James Calleri talks about working with his partners, Erica Jensen and Paul Davis, what makes a great audition, and where they find new talent.
CSA member since... I think 2000 or 1999. And a CSA Board Member for a number of years. I love my colleagues and casting mates. It’s a small, tight group so we try to look out for one another.
Upcoming credits: “Fool for Love” currently on Broadway with Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell. “Hughie” with Forest Whitaker. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” on the West End and national tour. “The Way,” a new TV series for Hulu starring Aaron Paul, Michele Monaghan, and Hugh Dancy. And now Associate Professor at Columbia University for the MFA Acting Program!
What’s your typical day like?
My partners Erica Jensen and Paul Davis and I go over the run of the day. And then we divide and conquer. We typically have multiple projects happening at once so it’s a little like a juggling act in a three-ring circus. It’s pretty fun and challenging.
What do you do when you’re not working?
Hang with my dogs at my place in upstate New York, digging in the dirt. Love to garden.
How do you choose what projects you work on?
Well, it took time to get to the place where we actually can choose what we want to do. Often times "it" chooses us. Most of the projects at this point are based on relationships we’ve built on over the years. Its theaters we love and believe in, and artists, directors, and producers who trust in us. We try to make a point of working with the good ones these days. Life is too short.
Before actual auditions, how does the casting process begin?
It depends upon the project. But it likely starts with conversations about the piece and how we can assist in creating the world of the play, film, or TV show. Lots of lists and ideas generated. Conversations and debate. Typically there are lots of cooks in the kitchen, so our job is to focus that group and lead them down the right path. Often there’s a shorthand if it’s a team or director we typically work with so there’s already an ease in the discussion.
What is the most common audition room mistake you see?
I think asking too many questions and too much talk. We are looking for the actors to have the answers, not vice versa. We want to see what instinctually comes from you. It’s very telling. We want to see the work first. Not talk it out before we see the work.
What do you want every actor walking into your room to know?
That’s it’s a great gift, this opportunity to work on material. Invest in it. Seize it. We want you to succeed in doing great work.
What makes for a successful audition tape?
Good simple work. Strong choices. Technical success: clear sound, you’re dressed well, good reader, OK lighting, etc.
Any projects you wish you had worked on?
My partner Erica and I were sorta obsessed with “An Octoroon” last season. And we saw Thomas Ostermeier’s “Miss Julie” at the Lincoln Center Festival 2015, which blew me away. My office will be working with Ostemeier this upcoming year so to cast for such an extraordinary director will be exciting.
In addition to open calls, where do you find new talent?
We see a lot of theater. And we all teach in the city and with great colleges and programs. Good talent is all around this city. There is not a lack of finding it.
What is the best way for actors to build a strong relationship with you?
By just doing good work, whether it’s something we see you in or doing great work in the audition room. I rarely remember who we cast; I remember who is doing consistent good work in the room. Those are the people we bring in again and again. Eventually they will hit.
How important is training versus experience to you?
It’s a combination of the two. And for theater, training can be very important. A necessity even. For film and TV, less so. That’s much more personality driven.
What makes a successful casting session?
Having great options by the day’s end. I equate it to going into the ice cream shop and having lots of flavors to choose from.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to go into casting as a career?
I wish there was a formula, but there’s not. So many of us had very different pathways to our careers. I will say this though—you have to love actors. A love and deep for respect them.