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Casting A Farewell to Arms

7th September 2014 by Morven Macbeth

With a core ensemble of actors since it’s inception, the company is very new indeed to the process of casting. We’ve been working with producer Henrietta Duckworth on the new project and she asked Leeds based casting director Kay Magson to put forward ideas for actors to play the male protagonist. Renewed respect from my point of view on what a brilliant job a good casting director does – every single actor Kay suggested that we met was a. good b. had prepared well for the meeting and c. we could see six of the twenty actors we met playing the character so six actors to meet again for a recall. I figured we’d be lucky to find three.

Funnily enough it came down to three in the final discussions, then narrowed down to two. When you have two clearly talented, bright, engaged and engaging actors, what small things does it come down to? Each of our individual preconceptions of the character and who would be ‘right’ to play him? What has the novel, Hemingway’s words arranged over 284 pages, instilled in each of our brains as to who Frederic Henry is, what does he look like, what does his voice sound like? What the company calls‘Van Factor’ (person you’d most like to spend X number of hours stuck on the M6 with)? First impressions (eye contact, handshake, what do the people who walk through the door want to talk about, if anything at all)?

I’ve been out of drama school for 12 years now but I’m constantly reminded of the lessons the teachers tried to drum into our heads, including the bit about having a thick skin, that just because you don’t get offered the part doesn’t mean you did a bad job at the casting, just that you weren’t the woman or man for the job on that occasion and there will be a next time. I remember talking to director Andrew Loretto about the audition process on a four-hander I was cast in where it came as a total revelation to me that if one of the four of us actors had turned down the job, for whatever reason, all four roles would have been recast. We were the ‘right four’. And if one of the four couldn’t do it, they’d cast another ‘right four’ but it wouldn’t involve anyone from the first group. I’d have been gutted if I hadn’t got that job, I auditioned well, loved the script, had a good chat etc but I would have remembered those salutary words of advice and not beaten myself up about it. But I can honestly say it would never have occurred to me that I didn’t get the job because my fellow cast-member-to-be turned it down.

Very happy when Jude Monk McGowan said yes to working with us and to playing Fred. Next task: finding two Italian speaking male actors with good Standard American who enjoy playing multiple roles within an ensemble. Big ask?

 

Morven Macbeth June 2014

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