Since the pause of productions that came with COVID-19, many casting directors have been using this time to help actors. From conducting live Q&A sessions to putting out open calls, casting directors have been finding ways to work good out of our current circumstances. You may have heard of a not-so-little thing called #CastingCrushesCorona. The initiative was started by Sophie Holland and Faye Timby, and it’s been taken up by a number of casting directors since then, such as Liz Dean and Geralyn Flood. The initiative gives actors the opportunity to participate in virtual general meetings with casting. Holland is known for casting projects such as The Witcher, The Kill Team, and Madiba, and you can also look forward to upcoming projects like Young Wallander and The Magic Flute. But in between her work and general meetings with actors, Holland took the time to speak with Casting Networks. Keep reading to learn more about the casting director behind #CastingCrushesCorona.
When was the moment that you knew casting was for you?
I can tell you the moment when I definitely knew it was more than finding pretty actors who could do an American accent. I was casting The Kill Team, which is a film about soldiers in Afghanistan. We were searching for people genuinely from that part of the world to bring into the movie. They didn’t have to be actors, and we found this group of people who had left Afghanistan and were living in north London. They invited my husband and me over to their homes one Sunday night to listen to poetry in Pashto. They cooked food and shared it with us, and we all sat around and listened to this beautiful poetry being read. It felt like such an honor to meet that group of people and to be welcomed into that world with such open arms. And it was the first time I realized that as casting directors, we get to tell human stories that other people want to hear, that help them relate to things going on. I think it was at that moment that I fell in love with casting.
How did you come up with the #CastingCrushesCorona initiative, and did you expect it to grow so quickly?
It was the idea of my brilliant assistant Faye Timby. The night that we found out that production on [season two of] The Witcher was going to pause, she called and said, “I just want to do something positive; something positive has to come out of this.” And I thought it was such an amazing idea. I’ve known the guys from WeAudition for years, so we managed to get them involved. It just seemed like the perfect sort of marriage of ideas because we wanted to make sure it was accessible to actors everywhere. But we had no idea whatsoever that it would be as big as it is or that there would be such an appetite for it. We get so much out of it, too, and there’s a real sense of community now more than ever with things like #CastingCrushesCorona.
Did you feel added pressure from the fans of The Witcher books and video games when it came to casting the TV series?
I honestly felt enormous pressure. Creating an entire world for such a massive show is pressure enough, and then there are just so many fans of the source material. You want them to know that you love the world as much as they do. And on top of that, I’d just become a new mum at the time. So it actually felt in many ways like I was building two worlds at the same time. And then we very publicly had one of our breakdowns for The Witcher leak, which the fans responded to in a very visceral way. I learned that in the end, you just have to get your head down and trust that you are honoring the source material in the only way you know how. And you hope the fans see that.
If someone made a film about your life, whom would Faye Timby cast to play you?
I actually asked Faye [after getting the question], and she said Jena Malone. I was very flattered because we’re in love with Jena in our office; it’s my dream to cast her in something. But then Faye gave me her reasoning, and I wasn’t so sure if it was as flattering as I wanted it to be. Faye said, “There are three reasons behind the choice. She’s quirky, she looks like she could cut you, and the characters she plays always end up doing the right thing.” I was like, “I just don’t know how to take that casting now.” But that’s whom we both decided on, although I’m sure Jena would pass on the job. She’d be our first choice, though.
You recently started the #GreatWitcherBakeOff challenge and displayed some impressive pastry skills. What else is feeding you creatively during this industry lull?
I don’t even know what happened with the #GreatWitcherBakeOff challenge or how it became a thing. It’s just gone crazy, and it’s so fun. Every time somebody posts one, I feel so warmed by it. But the one-to-one meetings [through WeAudition] have been amazing because I get to essentially do my job whilst having space to really meet new talent. I’m also working on a film right now which plans to shoot in October or November that is called The Magic Flute. I’m getting to see young adults sing opera as a part of that process, which feels amazing. Opera is not music I’d been familiar with, so it feels like a real treat to get to know that world a little bit more. And I’m spending time with my daughter Lyra. That probably doesn’t count as feeding me creatively, but it’s the biggest thing in my world right now. It feels kind of amazing, like we’ve taken a summer holiday and are spending time actually getting to know each other.
What series are you watching at the moment?
There are two in particular, and the first one is After Life with Ricky Gervais. His ability to observe human emotions is unbelievable. It feels so raw, and I end up a sobbing mess on the floor after every episode. It’s incredibly well-done, and I promise you’ll be hooked if you watch just one episode. The second one is Money Heist. It’s a Spanish series about a group of robbers who rob a mint in Spain and steal billions of euros. It’s full of brilliant casting and acting — just gorgeous work.
When asked about her proudest casting moment, Holland referenced the warm feedback she received after the first director’s session for The Witcher in London. “We really felt like all of the hard work that we’d put into the first building block had been in the right direction,” Holland said. “The Witcher was my first big show, so there was a certain pressure that I certainly put on myself about whether I was good enough to do it.” And while it’s always nice to see a series find success, this instance is made even sweeter by the altruistic casting director of The Witcher. Holland’s creation of #CastingCrushesCorona with Faye Timby not only gave actors the opportunity to meet them, but it also inspired other casting directors to do the same. To quote the tweet from the Sophie Holland Casting account that kicked it all off, “Now, more than ever, we should be supporting and encouraging one another.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.