Brit talent waits in the wings

Brit talent waits in the wings

By MELANIE GOODFELLOW | Dec 19, 2005 | 689 words, 0 images Variety Magazine

LONDON Ever since the Keystone Film Co. tapped Charlie Chaplin from the London-based Fred Karno vaudeville troupe while it was touring the U.S. in 1913, Blighty has been a popular source of talent for Hollywood.

But where do casting directors find fresh talent in the U.K.? Everywhere and anywhere, it seems, but especially in the theater.

"It depends very much on the role," says London-based John Hubbard when quizzed on where he finds new talent. "There's no set formula. I've found actors by walking the streets, through theater, auditions at local schools...

"We came across Kate Winslet, for example, through a casting sweep. We'd put out the word we were looking for a 14- to 15-year-old for 'Heavenly Bodies' and she turned up at the audition alongside 40 to 50 other girls."

Hubbard's more recent credits include "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "King Kong," "Flyboys" and "The Da Vinci Code."

In the case of "Rings," Orlando Bloom came to Hubbard while still a student at Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London. It was Hubbard's son Daniel, who has followed in his father's footsteps, who first spotted Bloom's potential.

Billy Boyd was brought down from Scotland by agent Aude Powell to audition for the role of Pippin. An alum of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama, Boyd was a mainstay in the Glasgow and Edinburgh theater scene at the time.

"You can't just wait for new talent to walk through the door," says Hubbard. "I try to meet two new actors a week and I spend a lot of time at the theater. I was at a production last night in which there was some terrific acting by some relative unknowns."

He also checks out the showcase productions put on by drama schools such as the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and Guildhall.

Jina Jay, who found the mainly British cast of "Pride & Prejudice," also takes her inspiration from the theater rather than film or TV.

"I see some terrific performances on TV, but I'm drawn more to theater. I am more inspired by seeing an actor onstage and thinking, could that magic, could that energy work on film?" she says.

"Pride & Prejudice" star Matthew Macfadyen, for example, is best known in the U.K. for his roles in TV dramas such as "Warriors" and "Spooks," but he first came to Jay's attention through his perfs with innovative director Declan Donnellan's Cheek by Jowl company when he was just out of RADA.

"It was very early in his career. I fell in love with him then," Jay says. "He was very young, but he already had a certain gravitas."

She first cast him in Paul Mcguigan's medieval mystery "The Reckoning." Jay's other theater finds include Burn Gorman ("Layer Cake," "The Best Man"), whom she first spotted at the Royal Court in London.

Like Hubbard, Jay likes to keep tabs on the drama schools as well as universities with "strong drama arenas" like Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh.

"I keep in touch with people like Dallas Smith, who has a long history with Oxford and Cambridge. He acts as a sort of conduit, if you like. Students know to write to him," she says. "He's Rosamund Pike's agent, for example."

Even agents across the pond follow London theater scene.

"I keep up with the British theater. ... Last time I was in London, I saw seven plays in six days," says New York-based Juliet Taylor, who cast Woody Allen's London-set "Match Point" and "Scoop."

For "Match Point," she cast the top roles out of New York and called on London-based Gail Stevens for help with the supporting cast.

"She came up with Matthew Goode and much of the supporting cast. Woody didn't go over right until shooting, so she would put stuff on tape and send it over," explains Taylor.

By all accounts, Allen loved shooting with Brits.

"He couldn't get over the caliber of the actors. ... He thought they were fantastic," says Taylor.