If you’ve ever felt intimidated by casting, chances are you’re not alone. Many actors can attest to feeling nervous around casting directors. Considering the extent to which a casting decision can impact an actor’s career, having a case of the nerves isn’t unreasonable. But the people sitting behind the table in the audition room have their own “backstories” that explain what got them there. And if actors learn more about a casting director, they can better understand him or her as a person, which helps alleviate audition nerves.
Casting director Zora DeHorter is known for projects such as “Ali G Indahouse” and “She Spies,” and she recently appeared as an expert on CBS’ new global talent competition show “The World’s Best.” The busy casting director took the time, though, to speak with Casting Networks and share with actors her own personal backstory on how she got into casting.
DeHorter began her career in the industry by training as an actor in London at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. But once she made the move to Los Angeles, she found the roles available to her were limited. “It was a long time ago when a lot of the ethnic roles were still very ‘ghetto-fied,’” DeHorter recalls. “Or, you know, the black female [characters] were either abused or drug-users.” She notes that her accent further limited her acting opportunities. “The casting directors could not compute an African American person with a proper British accent because at that time, it was very, very rare.” DeHorter explains. “He [Aaron Spelling] would put me in his shows, but I was always the exotic foreigner. And there were only so many exotic foreigners you could play.”
DeHorter says she was not getting enough work as an actor, and she eventually found herself seeking more stability in her career. “I said, ‘If I’m going to give up acting, I want to be around actors,’” DeHorter recollects. “And the most obvious place for me at the time was casting.” Once she made the decision, DeHorter set out in her new career by contacting offices that cast her favorite shows and offering to work for them for free in order to gain experience. DeHorter shares that she spent a year working at multiple casting offices, which led to her first solo casting job on Percy Adlon’s 2001 feature film “Hawaiian Gardens.” “I loved [casting] it,” DeHorter relates. “I loved the energy, the connection, working with the director and how collaborative it is.”
DeHorter says that her passion and love for the work has kept her in casting ever since. She shares that her own experience auditioning as an actor plays a big role in how she runs her sessions now. “I would get feedback like, ‘Oh that was nice,’” DeHorter remembers. She explains that that type of note wasn’t actionable and didn’t help her grow as an actor. DeHorter shares that when she auditions actors now, she starts with a positive note and then, “I’ll tell them what needs to be worked on and how we get there together.” The casting director also wants to help actors by reminding them to stay motivated in a very competitive industry. “Do not sit back and get comfortable,” DeHorter advises. “You’ve got to keep pushing.”
DeHorter gives actors another key to audition success: being in the moment. “The thing about reading a script is that you always know what’s coming,” she notes. “But you can’t play that; you’ve just got to deal with this present moment.” “The World’s Best” expert adds that while filming the show, she saw a unique act that served as the perfect example. “A ventriloquist puppeteer did that [stayed present in the moment],” DeHorter recalls. “That’s exactly what I try to teach actors.”
DeHorter’s words can help de-stress actors who find themselves sweating around casting directors. She is an example of a casting person who can relate to actors because she’s experienced the “actor’s life,” and her passion for helping actors grow in the craft informs the way she runs her sessions. So for those of you worrying about your next auditions, take DeHorter’s story to heart. It’s a reminder that many casting people have a passion for helping actors succeed.