An Interview with Hollywood’s legendary Star Maker and Casting Director, Jane Jenkins
by Joel Schulz – Managing Editor
On the weekend of October 8th, Calgary was graced with the presence of Jane Jenkins who conducted an audition workshop for the city’s aspiring and professional actors desirous of furthering their careers. Alberta Buzz was a proud sponsor of this event which was promoted by American Idol Associate Producer, Colby Cote, and Actor/Director/Writer Alyx Gaudio through their production house Next Dimension. Both these charming young gentlemen were active participants. Calgary’s film and digital production community can look forward to many more events and workshops, such as this, that will be sponsored by Alberta Screen Industries and her affiliate organizations, Raindance Canada and Alberta Buzz.
Casting Directors play one of the most important roles in the production of a successful film and Jane Jenkins is no stranger to the set of some of the greatest films ever produced. She has connected the likes of Uma Thurman, Meg Ryan, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, and Jack Nicholson, among others, with Directors to cast films that have won many awards, both internationally and at the Academy Awards. The Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Jurassic Park, A Few Good Men, and The Godfather: Part III are but a few of the 172 films she has to her credit. Jane is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who award the Oscars. Her job is to audition and match the perfect actor with the right role, especially the lead roles, for film directors and assist in the negotiation of their contracts. Ms. Jenkins always works with her partner at The Casting Company, Janet Hershenson.
“Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson are among the all-time greatest casting directors in Hollywood.” – Ron Howard
“Janet and Jane are responsible for discovering many of today’s greatest screen actors.” – Chris Columbus
Jane is one of the most re-assuring and candid figures I have ever had the pleasure to interview. The time spent with her just flowed. She volunteered much of the information and insights I was seeking without even having to pop the questions. She genuinely enjoys sharing her experiences as much as she does creating them. My experience was one of sage advice to performers accompanied by amazingly interesting anecdotes.
Turning first to her advisory comments, which was also the theme of the workshop, she provided great insights on how actors can improve their chances of being chosen for the role at the audition. She offered our readers the following advice:
Auditions are investments in your future. It is not about getting the job. Forget the job, leave it at the door. Be honest and true to yourself and somebody will notice you. No good audition goes unnoticed, the job is merely the icing.
Arrogance will destroy your chances. Never be a prima dona. If you are not comfortable and relaxed then avoid the audition, reschedule or even cancel as a last resort.
Learn all you can about the Director and Casting Director ahead of the audition. Examine the films they make and the type of actors they cast.
Know who you are auditioning for before you arrive.
Build up a background of presence on the set. Forget about serving pizza and get as many roles as an extra you can muster. You will have the experience and knowledge of what producing a film is about and know how conduct yourself appropriately in front of cameras, even if it is a non speaking role. When you secure a more important role, you won’t panic when cameras are shoved two inches from your face. You will have learned to expect it. Casting Directors look for experience and even the role of an extra carries weight.
She defines a professional actor as one who is honest, comes prepared and avoids auditions when not, is true to themselves, is always on time, and has skills.
When auditioning for a comedy, be funny rather than being a clown. Comedy is much harder to audition for than drama.
Lastly her greatest emphasis was that less is more, keep your audition simple. Jane provided many anecdotes from her career. She commented that too many comedies are no more than “barf and fart” movies. However, the most poignant was her difficulties in casting for Jerry Zucker’s film “Ghost”. He simply did not want Whoopi Goldberg in the role of Oda Mae Brown, no matter how convincing Jane was or how many times he reviewed the audition. Nothing could convince him. However, when Patrick Swayze was cast for the lead as Sam Wheat, he was adamant that Goldberg play the role. Jane and Swayze together convinced Zucker that she was the ideal actor. She was casted and was awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Turning to the workshop, which I attended as an observer, Ms. Jenkins worked one on one with all the participants who auditioned read throughs with her, where Jane read too, using pre-determined scripts. She provided feedback and worked with each attendee to improve their presentation skills.
Attendee Mackenzie Lawrence provides us with the following synopsis of her experiences with Jane Jenkins:
“I really didn’t know what to expect when I first signed up for the Jane Jenkins Casting Director Workshop, but what I learned from it was irreplaceable. Jane Jenkins is a down to earth, respectable woman who was able to share her stories and experiences from Los Angeles with us and give us an honest critique about our performances. She was very open to answering all of our questions and did not have the typical “Hollywood” persona that most of us would have assumed someone of her status would have. Jane was amazing to talk to and learn from and she has inspired me in so many ways, I can only hope I will be able to see her again in the future.”
By the smiles on the faces of the participants and eavesdropping on their comments, I can state without hesitation that this event was a huge success. I am not even an actor, and I truly benefited from it.
An advisory panel, which included Ms. Jenkins and local industry production professionals, was assembled by the promoters for a Q&A session after the workshop which was attended by a much broader audience.