Kendra Castleberry, Casting Director (“Limetown,” “Take Two,” “Grimm,” “Castle”)
Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Kendra Castleberry has always known she was destined to work in entertainment. From private song and dance concerts in her parents’ living room, to studying acting at the Youth Performing Arts School, to switching focus to directing at the University of Illinois…. creating character and story has always been tremendously important.
After moving to Los Angeles in January 2001, Kendra was surprised to find a new outlet for her creative passions- a career in casting. Early on, Kendra was fortunate to move around to many casting offices and learn from Janet Gilmore, Megan McConnell, Megan Branman, Heidi Levitt, Nancy Klopper and Patrick Rush.
In 2005, Kendra landed in the office of Donna Rosenstein, where she would stay for the next decade. Working her way up from casting associate to casting director, she worked on a myriad of TV series and pilots over the years, including: October Road, Life on Mars and Castle for ABC; Grimm for NBC; and the pilot of Star-Crossed for CW.
When Donna shut down her office to become Head of Casting at Amazon Studios, Kendra decided to team up with Marlo Tiede and open their own office. In their two-year partnership, they cast the final season of NBC’s Grimm, and CBS’s Zoo.
Kendra is now just over a year into a new partnership with Billy Murphy. They recently cast ABC’s Take Two and the upcoming Facebook Watch series Limetown, starring Jessica Biel and Stanley Tucci.
Why do you think some talented actors break out successfully and others don’t?
This is a difficult one, and I don’t think there is one correct answer, as every actor is unique. But I think opportunity and luck are both big factors. First, you have to get the opportunity to be seen. That means writers/producers/studios/networks must be creating material for your type (this includes gender, age, ethnicity, physical type, skill set). The more roles that are available, the more opportunities you have to shine. Second, you need luck that the decision makers are fans of what you do and that you fit into the world they are creating. You can be the most talented actor in the world, but if the buyers don’t connect with you, you won’t get the job.
What stands out in an actor’s resume when you consider auditioning them for a series regular on a Pilot?
I look for credits that are reflective of the genre I’m casting. I want to have some idea of whether you have tackled this same type of work previously. I also look at the producers and directors you have worked for. And I always consider what training you have.
What audition tips should actors always follow when reading for Pilots as opposed to reading for Guest Stars?
When you audition for a guest star role, you are often given 4-6 pages of material to convince me you can carry story for one episode. For series regular roles, you may get that same amount of material, but you must convince me that you are going to be compelling for 6 years! I look for actors who fill out the space between the lines. They don’t just tell the story of what is happening in this scene; they show me who this character is in a larger world. I need to feel that if I took away all of the dialogue, I would still want to watch this actor.
All things being equal, what are the deciding factors you look for when setting up actors for your Pilot series regular sessions?
For initial reads, I think it is about variety for me. I want to see a spectrum of types to see what is out there so that I can then start narrowing down what works or doesn’t work. When we get to callbacks and chemistry reads, I really try to keep in mind the direction that has been given to me by the producers/director and curate my choices accordingly.
English, Australian and Canadian actors seem to become more prevalent every Pilot season. What makes them stand out amidst American actors?
They’re bright and shiny! Foreign actors are frequently in the U.S. only for pilot season, so there is a limited amount of time for them to be seen. We want to make sure we get a chance to check them out. Also, we are now selling television to a global market and there is a push for us to represent a global cast vision.
Can you offer some dos and don’ts regarding Pilot auditions?
DO: Be close to off book (but still hold your sides). Exude confidence. Be on time and prepared for anything.
DON’T: Change or ad-lib additional dialogue. Worry about your competition in the waiting room. Get too stuck in your choices (if the casting director asks for adjustments, give them what they want).
How would you define “making a strong choice?”
I would define “making a strong choice” as pushing the boundaries of what is expected, but still staying within the box. You must understand the project you are auditioning for and make sure your performance fits those parameters. You want to stand out amongst the tens or hundreds of other actors up for your role, but you don’t want producers/director to question your understanding of the tone of the project or your place within the larger picture.
How important is doing theatre for a young actor in their 20s?
It is not necessary, but I think it can be very helpful. Theatre can help actors overcome nerves, trust in the moment (because you don’t get a Take 2), and with an extended rehearsal schedule, give you the chance to really dig deep into character study. Theatre is also a great place to build your community and learn from more seasoned actors.
What consistent choices and behaviors do you see successful working actors constantly bring to auditions?
To me, the most successful actors always go back to the basics. They focus on script analysis (who, what, where, when, why). They focus on professionalism (punctuality, preparedness, respect). They believe they deserve to be considered and are confident they can deliver whatever performance is asked of them.
Do you feel Studios and Networks are more interested in looks than talent, or are there other factors that stand out more often?
Looks will always matter; TV/Film is a visual medium. But talent and charisma matters more.
What do you enjoy most about casting?
I love being in the casting room and watching actors bring characters to life. I enjoy the collaborative nature of the audition process where casting directors and actors work together to capture the best performance to represent them. I love the variety of actors I get to meet. And I love to watch actors grow and evolve over the years. I love helping producers shape the world of a project through the actors we cast.
Any final tips?
Just keep at it. Keep doing the work and believing in yourself. We are rooting for you to succeed!