From Doctor Who and Trainspotting to Call the Midwife and I’m Alan Partridge, casting director Andy Pryor has worked on some of the biggest shows with some of the biggest names and launched the careers of many famous faces.
At its most basic casting involves finding actors to play roles in TV and film, however there is far more to it as it is one of the few television roles that seems to bridge the creative and the technical sides of television.
“It’s very much a taste-based role” Andy says. “What people don't see is the enormous amount of work that you put into casting a show – in terms of researching and trying to pull the whole thing together, getting the right people seen, managing expectations and then negotiating the artists contracts.”
One of Andy’s biggest jobs has been his work on the resurrected BBC scifi hit Doctor Who and the show’s many spin-offs: Torchwood, Sarah Jane Smith Adventures and Class.
As the longest-serving team member on Doctor Who, Andy was instrumental in bringing back the hit, and has cast every speaking role on the show since.
He described the casting of Christopher Ecclestone and Billie Piper as the Doctor and his companion Rose in 2004 as one of the bravest casting decisions on the show.
“We all had a feeling we didn’t want it to come back and feel too light-entertainment in terms of the casting.”
“We homed in on the Chris [Ecclestone] idea because it felt so different and slightly mad to have somebody with such a great CV and a reputation as a serious leading man, but who we knew could also handle the lighter side of the role.”
He recently cast the Doctor’s new companion Bill, to be played by respected stage actor Pearl Mackie.
Despite her numerous stage credits, including her current role in the long-running West End hit The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mackie has only got one other TV credit to her name: an appearance in medical drama Doctors.
“It’s quite hard to tell whether someone can translate from stage to screen, but often you’re surprised” Andy says.
“[Mackie]’s a great example of somebody who proves that you don’t always have to have experience to be good. She’s has a natural ability on camera.”
Andy regularly casts from the stage: “We’re out at the theatre all the time. We come across faces by various routes – from people getting in touch with us directly or hearing about someone through the grapevine.”
Beginning his career as a stage manager in the theatre, Andy says “I had an awareness of actors already and their work and how they operated. I drifted into casting because of that knowledge.”
“Casting directors come from all kinds of backgrounds – some have been actors, some have worked production jobs. There is not one single route into casting because there’s no training course or standard career progression”
Andy is regularly contacted by people who are still at university and who want to become casting directors; however he isn’t sure that’s the best way to do it.
“I think ideally you need to have been around the profession - ideally around actors - and a theatre background is still one of the best training grounds for most of our jobs in the industry.”
However the hardest thing for a casting director is the Sisyphean task of monitoring the sheer number of actors around the country who are all looking for their big break.
“You can never truly stay on top of it all because there are so many actors out there,” he reflects. “It’s about keeping your awareness and your feelers out all the time.”
“I am personally quite averse to the concept of ‘discovering’ actors,” he says. “I think that’s a bit patronising, but it is nice to sometimes give actors opportunities that they may not have otherwise had.”
“The thing is, you’ve got this massive choice of actors but there are certain projects where you need, if not a big name then someone of a certain level of experience."
“As far as acting is concerned, I think there is a quality that draws you in.”
Andy is a believer in the elusive ‘X factor’ that some actors possess.
He explains: “It’s a completely indefinable quality. It’s a case of you feeling drawn to them and drawn to watching them. That’s the difference between a really good film actor and a movie star who’s showy: it’s the really good movie actors that pull you in.”
That's not to say Andy and his team have a completely free reign to cast whoever they like. He sees their role as that of serving the writer's vision and that's what he does every day.
"You are interpreting the taste of the writer, the director, the producer, and bringing your own personal, subjective view of a piece of casting to it to try and make it as good as it can be."
"I don't have a typical day" he beams, "Some days I'll be in auditions, casting, other days I'm on the phone trying to sort out something where an actor has dropped out. Often necessity can drive some of the more interesting bits of casting."
As he sits in his office and explains his job, the enjoyment that he feels is obvious.