Thrill of discovering young talent never wanes

It is 35 years since casting directors Ros and John Hubbard — who are being honored tonight with an Oscar Wilde award — set up their company, Hubbard Casting, and in that time they have emerged as a major force in their field.

Working on such films as “The Lord of the Rings” franchise, “The Bourne Identity,” “King Kong,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “The Mummy” and, most recently, “The Hobbit,” the Hubbards have discovered thesps including Kate Winslet, Orlando Bloom, Colin Farrell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Saoirse Ronan.

For the husband-and-wife team, there is nothing quite like the moment when they come across an unknown talent and realize that the actor is going to be a star, such as when they first met Winslet when she was 15 as they were casting Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures.”

So what do they look for?

“It’s a mix of intelligence and strength, and a sense that there is something special,” says John Hubbard.

“Alan Parker says it is a word called ‘magic,’ ” adds Ros Hubbard. “You get excited by it, because you feel this guy or this girl is brilliant and they are going to make it.”

The Hubbards say that the casting process is a lot faster now, as technology has developed. When they started, the Polaroid and then VHS were considered cutting-edge; now the Internet changes the way they work. Their son and daughter, Dan and Amy, are also casting directors with the company and use social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to advertise open casting sessions.

“They both work in totally different ways, and I pick their brains avidly,” says Ros.

It was different when the Hubbards were first building up their business: They had to put in a lot of legwork to find their actors. They discovered Rhys Meyers in a boxing club in Cork, for example.

When they were casting “The Commitments” with Parker 20 years ago, they saw 60 bands in three days to find the group of unknowns to play the band members in the film. At the Oscar Wilde ceremony in Los Angeles, the Hubbards will show some of the edited highlights from those casting sessions.

Other aspects of the business have changed too. John used to be critical of the casual attitude to auditions adopted by many British and Irish actors, whom he thought often lazy and ill-prepared compared with their counterparts in the U.S. He says that has changed as more British and Irish actors travel to Los Angeles and come into the contact with the tougher American approach.

“The attitude has changed, and it has gotten a lot more professional, more focused,” he says. “It’s really tough getting a job, and a lot of actors are suddenly realizing that the audition is the coal face. It is the point where you are either going to work or not work.”

Says Ros: “There’s no point coming in as an actress and saying, ‘Oh, I’ll be great when I have a bit of time.’ You know what? That is your time. Get fabulous before you come in. It is the best way, because you don’t always get called back.”

The Hubbards have forged key relationships with a number of directors, working with Jackson, Parker and Paul Greengrass, for example, on several projects each.

“You sort of become friends and begin to understand each other, and that inevitably means that you can take shortcuts,” says John.

The life of a casting director is never an easy one, but the Hubbards have few regrets, although they don’t feel the craft gets the recognition it deserves.

“I am actually miffed that there is absolutely no acknowledgement for casting,” says John. “And what do people remember about movies? They remember the actors.”


More on the Oscar Wilde Awards:
Hubbards honored for casting prowess | Paul Rudd connects with Ireland | Sarah Bolger eyes next step

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