing to reveal itself to theatergoers, Darnell is currently working on his next Savannah, Ga.-filmed project, Adam Sandler’s “The Do Over,” while producing his own films, “X-Rated,”—based on the life of ’90s porn star Joey Stefano—and the horror thriller “R.I.P.”
Juggling his casting duties with his own projects is evidence of Darnell’s desire to get things done for himself. And that’s his biggest piece of advice for aspiring Southern actors as more and more filming comes to Georgia.
“No one would have ever hired me for the role I played in ‘Birthday Cake,’ ” he says. “I made it, I played the role and it’s won a lot of awards. Whenever I hear actors say, ‘I want to play something like this, but I can’t get cast,’ I’m like, ‘You just have to go out and do it yourself, even if it’s just with your iPhone.’ You’ve got to create your own opportunities.”
Darnell, who will soon be announcing the date and location of his next acting workshop in Savannah this summer, encourages aspiring Georgia actors to take classes and any creative opportunity that presents itself.
“My best piece of advice for actors is to never stop developing your skills with classes, with improv, with whatever method works for you,” he says. “The people who are successful are the people who branch out beyond acting, who are writing, producing and directing. Always be sure you take a risk in an audition setting.
“My workshops are for people who want to be actors,” he says. “I don’t teach acting, but I teach survival skills. I can tell you what not to do. I can tell you what’s going to get you noticed, but I also do cold-reading workshops. People forget about branding themselves, they forget about social media. I sort of own the fact that I’m known as the tough casting director. I wish I could be tactful and keep my mouth in check and not come across as harsh. But I’m just telling it like it is. This is a really difficult industry.”
And if you’re looking to follow in Darnell’s footsteps on the other side of the camera, he has some wise words about getting into casting as well.
“Every job that I’ve ever had, I interned and worked for free,” he admits. “I proved myself invaluable so they couldn’t afford not to hire me. That’s how I got my job doing development at Turner Broadcasting and that’s how I’ve gotten a lot of casting jobs. At some point we all have to work for free, whether it’s a student film, a low-budget indie, a web series, or whatever. But that’s going to lead to more opportunities, it’s going to lead to networking. Casting offices always need help with submissions, readers, shooting auditions, running the room where actors are waiting—you learn a lot just by interning and assisting casting directors.”