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Norway’s Kjersti Paulsen Wins Semiramis Award for Excellence in Casting for ‘The Innocents,’ Beats ‘CODA’

ICDN president Timka Grin, Kjersti Paulsen and Marco D'Amore (Courtesy of Antonio Pio Roseti)
ICDN president Timka Grin, Kjersti Paulsen and Marco D'Amore (Courtesy of Antonio Pio Roseti)

Kjersti Paulsen was named the winner of the Semiramis Award for excellence in casting for her work on “The Innocents,” directed by Norway’s Eskil Vogt, at a ceremony Saturday at Torino Film Festival.

The psychological thriller about four kids who suddenly discover they have hidden powers celebrated its world premiere at Cannes, with Variety’s Jessica Kiang praising its “exceptional child performers.”

“The producer, director and I agreed on the importance of finding the right children and gave it the highest priority. All other characters had to wait,” said Paulsen before her win.

“My job is to create an environment where the children feel secure and can join in the role-play we bring them into. Then I need to determine the children’s capacity for empathy, their ability to listen to co-players, imagination and self-confidence.”

“The Innocents” Mer Film

The award – established in 2016 by the International Casting Directors Network (ICDN) – is given to members and non-members alike, with the ceremony taking place in a different country each year. Next up, it will be London’s turn, in cooperation with the Casting Directors’ Guild of Great Britain & Ireland.

“Having young protagonists is a special challenge. Each of my colleagues must have their own method of working with children or very young actors,” said ICDN president Timka Grin, recently behind Bosnian drama series “The Hollow.”

“Once I was in search of a young teenage boy to play a young warrior in a historical film. One day, on the street, someone flew by me and my husband on the skateboard. As it turned out, it was a girl. Who was still perfect for the part!”

Deborah Aquila, Lisa Zagoria, Tricia Wood, Lisa Lobel and Angela Peri, behind Oscar-winning “CODA,” were also among all-female nominees. As well as An Dorthe Braker (“Fabian – Going to the Dogs”), Constance Demontoy (“Rise”) and Catrin Wideryd, noticed for “Comedy Queen.”

Last year, Lucy Pardee took home the trophy for Sarah Gavron’s “Rocks.” Sara Törnkvist (“Border”) and Francesco Vedovati (“Dogman”) are also among its recipients.

“In my view, we are still one of the most underrated departments in the industry,” says ICDN member Piotr Bartuszek, responsible for casting “High Life” alongside Des Hamilton.

“I am joking, but we decided that since no one is giving us these awards, we will do it ourselves. We will celebrate exceptional films and the exceptional achievements of casting directors.”

As noticed by Bartuszek, a lot has changed over the years, with BAFTA adding an award for casting and American casting director David Rubin becoming the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. There is still no Oscar for best casting, however.

“The idea is to acknowledge the work of our colleagues. I think this is very beneficial to the community, as we learn a lot from each other and about each other,” added Grin, with Bartuszek comparing ICDN to a “spy network.”

“We have 120 members on five continents and this allows us to exchange experiences and knowledge about the specifics of working in each country. It’s a friendly cooperation.”

According to Grin, love for cinema, theater and actors is crucial in order to make it as a casting director, as well as “good eye for the script.”

“Another important thing is to be passionate but patient, because people are sensitive. Casting means dealing with and working with many different types of human souls, characters and personalities,” she observed.

Making sure you don’t miss out on discovering new talent is also key.

“Juliet Taylor once talked about the time when there was this new actor in New York. Her name was Meryl Streep,” Bartuszek said with a laugh.

Taylor cast Streep in 1977’s “Julia,” her very first feature film.

“Everyone knew she was an exceptional talent, that wasn’t a secret. The question was: Who would give her that first role that will make her a star? When you ‘discover’ an actor, it usually means you give them the right role at the right time.”