Marin Hope is a Los Angeles native and an experienced Casting Director who has put talent forward for theater, film, and TV projects for the past 10 years in both her hometown of L.A. and New York City, where she got her start. While attending an acting conservatory at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she quickly realized her fascination with how her peers were being cast in the various productions. She became “obsessed” with learning what roles people got and why they were being cast that way – a sure sign that she was pursuing the “wrong” side of things, as an actress. Casting was where she needed to be, and casting is where she had the chance to thrive. Now, she shares her experience and advice for those pursuing what they likely feel is the “right” side of things for them – acting!
Karina: You have had the opportunity to work in NY and LA – How do you think the casting scene differs from the two coasts?
Marin Hope: It’s sort of difficult to map out the differences…. But, [besides] the pool of actors in New York, being somewhat smaller, overall, I would say New York actors are more formally trained, and a lot of New York actors start in the theater, because the theater is so abundant, in New York, prior to the pandemic, of course. And so, I think I took it for granted when I was there, but it was really really great to always be bringing in actors who had that formal training, whether that be, that you had worked in the theater, or they had went to one of the many great NY acting schools or conservatories, and so, there was a certain work ethic that I found more present in NY actors, than I do today, with LA actors… now, of course, there are thousands of brilliant LA actors with formal training under their belt, and that really treat their acting as a craft that needs to be honed and practiced just like any other skill.
But it was really a luxury that I didn’t know was such a luxury, working with so many trained, very serious committed actors, that I found that that was more present in NY overall.
Of course there are great independent filmmakers that are doing really interesting things in LA, it’s not limited to a certain coast, but I found that there were, a lot of real artists in NY that were making interesting films that I hadn’t seen before, and writing characters that were less generic or common, and the industry is rich here, but I found that overall, the projects that were coming to me in New York, in some cases, were more exciting. But again, a great filmmaker can be anywhere in the world! I was seeing more slice of life, hyper-realist films coming out of NY, and they were a little harder to find here in LA.
Karina: So how do you think that actors who have not attended a serious acting school/conservatory make up for that lack of training?
Marin Hope: For new actors, just breaking into the industry, whether it be LA or NY, I think it’s really important to view acting as a craft that needs to be honed and practiced, that you can always learn, whether you’re an A-list hollywood actor or just starting out, there’s always things to learn… There’s a quote by Stella Adler, and she says something like, “the growth of the actor and of the human being are synonymous,” and I believe that that is true as well, so stepping outside of the formal training of it all, I think we’re all growing, every day. And certainly those who are on the pursuit for growth and change and looking to evolve, not only as an actor but as a human being, it really shows, in one’s work. So, certainly for actors breaking into the industry, whether it be NY or LA, I think it’s super important to desire, to constantly be growing and learning. Listen, we’re all different, the conservatory environment is certainly not for everyone. And one class may leave a bad taste in your mouth.
I think that pursuit of knowledge is so crucial to an actor’s success, especially if they’re just starting out, I think, whether it’s a technique, or a class, or a conservatory, or a coach, or a theater company, or a group of like-minded actors to constantly be learning from, it, I think it’s essential to an actor’s success, whether they’re in NY or LA, and I find that the most successful actors here in LA, even if they don’t have “formal training” they are making up for it by constantly finding ways to grow as an actor, again, whether that’s classes or comedy troupe or whatnot.
Karina: Getting your first gig can be the hardest part sometimes. How did you land a job at ABC right out of college?
Marin Hope: I don’t remember the exact connection, it was a friend of a friend, that I had expressed to that I was interested, at the very least, in learning more about casting, and so I got really lucky and landed this temp job at ABC under the casting executive there, her name is Marci Phillips, and then John Ort, and they are so so fantastic, so I got this very quick crash course, into what casting looked like, but it was from an in-house network casting perspective, which is a little bit different than what we do as casting directors. There are, of course, a lot of similarities, but… they also function more like casting executives, they handle a lot of the business things for the network or for the studio, so after being with Marci for some time, I started to work with Judy Henderson… an independent casting director, so that was my first real experience, in casting, and what it meant to be an independent casting director, where you’re picking your own projects, and deciding if there’s a fit for you, rather than taking on the request of the studio or the network.
Karina: Is that what led you out on your own?
Marin Hope: Yeah, absolutely, as soon as I was with Judy, I could really see myself for the first time, pursuing casting in that capacity, where the whole reason that I got into it in the first place, was I wanted to be creatively fulfilled, and while I learned so much from Marci and John at ABC, really choosing the projects, the Indie films, or the series, or the plays in New York that we wanted to work on because the material resonated with us, was a gift. I was like, oh I could do this, this could be my future, if this is the path that I choose to pursue, and that was really exciting to me… having control over the projects that I take, and getting insight into what that could be, was sort of eye opening and really exciting for me at that time.
Karina: You’ve worked with a lot of incredible Casting Directors, like Billy Hopkins and Heidi Levitt, who were important mentors for you… Do you think actors do better if they find themselves a mentor?
