Carl Proctor is the owner of Carl Proctor Casting, the company which cast The History Channel’s mega hit The Bible. He is also the producer of the film Snow on Saturday; Here is a link to his website:
Q: How did you become a casting director?
A: As an actor, interested in producing, I attended a Dov Simens two day filmmaking master class in London. He said “you Brits, you don’t share information, you don’t talk to each other, now go and have lunch and talk for C….. sake” I sat opposite Alan Martin and Paul Brooks who had who had just put money in to ‘Leon The Pig Farmer’ and set up Metrodome Films. We talked. They didn’t know any actors. I did because I was one and over the next three years or so, I cast several of their low budget British films. Other casting work came my way in that period and before I knew it I was a casting director. Paul is now in LA and for him I cast ‘The Wedding Date’, Joel Schumacher’s ‘Blood Creek’ and ‘Shadow of The Vampire’ with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe.
Q: How did your company get chosen to cast The Bible.
A: Jules Husey (who I had cast BBC documentary dramas for some years ago) and Richard Bedser (Bible Producer) came to my office to talk to me about the series, which at that point was planned as very much a drama doc. Just a few actors in each episode and experts or religious figures popping up here and there. As the scripts developed, directors came on board and casting commenced, so the series started to become much more a drama than drama doc.
Q: Are you more surprised by the success of the show or that people would be surprised by the success of the show?
A: I knew that Mark Burnett was a man who had good instincts to say the least. I knew that the team making the project were very knowledgeable and talented, that the scripts were becoming very real and gritty and that we were attaching some of the best actors in Britain, so, quite early on, I saw the potential for it to be a very successful series. So I guess I am surprised if other people are surprised at its success. Why? Well it was always going to be well publicised, it was always going to grab the attention of the religious audience at least. Perhaps some people assumed that it was going to be just another safe and lovely family religious piece, much like they had seen many times before. Perhaps it is people who didn’t watch the series that are most surprised by its success.
Q : What did you look for in an Israelite?
A: My original brief was to cast good actors with neutral English accents so that they would be clearly understood, but nobody too pale and English looking. Having decided to cast in the UK, we were never going to be looking for fully Middle Eastern looking actors, but actors with just darker complexions, darker hair, perhaps mixed race if the look was along the right lines. Growing hair and adding facial hair was always going to help. There are a few Middle Eastern actors in The UK but some have accents and looking too authentic would risk comparisons with the look of other cast members. The neutral English accent brief was relaxed as we went along which opened us up to a few regional and foreign accents. The extras and a few of the very small parts were cast in Morocco, but hopefully they don’t look too different from the main cast.
Q: What do you think is the main difference between casting for an English production and casting for an American production?
A: Not an easy question. Is it fair to suggest that there is often a bit more emphasis on people being good looking in American film and TV ? Perhaps there is more writing for character actors here than over there? More often than not, I cast people to look real and believable and looking attractive isn’t often a part of it. When I cast for American project, it often is a factor with some characters at least.
The budgets are usually smaller here but the actors/agents know that, so might not expect the same fee as for something equivalent in America. The American Producers and directors that I have worked with, tend to be hugely efficient and enthusiastic and have a lot of respect for English actors. SAG have a lot more power and control than our unions, which is good in some ways but it is often too complicated and costly to bring American actor over to be in British productions.
Q: What is the oddest casting request you have ever had?
A: Well nothing too odd or interesting, but one story line in an episode of ‘Renford Rejects’ (a youth TV series) had the central characters, a five-a-side youth football team who always lose, play against some old men. They are convinced that this will be their first victory, but it turns out that the team of oldies is made up of real players from the 1966 World Cup squad. A challenge but we managed to persuade these legendary footballers to get involved.
Q: If you could recast one role in one film what would it be and why?
A: Well apart from casting my actress wife (Olivia Caffrey) as Holly Golightly in her favourite film ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, it’s a difficult one. I believe that Marilyn Monroe was originally cast in the role which would have been interesting to see and quite different I imagine to Audrey Hepburn.
I wouldn’t want to offend the living, be it an actor or a casting director and I just can’t imagine anyone else in the old classics. I have spent some time on this and just can’t come up with a good example. David Hyde Pierce as Rambo? This question is too hard for me. I can only think of silly answers. Have I failed?
Q: Who is a director you think does a particularly good job of casting and why?
A: I think it has to be the likes of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach, because they are allowed to cast lesser known actors who might be either ideal or less obvious, bolder choices for a part. In the UK this can only usually be done on the lower budget films of course.
Q: What is Snow on a Saturday about?
A: Snow on Saturday was inspired by an American short story by Erica Wagner – literary editor of The Times from a collection called Gravity. It is heavily adapted.
It is an urban fairy tale about hope in the face of tragedy. The story follows the Snow family – two little boys and their father after the death of their mother after a family picnic at the ancient standing stone site of Stonehenge. The youngest son stops speaking and the father takes refuge in drink and depression. They never go out . They never talk about the mother. The older boy overhears a teacher threatening the father with alerting the Social Services to take the boys into care if he does not pull himself together. So out of fear and desperation, the ten year old decides to galvanise them back into being the family their mother would wish them to be.
They embark on a crazy project to recreate the place where they were last happiest as a family with the mother. The picnic at Stonehenge. The story follows them recreating Stonehenge out of old car wrecks on a waste site in a very poor area of London beside the flyover. And then having a picnic under the Car Stonehenge on some astro turf as dusk falls. The final image is of the three of them in a car on top of two other upright cars beneath the moon with the tube trains roaring past and the flyover beside them. Happy and together as a family once more. The little boy breaks his silence and starts singing Starry, Starry Night. The Dad joins in. The ten year old looks up to the moon and shuts his eyes
“If Mum’s looking down I want her to know – we DID something”.
The music is by Roger Eno (brother of Brian) and David Bowie “Fill Your Heart with Love Today”
It won the Best Film Award in the Kino Film Festival.
Q: I used to do a bit of background extra work myself. I noticed that the casting directors often wanted good looking, Caucasian young people even in scenes when it would have made more sense to use average looking people who were of all ages and racial backgrounds. Have you noticed this as well?
A: I can’t say I have noticed this really, not in TV or film anyway. In a pop promo or a commercial it can happen because unreal worlds are often being created where they want glamorous or perfect or want us to believe shopping at a particular supermarket or buying the right car, makes us attractive. I think it would look very odd in any film or TV programme set in modern times, not to have an ethnic mix in the background.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)