Entertainment Partners’ Central Casting Unit Changes With the Times

For 90 years, the legendary company has been placing extras and background players in movies

Of all the brands scattered across the Hollywood landscape, few have burned as long and as brightly as Central Casting. When someone is said to come “straight out of Central Casting,” entertainment insiders and outsiders alike know just what they’re talking about.

Or do they?

Central Casting, opened its doors in 1926 and in the ensuing 90 years has been the preeminent facility for background actors, body doubles, and stand-ins around the U.S. It’s such a generic brand that many are surprised to learn it’s actually a business.

“It makes me laugh,” says Jennifer Bender, Central Casting exec VP. “People think it’s a joke.”

It’s not. With more than 100,000 active background actors —“extras” is so yesterday — in its database across four offices, L.A., New York, Atlanta, and New Orleans, Central Casting remains the most prominent casting house in the business.

“We like to see ourselves as a company that’s leading the way,” Bender says. “We’re full-service, training background actors, offering enrichment classes.”

Central is also the only one-stop shop in the industry to both place background actors and handle their payroll.

The more specialties actors can offer – juggling, dancing, costumes – the more in demand they are. When Showtime’s “The Big C” wanted real-life cancer patients, or “Deepwater Horizon” director Peter Berg wanted real oil rig workers, Central provided.

“Central Casting has the bulk of opportunities for television, film and the occasional commercial,” says longtime background actress Jo El Skore, who has appeared in productions ranging from “Seabiscuit” to “Dr. Ken.” “And I never have to go looking for my paycheck.”

Originally formed under the direction of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America president Will Hays, Central sought to organize and regulate the influx of extras in the budding industry. During its first six months of operation it had placed more than 113,000 background actors; in 1927 it opened a division for African-American actors.

The company has built an actor database, helped regulate working conditions and wages, and provided an entryway for upcoming stars. Future Oscar winner David Niven registered in 1935, for example.

Central’s fortunes have always been tied to the vagaries of the industry. Its registry took a hit for many years after World War II when studios brought casting in-house.

But Central came through for some big productions — 1969’s “Hello, Dolly” boasted a parade of 16 units and 3,108 extras; 1979’s “The Rose” required 12,000 rock fans.

The company was acquired by Production Payments Inc., the West Coast subsidiary of Talent & Residuals (itself owned by Intl. Digitronics Corp.) in 1976. In 1991 IDC merged with Draney Information Services to form Entertainment Partners, Central’s present owner.

Bender notes that casting today is becoming more precise. “The days of casting a New York street scene with 100 random people are gone. It’s now an art form where directors often want to hand-select or pre-interview people because they want a very specific look. … We’ve even looked for a man with one eye and one arm. If it exists, we’ll find it.”

More Artisans

  • Home Again Trinidad and Tobago

    Trinidad and Tobago Attracts Producers by Adding Hefty Cash Incentive to Visual Lures

    A dual-island Caribbean nation that fits fulfills the all visual requirements of a tropical paradise, Trinidad and Tobago offers a striking variety of shooting locales ranging from azure waters, white sands, thick jungle, sprawling savannahs and – on the urban side – bustling cities. Though the islands have predominantly housed local films, they are now [...]

  • Netflix Our Planet Sophie Darlington

    Netflix's 'Our Planet' Roars to Life With Work by Top Wildlife Cinematographers

    In terms of scope, production time and — very likely — budget, Netflix’s “Our Planet” is one of the most ambitious projects from the streaming service to date. Narrated by David Attenborough and made available worldwide on April 5, the goal of the eight-part series is to capture diverse habitats across the globe and highlight [...]

  • Les Miserables BBC

    BBC's 'Les Miserables' Recreates the Dark World of Victor Hugo's Novel

    Director Tom Shankland didn’t want his “Les Miserables” to be anything like the stage-musical version of Victor Hugo’s sweeping historical novel, nor like the 2012 Tom Hooper feature-film musical.  For the BBC limited series — a drama starring Olivia Colman, Lily Collins, David Oyelowo and Dominic West, which aired the first of its six episodes in [...]

  • Marsai Martin Little Movie

    How the 'Little' Production Team Created Look of Marsai Martin-Regina Hall Comedy

    What if you could return to a time in your childhood and relive your life from that point knowing what you know now? That’s the fantasy at the core of Universal’s “Little,” released April 12, in which Regina Hall’s Jordan Sanders, a character overwhelmed by the pressures of adulthood, gets the chance to relive the [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8 BTS

    How 'Game of Thrones'' Locations Have Expanded With the Series

    When the eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” debuts on April 14, the show’s millions of followers will once again be transported to the exotic lands and sweeping landscapes where the saga is set. From King’s Landing to The Wall, stunning locations have been woven into the fabric of “Thrones” since its [...]

  • In The Dark CW

    How 'In the Dark' Trained a Regular Dog to Act as a Guide Dog

    There used to be an adage in show business about never working with animals or children, but for Violetta Hessing, there’s nothing more fulfilling than finding a dog that wants to be on set and training it to deliver just as much emotion as its human scene partners. Hessing owns and is the head trainer [...]

  • Ryan Higa Youtube Star

    YouTube Star Ryan Higa Shows the Way to Maintain Independence With DIY Studio

    Hollywood creatives have always dreamed of having total control of their work. For most of them, it has been just that: a dream.  But that doesn’t hold true for a new breed of content creators: YouTube influencers. These individuals, with no corporate boss to answer to, and whose work is growing in scope and impact, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content