Q & A with Amy René, Casting Director

Do you want to get into Casting? I would like to introduce Casting Director, Amy René, who has cast countless films and television series. She has been a great friend to JRS.

How did you get into casting?

I went to undergrad for Art and got my Master’s degree in Film Theory (neither of which lead to a clear career path LOL) but, I knew I wanted to work in the industry, I just didn’t know where I fit in. My first job in LA was as a makeup artist – I figured I can paint on canvas, why not people’s faces? What I quickly learned was that I hate being on set. It’s too long for my sensitive introvertedness. An actor friend mentioned their acting studio was hiring an assistant (with benefits!) so I said sign me up. I didn’t even know what sides were. However, I ended up really absorbing what an actor’s process is and got comfortable talking to reps. It was a perfect launching pad for me. I got an interview to intern for Jeff Greenberg (Thank you Patrick Cavanaugh!) and I ended up being his assistant for many pilot seasons – the most fruitful yielding MODERN FAMILY. And that’s where it really all started for me.

Who were some of your mentors?

I owe so much to Justine Hempe. When I started as an assistant, she was the one that took me under her wing and explained what everything meant. I literally knew NOTHING. She was so generous, I am forever grateful. Allen Hooper (Jeff’s longtime Associate) taught me how to dot every i and cross every t. Tammy Billik and Jason Wood taught me so much and made me feel safe. I worked on JANE THE VIRGIN pilot with Allyson Silverberg and she gave me so much great advice about being my own boss (‘cause she is a BOSS). I’ll be forever grateful to Lynn Shelton, Mel Eslyn, Megan Griffiths and The Duplass Brothers for holding my hand into the indie world.

Casting Directors I admire are Laray Mayfield, Ellen Lewis, Susie Farris, and David Rubin.

If someone wanted to get into casting, how would you recommend getting their foot in the door?

Find an office you can work for. That’s it. At this time, there is no degree in Casting. Just jump in and LISTEN and LEARN. And always take accountability when you mess up (because you will) and never make that mistake again. Watch the documentary CASTING BY. Read YOU’LL NEVER EAT LUNCH IN THIS TOWN AGAIN/Jullia Phillips, A POUND OF FLESH/Art Linson, SPIKE, MIKE, SLACKERS, AND DYKES/John Pierson, and FOR KEEPS/Pauline Kael. I’d also recommend I, FATTY/Jerry Stahl for some great early Hollywood “fiction”.

You cast a lot of independent movies. Is that what you always wanted to do? How would you compare that to casting studio movies?

I have always been a huge movie fan. I knew when I was 8 or 9 I wanted to work IN my TV. Of course I didn’t understand what any of that meant but, what has always soothed me is immersing myself in movies. I didn’t know the difference between the two (TV vs. Movies) to be honest when I started. Anytime you’re working with a big Studio/Network there is a strict protocol and hierarchy of approvals needed. On indies, the process is a little more relaxed but you have to be creative.

We don’t always have big budgets (like never) so my ideas have to come from a creative perspective – what actors are looking for a Sundance movie to add to their resume? What actors that usually get cast in comedies want to showcase their dramatic chops (and vice versa)? Who has so much money that it doesn’t matter and just wants to work on telling great stories?

I also work with a lot of newbie directors and directors that are also the writer of the script. I have to be able to adjust my language depending on what type of director I’m working with. Some know every actor, some know none. Some understand the agent/manager relationship, some just want to send an instagram message to the actor. So there is some educating I have to do with the team depending on their understanding of what my department does.

casting director

Can you give us a sense of what it is like behind the scenes? How hard is it for the writer, director, and producers to come to a consensus?

Great question. Every project is different. Whenever I come on board a project I need to assess who the real decision maker is. Sometimes it’s completely free and the director can actually make the final decision. More often than not it’s whoever is giving their money to the project – while they may not have the real FINAL say, we have to convince them why our opinion is the best. When it’s a Studio/Network it’s whoever is the head boss signing off on the casting. A VERY big network tv boss once said – “Cast the best actor” when the team was stuck between two choices. Great advice and that show made a star out of that choice.

What are some of the most exciting aspects of the casting process?

Getting to see the final project. I’m usually the second or third person to read the script so to see how it all came together is so fun! Especially when the actors just SHINE.

And conversely, what are some of the most frustrating/heartbreaking parts of it?

Ugh. When I go to a festival or screening and the Q&A starts and there is ALWAYS the question “Can you tell us about the casting process?” or “How did you get this great cast” and there is not even a mention of a Casting Department. What people don’t understand is that even if the actor is friends with someone on the crew, there is a protocol of hiring them. Especially if they are a reach/name. I am the one that calls their rep and pitches the project. I validate why they should do it. I’ve had 20+ projects premiere at top tier festivals (not a brag!) and can count on one hand how many directors have even mentioned my name when Casting is brought up. It’s mortifying because I’ve usually just said hello to them five minutes before the screening. It’s forced me to change how I think about my job – I know what work I did on the project. So while it would help me TREMENDOUSLY for them to mention me (like they would any other department that was asked about) I can’t expect it. I turn my focus to – “ok what do I need to do on the project I’m working on RIGHT NOW”. It’s been a tough mental thing to overcome (still working on it!) but THAT’S SHOWBIZ BABY!

You see thousands of actors, can you give us an example of a recent actor who really blew you away and can you tell us why?

A few years ago I saw Joy Sunday (WEDNESDAY) in a class and I just knew she was a star. I put her in one scene in an indie and then she got WEDNESDAY. I’m also really proud that I was able to hire Jasmin Savoy Brown and Sydney Sweeney on some of their very first jobs.

On a broader scale, I was reminded how you can truly craft a character when I watched Leo in KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. I think Jessie Buckley is just fantastic. I’m also a big fan of Mamoudou Athie, Haskiri Valezquez, Thomas Barbusca, Sam Richardson, Carl Tart, Kaitlyn Dever, Regina Hall (just to name a few). Some actors that I think are just so interesting are Jefferson Mays, Macon Blair, Christian Denham, Wunmi Mosaku and the entire cast of the British series GHOSTS.

Naomi Watts is an actor that I think makes really great decisions and is able to do low budget or huge projects and makes you want to see it. Tilda Swinton is a perfect example of a goddess. No matter what role she takes on, you can’t stop watching what she’s going to do next.

Are there any pet peeves you have regarding actors who are sending you a self-tape or audition in the room for you?

I am very sensitive to actors being “actory”. While I need you to embody the character well and shine, I’m also kinda judging how you’ll be on set. So many of my low budget films are a small crew. Sometimes the location is where everyone is staying. So I need to try to suss out who’s cool and won’t cause drama. Sometimes, they’ve slipped through but my absolute FAVE is when I see casts genuinely bond and become friends. I feel like a matchmaker.

There are a lot of actors who are emotionally taxed from the pandemic and the recent SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes. Do you have any words of wisdom for them?

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Lastly, what are your favorite movies from 2023?


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