Marin Hope: Absolutely. I think that, whether it’s a mentor or a community of peers that you trust and respect as actors, I think it’s incredibly crucial to your success, because being an actor is so tough in its own right, it’s beautiful and creatively fulfilling and all of these things, but the business of acting is really cut throat and at times, really disappointing and tough, and you know, there are so many great actors that I went to school with or that I met along the way that are no longer pursuing acting, and it’s not because they’re not great, talented actors, it’s because the business side of it was just too much. And something that they didn’t want to stick with, it can be degrading, it can make you feel so low at times, and so having a community, at the very least that you can express how you’re feeling to, and get that support from, I think is so crucial to an actors’ success. And also, not just success, the desire to stick with it, when there’s people cheering for you, and reminding you that are talented, you are unique and you are special and all of these things, because the industry doesn’t necessarily remind you of this on a daily basis, and oftentimes, in fact will do the opposite.
I don’t know that it needs to be a mentor, someone who has broken into the industry and found their success, but it can just be someone who’s experiencing the same things that you are, or on the same pursuit.
Karina: It certainly is tough, the grind! I know that actors can take it personally when they do not get a part, but we know it’s not personal – you are just doing your job, and have only one slot to fill. So what is your role as a Casting Director when rejections occur?
Marin Hope: I’m of the belief that as an actor, all you can do is put your strongest work forward, and the rest is unfortunately, completely out of your control. If you’re bringing your best work to the table and you’re not being cast in a role, there’s nothing you can do about it as an actor, right, except continue to learn and grow and improve, and whatnot, and not getting a part, typically, I mean, if you’re really bringing in good work, it typically has nothing to do with your work, or your ability as an actor – it’s a puzzle, there’s so many outside factors determining whether or not you’re gonna be cast in that role, that you as an actor have no control over, I mean, you wouldn’t believe all the reasons that a certain actor doesn’t get the role…
It’s everything from, the spec of the role changes, the ethnicity changes, the sex changes, the character is cut all together from the series or the film or the commercial, or… we had interest from an A-list actor who decides at the last minute they want to be a part of it, their availability changes, and the financiers are interested in casting that actor, so it’s really often times beyond the Casting Director’s control as well..
Or listen, for whatever reason, the director sees the role differently, but really enjoys your work as an actor. I’m casting a film right now, one young lady who was called back for the lead role in this film, she was called back twice, for this role, she didn’t get it, it went to another actor for a number of reasons – the actor who was cast is from the same small town that the movie is shooting in, and the director found that to be very important, and she’s slightly younger and he saw the role as slightly younger, and she looks slightly like the actor playing her mother, and so this other actress didn’t get cast for a variety of reasons, but she was a real contender for the role. Now that director just went ahead and offered her another role in the film, because she brought her best work in, she’s an incredibly talented actress, she just wasn’t quite right for that lead role, but now she’s going to play this other great role in the film.
… As a casting director, I’m going to remember you when you’re bringing in strong work, into my office, and I’m going to bring you in again and again and again, and if you continue to bring in strong work, I’m going to continue to bring you in, and, often times that strong work resonates with the director or a producer, or a casting associate that will become a Casting Director, and that’s really what it’s about, always putting your best work forward, work that you’re proud of, and that, at the end of the day you can say, welp, I’m really proud of the work I did, it’s a shame I didn’t get that part, I really wanted it, but there will be another one.
Actors hear this over and over again, so it might sound a little cliche, but we’re rooting for you. Casting Directors are rooting for you. We want you to get the role, of course we do, we want to fulfill our job as a Casting Director to find the best person for that role and we’re hoping it’s gonna be you, so we’re on your team, as long as you’re bringing in strong work, we are grateful to have you in our office, we’re grateful to have you self tape.
Karina: When you start a project, how do you find the talent? What are some of the first steps you take? Will unrepresented actors get seen by you?
Marin Hope: So, the casting process is very unique to each film and the needs of that film. And it always differs a little bit, and in some cases a lot. So, the budgetary parameters of the film do take a lot of our casting, if it’s a large budget film, oftentimes the leads come already attached to the film, or at least 1 or 2 leads come attached to the film…
Unfortunately, money dictates a lot of who is being cast in lead roles in a lot of films, not all films, but a lot of films, that’s a major factor for us, and whether we’re working on a big studio film, again many of those films come packaged, but even the co-starring roles in those films are often times being dictated by the studio or the network as to who can play those parts. So that’s an offer process, we’re going out to the agents, and we’re making a money offer, in most cases to their client, to play the role, they’re usually not auditioning in any capacity..
Now of course there are projects when that doesn’t occur, and there are projects that do occur but we’re still looking for an “unknown” actor to play a large role in that film. So typically, we release breakdowns for theatrical projects to agents and managers, unless we’re looking for something really niche or specific.
… and there are instances where we just open up the casting call to let’s say, Actors Access, to non-union actors, unrepresented actors, and of course if you’re just starting out, it’s sort of this catch-22, you’re like, I don’t have an agent or manager and I’m non-union, and I can’t become union or get an agent or manager without being in some real projects… so it feels sort of impossible – but it’s really not.
