'The Goonies'

'The Goonies'

Judy Taylor, CSA
Disney Channel, Los Angeles; Johnny Tsunami; Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century; The Little Rascals; Back to the Future; The Goonies; Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

You never know where the next discovery could be hiding, and let’s face it: When you’re casting children, how much professional experience could they have? So you want to look everywhere and keep all of your options open, whether they have an agent and professional credits or not. We do annual talent searches in various regions of the country to reach out and see kids that might otherwise not be seen. Probably two-thirds or three-quarters of the kids that we find are represented, but occasionally you find that diamond in the rough that shows up at an open call. Maybe they’re in plays at school, or maybe they take dance classes or singing classes, and some sort of performance element is there. Or maybe they just have a very outgoing personality and are the kind of kid that’s very engaging, and you can see they have some natural raw talent. You rely on that potential to grow, and you take a chance.

You just have to constantly remind kids that acting is very competitive, and that often rejection can have very little to do with how they perform. It can come down to the most basic things, like they didn’t look like somebody’s son or daughter or they were a little too young or a little too old. It’s more about things that they can’t control, less about things that they can control. I always try to be very supportive and let them know that they gave a wonderful audition, and they just have to keep going out there and, hopefully, their time will come.

Carrie Haugh
Sesame Street Productions, New York; Sesame Street, Elmo’s World

In general I audition kids in small groups. I’m looking for how well they are listening, taking turns, getting along with the other kids, staying focused, and sitting still, and if they’re outgoing. The parents don’t come into the audition, because the kids aren’t going to be with their parents on set. I wouldn’t cast a [bratty or standoffish] kid even if he or she has a great résumé and an agent, because I don’t want a kid to come on set and have that attitude. I’d rather go with a kid who will be more appreciative and easier to work with.

For the regular kids on the street, we always try to start with the kindergarten age, and that way we can get a few seasons out of them. But generally, every season of Sesame Street has a new pool of actors. I try to hold our auditions as close to our taping date as possible, so that the kids don’t change and they remember me: On set I’m not just a casting director; I’m also their coach and wrangler. Sesame Street has always been set up to be a part of the community and to promote tolerance and diversity. It’s not about being the perfect child actor; it’s more about kids being kids.

Marty Keener Cherrix
Cherrix Casting, Los Angeles; location casting for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Peter Pan, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, The Cider House Rules

I have an office in L.A., but I do location casting all over. I come from a different perspective than the markets of L.A. or New York City, because usually when I get called to find kids, it’s when they’ve exhausted all those traditional resources and they need to dig a bit deeper. For example, I had great success finding five or six kids for Cider House Rules in western Massachusetts, and they just came in right off the street without any prior experience. I really go for very natural kids, not necessarily kids who have had a lot of training.

I also find that kids with good reading-comprehension skills do well in acting, because they have the ability to look at a few lines in a scene and know where we’re going in the story line or they can quickly absorb something about the character. I think you cast kids just to the bone of who they are. If you’re looking for a shy kid, I would be out there looking for someone who has those shy and awkward attributes, doesn’t make a lot of eye contact, that kind of thing. Because it’s not about acting; it’s about acting natural. They can be the essence of the character — exactly who you’re looking for — without even having to act.

Ilene Starger, CSA
Ilene Starger Casting, New York; Night at the Museum, The School of Rock, Sleepy Hollow, The Parent Trap, 3 Men and a Little Lady

The most important qualities in a child actor — or any actor — are naturalism, intelligence, and a certain charisma. I’m more interested in talking with kids, bringing them out of themselves and finding out what interests them, rather than seeing if they can perform on cue. When casting children, there is the perception that there are millions of undiscovered kids out there, so there is usually a longer, more intensive search and audition process than with adults. Child actors don’t need to have an agent to get work. I have discovered many children who had never acted professionally before.

Once a child gets a role, they tend to get an agent, which is certainly helpful but not an absolute requirement. I think that sometimes people forget that these are, after all, children. They are not little adults or machines. Children should not be prodded or pushed; they have to want it for themselves. They must be treated with care, compassion, and great respect. My advice to child actors and their parents is the same: Do it if it’s enjoyable and creative. Don’t do it if it feels forced, or a chore, or exhausting. And school must come first.

This “Ask a Casting Director” column was published in the Oct. 18-24, 2007 issue of Back Stage and online at BackStage.com.