“Personally, I’m not interested in casting the most perfectly beautiful woman or someone who ticks all the boxes of what a person is ‘supposed’ to look like.” – Casting Director Nina Gold
Casting directors rarely get recognized for the vital role they play in finding the right talent for a project, but Casting Director Nina Gold can at least point to her three Emmy Awards as evidence that she knows how to find talent. Two of those Emmy Awards have come from casting Game of Thrones, though Gold has also had success casting movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Martian, and The King’s Speech. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Gold speaks about the ins and outs of casting — and she also reveals two of her biggest success stories.
Gold points out that her job is all about taking risks on new talent — but when those risks pay off, it’s a phenomenal feeling. She says, “I love discovering unknown actors. It’s very exciting, although it can be risky. You can’t predict if the person you think is going to be great really will be. But doesn’t it get boring if you always play it safe and use the same old names? Personally, I’m not interested in casting the most perfectly beautiful woman or someone who ticks all the boxes of what a person is ‘supposed’ to look like. I’m much more interested in character before beauty and an interesting charisma that’s not based on looks. More often than not, the risk pays off. I have to say, it’s a pretty good feeling to go to the cinema and watch a film that I’ve cast. I cry a lot!”
Gold gives an example of how she discovered a talent and has continued to nurture the actor. She explains, “Of course there are exceptions, but casting directors are almost always women. I suppose it’s because it’s such an egoless, nurturing role. I meet actors and it’s my job to help develop their talent. Maisie Williams was only 11 when we cast her as Arya Stark in Game Of Thrones. I had to take into consideration that the show could go on for years. But she’s incredibly resilient and has a strong sense of self so she hasn’t been swayed by all the fame. Ultimately, it comes down to intuition and trusting your instinct.”
When it comes to successful actors, Gold points out how many people don’t realize how hard they worked to get there — and in the case of casting directors, all those that supported those actors. She says, “When an actor wins a major award, people don’t want to think about the long process that he or she has gone through to get there. They like to think it’s down to divine inspiration or a God-given right. In reality, there may have been hundreds of auditions beforehand, or the part may have been offered to five other actors first. Congratulating casting at that point shatters the illusion. There is still a lot to be done in terms of recognition, but we’re working on it.”
One of Gold’s biggest success stories was casting the relatively unknown Daisy Ridley in Stars Wars: The Force Awakens. She recalls, “I remember when Daisy first walked through the door. She’d taken the precaution of wearing her hair in two buns on either side of her head like Princess Leia. We fell in love with her straight away. We’d seen hundreds of thousands of people, but she was totally perfect, and we couldn’t get her out of our heads. It was her energy, she just had something. We then realized that we’d auditioned her on the feisty parts, but could she do the deep, troubled emotions? We asked her to perform the moment when Kylo Ren is trying to get the thoughts out of her mind and she had me crying my eyes out. It was the perfect fit.”
Another major success was when Gold cast Kristian Nairn in Game of Thrones — particularly because she had made a mental note to use him in something years earlier. She says, “I think Hodor’s my favourite character. I first met Kristian when he auditioned for Hot Fuzz. Four years later when we were casting for Hodor, I remembered him. He sent a five minute video and the role was his.”