Film, TV casting directors talk talent

Middleton, Millikan lament 'influence of the suits'

When a top film-casting director, Joseph Middleton (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “The Heartbreak Kid”), gets together with a top television casting director, Rick Millikan (“Shark,” “Bones”), what do they kvetch about?

Recently it was the Burden of the Suits. More and more people are involved in the casting-decision process — and the influence of the suits is growing. “It used to be the producer, the director and myself making the decision,” says Middleton. “Now it’s lots of people making the decision.”

Millikan chimes in, “It’s the same in television now. And with videotaping auditions, I have to send all these audition videos to all these different studios, networks. Everybody, everybody. And then everybody has to approve.”

The good news: Middleton now has a video of every actor who has ever auditioned for him.

The bad news: His laptop burned out.

“The time frame that Rick has, I’m not built for it. TV is so fast,” says Middleton.

In the world of television, the decisionmaking process is indeed zip-zip. “The truth is an actor will probably audition on day one, go to the studio for another audition on day two. The next day he gets the part,” says Millikan. “Seven years of your life happens right there. In a film feature, you start months out.”

Things do move a bit more slowly in Middleton’s film-casting office. “You can come in and read, and you might not even hear from me for two months,” he says.

“You hear from me the next 10 minutes,” says Millikan.

That’s the basic difference between features and television: time.

“Another problem that I deal with as a television casting director is that we always start with the A-list people — actors that do movies,” says Millikan. “But a lot of them will pass because they don’t want to get overplayed in television.”

For Middleton, his biggest problem is casting 13- to 15-year-olds who might grow up during production. “At least in film we’re a living organism that adjusts to what we find,” he says.

Both casting directors face the fact that more and more actors hop between the two media. Take Steve Carell and James Woods. But can everybody make the leap?

“That’s the special ingredient of a casting director,” says Middleton. “Lots of times I’m watching someone on television and go, ‘Wow. That was beautifully acted. Can I carry that over to a film?’ ”

 Casting, of course, is not a science. “Sometimes you’re not always right, and sometimes you don’t know,” says Millikan. “In television, you’re taking a gamble. You come up with the one name, this person does the role and at the end of the day you go, ‘Guess that didn’t work.’ That does happen. But not very often.”

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