“We’re in it together,” declared casting director Linda Lowy of her candid relationship with auditioning actors. “It’s never us versus them.”
On Tuesday, May 3, as part of SCAD’s performing arts spring series, Lowy and actor Jeff Perry appeared with SCAD Chair of Performing Arts and Director of Casting Andra Reeve-Rabb at the SCAD Museum of Art theater to talk about the casting process. As Lowy said: “I can’t exist without actors, and actors probably can’t exist without a casting director.”
Working for Shonda Rhimes’ television production company ShondaLand, Lowy has handpicked the talent for “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” along the way changing the face of television. Diversity has been central to her transformational work.
Perry, better known as “Scandal”’s venal cretin Cyrus Beene, is co-founder of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the legendary Chicago-based troupe that springboarded the careers of Gary Sinise, John Malkovich, Joan Allen and Laurie Metcalf. Among his most notable credits, he is Lowy’s real-life husband.
Before the talk kicked off, an enthusiastic student crowd watched video homages to Perry and Lowy suffused with testimonials from Rhimes, Kerry Washington, Sandra Oh and other ShondaLand luminaries. Suddenly, SCAD students Bradleigh Watlington, Tonya Thompson, Christian Noble and Christian Magby rushed onto the stage. “Calling out to ShondaLand, are you ready for a brand new beat?” doo-wopped the quartet, versioning Martha and the Vandellas “Dancing in the Street” with new lyrics devoted to Rhimes’ shows — and their own desire to appear on one.
With the energy in the room elevated, Professor Reeve-Rabb asked about the keys to auditioning. “My biggest direction to actors is, ‘Be more you,’” explained Lowy. “Don’t try to be more like the character on the page. Bring more of yourself to it.”
“You’ve got Gillian Anderson playing Blanche, and Cate Blanchett played Blanche, and Jessica Lange played Blanche,” pointed out Perry, in reference to various productions of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. “There is not only one choice [of actor] for the material, otherwise how could it exist more than once?”
With encouraging pragmatism, Lowy addressed acting students looking to begin post-SCAD careers in TV, film and theater: “I sometimes see the same actor many, many times without casting them. Kerry Washington had to audition for [the part of] Olivia Pope. She was not offered the role. It was a long process! Eventually the right actor gets the right part, and we’re happy for all the other parts they didn’t get, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to cast them in this one.”
Perry sprang to life when Reeve-Rabb asked him what he likes best about acting. “Everything!” He elucidated his point with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet on the actor’s obligation to “hold the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image.” As Perry’s face flushed in rapture, Lowy interjected: “I’ve never heard any of that before. You freak me out, Jeff.” The crowd howled with delight.
This was the spirit of the event: humorous, truthful and full of love for great acting and those who make it possible.