It is a small world after all. With studios increasingly dependent on international sales revenue, casting agents must seek out performers with cross-cultural appeal.
“Looking for an international component is at the forefront of everything we do,” says Fernando Szew, CEO of MarVista Entertainment. “We’re an international distribution company, so we need to make sure every single project that we get involved with is going to translate around the world.”
This is especially true in the kids’ universe, where because of budgetary constraints, shows tend to be sold as is, rather than sold as a format and recast with local talent.
“Kids in today’s day and age have been born in a globalized world, whereas people two or three generations removed from the kids today grew up watching TV that was more provincial,” Szew observes. “But now you want to cast more diversely so that audiences in different markets can see themselves reflected in the show.”
Szew says Disney set the bar with the “High School Musical” films, which he notes “are conceived by the Disney Channel to work for Disney Channel subsidiaries all over the world.
“It’s a necessity that is much more salient now than it was in the past,” Szew adds. “With the growth of cable, there are a lot more channels in all territories. So from the inception of projects there is a demand to attract a worldwide audience.”
Szew also cites the example of “Beyond the Break,” a co-production between MarVista and MTV that takes place in Hawaii: “The beach is really a character in this show. While we really wanted to have a multicultural, multiethnic cast, we also wanted to make sure that it had some recognizable names and figures that are identified with the beach. David Chokachi (“Baywatch”) was a great selection, and it absolutely helped in our marketing of the show abroad to audiences.”
Fremantle veep of programming Mark Gray notes that casting with cross-cultural appeal is important for project financing.
“Clearly, we’re trying to advance and invest in programming and want to make (it) as attractive internationally as possible,” Gray says. “Casting is a very big issue and particularly so I think for U.K. productions, where we don’t have the kind of huge budget, number of episodes and muscle of a studio. Our producers certainly spend a lot of time on it. It’s a very important part of getting their commission and ensuring that they can put the money together.”
Beyond that, Gray says, “you want something that actually does reflect the society in which it’s supposed to take place and definitely want to engage with the whole audience.”
Gray notes that while casting internationally known actors is usually an advantage, it’s not always the right way to go.
“Sometimes you get somebody in there,” Gray says, “and they look quite uncomfortable in the part and it doesn’t work and it stops the show.”
Szew agrees. “Casting agents will tell you that certain actors and actresses get pigeonholed into roles, so that’s why they try to stretch the boundaries. I would still say that having a recognizable face is a helpful thing, but if the part fits the actor it doesn’t matter if they’re recognized or not. What’s important is how they make that character their own and do they make it work onscreen or not.”