What I would say to actors starting out, is, what you should be focusing on as you are breaking into the industry is really building your resume and your reel. And you have to start somewhere, right? So there are tons of good places to start. I would say, a great place to start is student film. Because, certainly in NY and LA, there are incredible film schools that have filmmakers that are doing their first project that then go on to become major filmmakers, I’ve watched it happen a million times.
So, as an actor, being in one of their first films, whether it’s a feature or a thesis project, it’s a great way to build their reel but also, you’re building relationships. With that director and those producers who then go on to do big things… I think that building a resume and a reel is so so crucial to beginning your career because once you build those things and you have some great material to show, you can get a great agent and manager who are then going to submit you for the types of projects that myself and Casting Directors who cast feature films and large budget projects are seeing.
Also [in regards to student films/non-union projects], just having that on-set experience, even if it’s not a huge production, it’s experience, and you’re learning what it’s like to be on camera and on set, it’s like a crash course, sometimes we pay a lot of money to do audition classes, and you’re really getting that class for free, and sometimes getting paid to do it when you’re doing a student film or a short film or a short form series.
We live in this amazing age, where its like, people can make their own web series that then go on and get picked up by comedy central, and go on to get picked up by Netflix or whatever, so we live in this time where you can create something as well, and I wouldn’t limit yourself to just student films or short films… you can create too, and what you create has a place to live, and so, amazing. So that’s what I always say to actors who are like, I just can’t find work, especially actors who are outside of NY and LA, there’s so little work in my hometown, and I’m like, create it! Even if it’s just creating characters, like a SNL mock audition, create! Because you can use it. We have phones that are like super cameras now, there’s entire movies shot on phones! You can absolutely tape yourself and use it on a reel, when you’re just starting out.
Karina: What do actors need to know about Casting Directors who are members of CSA [Casting Society of America]?
Marin Hope: I think that for actors, if you’re taking a workshop from a Casting Director, I would very much advise sticking to CD’s that are in the CSA. Look, there are great CD’s who are not in the CSA for their own reasons, I worked for some of them, that didn’t believe in paying fees to be in a “club”, essentially, but, it’s a way for you as an actor to know that this Casting Director is legitimate and they’re not going to be conning me out of money… that this is a real workshop that I can trust, because as members of the CSA, there are guidelines for what we are allowed to do and we’re not allowed to do… and those guidelines are meant to protect actors.
Karina: Have you noticed the push for more diverse casting? How have you responded?
Marin Hope: I think there has been movement for more diversity for quite some time, even preceding the BLM movement in the past few years, but unfortunately, it’s a process. I feel a responsibility as a Casting Director to represent the beautiful pool that is America, to accurately depict America for what it is, which is wonderfully diverse. I feel in many ways that that movement needs to come from every part in the industry. It needs to come from the top executives, and the studios and the filmmakers themselves. I think, yes, we can cast diversely, and work to cast diversely but we also need to see more filmmakers of color, and more writers of different ethnicities and backgrounds, and you know, it’s up to the people with the money to allow for this… there’s only so much that we as CD’s can do, we are ultimately not making the final decision. Those final decisions are often coming from producers or studio executives, and we all need to be working towards inclusion in film and TV, and that’s not just race, that’s disability or, whether that’s casting someone who’s neuro-diverse or someone who’s hearing impaired… I think that we’re seeing progress but we have a long way to go… It should be in the forefront of everyone’s mind, and I’m seeing in 2021, more than ever, that it’s being addressed in every meeting, and I think that’s a really great thing.
Karina: Post-pandemic, do you look forward to in person auditions again? Do you miss the magic?
Marin Hope: Absolutely. I am an in-person Casting Director. Not all CD’s are… A lot of CD’s have already adapted to the self-tape because you can cast a wider net and see more actors for a role but to me, it’s been really challenging to work virtually like we’ve been working for this last year and I am so looking forward to a time when we can see actors in person and really work with them and get a sense of who they are and, you know, the essence of who they are, which sometimes is hard to see in a self-tape or a Zoom audition, so I am very hopeful that we will return to a place where we are having in person auditions, because that’s what I love most about what I do. Is working with actors, meeting actors, seeing them work in the flesh, I think face to face connection is so important in really getting a sense of who someone is and certainly with acting, at least for me, I do my very best to sort fade away into the performance and it’s so much harder to do when there’s a screen in between you and the actor.
Marin Hope: I would just say, that again, the industry can be super tough, and at time really ugly, not just for actors, but for industry professionals too, whether that’s CD’s or filmmakers, or costume designers, it’s a cut throat industry, but like I said, I think that if you are just bringing in your best work whether that’s to set or into the audition room, or to your self tape, or to the play that you’re cast in opening at a small black box theater with 50 seats, whatever it is, if you are bringing your best work to the table, truly, the very best that you can do, it almost always pays off in one way or another. And so it can feel, the grind can feel so exhausting like you’re not going anywhere, but I have seen so many actors just break late in their careers or after they’ve been at it for quite some time, and so, you know, stick with it. If you love it.