16 Jan 2015

Top Hollywood studio casting director set to join Shooting Stars

Since the creation of the International Casting Directors Network in 2004, casting directors from all around the world have been holding their annual get-together in Berlin, a key component of the Shooting Stars activity at the Berlinale. Of course, it’s a big trip from Los Angeles, and these professionals lead busy lives, so it’s a sign of the ever-increasing international nature of casting that, this year, Lora Kennedy, executive vice-president of casting at Warner Bros, will make the trip for her first time.

“A lot of my casting director friends in London have been telling me about the event,” says Kennedy. “And à propos the reason to go to Shooting Stars, we’ve had to really broaden our base of international actors, we can’t just look at American film actors. We’ve got to go to other countries, we’ve got to go to other mediums, we’ve got to go to the internet, we’ve got to go to rappers, we’ve got to go to television, we’ve got to go to music, everything. It’s all over the place now.

“I think everybody’s looking to broaden their market. Everybody’s looking to see how you can get a bigger audience, globally. The international market is what is driving all the studios.”

For Kennedy, the development is entirely felicitous, since the changing nature of the film industry globally allows her to push for a broader mix of actors at Warner Bros. “I love European actors. I love Alicia Vikander, and Elizabeth Debicki. Daniel Bruhl, we’ve loved forever, but finally he’s coming into his own. We’ve been having our eye on him for years, even before Good Bye Lenin!” (Vikander and Bruhl are former Shooting Stars.)

“We usually include all the Europeans, especially the British, right along with our American actors. We don’t really separate them out. Everybody’s kind of lapped in there: Mads Mikkelsen, and Ben Mendelsohn from Australia, Javier Bardem or Jai Courtney or whoever it is. It’s all one big happy list now.”

However, there’s no point dodging the fact that the international market for film is overwhelmingly in one particular language. “The movies are in English,” says Kennedy. “You don’t want to erase what’s natural and organic about [foreign actors], but if you can’t be understood, it’s going to be hard to translate into that next market. If Spanish were the big international language, and I were an American actor, I would learn Spanish.

“If you speak English with a very heavy accent, then you’ll be relegated to roles where the accent would then make sense. You wouldn’t be able to play a housewife from middle America on welfare trying to raise her kids. You’d have to rewrite it.”

Kennedy got into casting by chance, right after university, having been asked to drive a friend’s wife to work following a car accident. “She worked for a very big producer in television on the old MGM lot. I would drive her to work every day. One day, we stopped by her friend who was in a casting office, and they ended up asking me if I wanted to intern. Two weeks later they hired me as an assistant.

“I didn’t know that job existed. There weren’t that many people casting – not like today. There were only three networks when I started, and there was no way we were doing as many movies as we do today.”

Kennedy worked on 1980s TV shows including The A Team, and was then hired as assistant to film casting director Wally Nicita. “She had just done The Big Chill,” says Kennedy, “and I learned from her. Because she was so respected, I did my time as an assistant, then an associate, and I segued into doing my own casting at the age of 26. She really was the foundation of me learning what I had to learn.”

Kennedy has held her post at Warners since 1999, helping to oversee casting across the studio slate, as well as personally casting films for directors Ben Affleck, Zack Snyder, the Wachowskis and others. She is answerable to studio chiefs who may have their own ideas about star roles, although Warners is a studio that’s  rightly earned a reputation for being filmmaker-friendly. Actors may care to pay attention to the one area that raises a red flag for studio bosses.

Explains Kennedy, “Mostly it’s interjecting if somebody has not done well by us in terms of us commitment or attitude. That’s the one thing that drives everybody in this town now: is somebody nice and are they great to work with? My guys, they put their foot down if somebody has proven not to be a team player. I think they really like to see the overview of how the movie is going to look, and the leads, but mostly they hire filmmakers who they trust to make their best movie and defer to them.”