Casting Directors Lucy Bevan and Olivia Grant on Self-Tapes, Auditions and Casting ‘Masters of the Air’

"You really want actors to do well. We want everyone to come in and do their best and do well and surprise us," casting director Lucy Bevan said.

Watch Casting Directors Lucy Bevan and Olivia Grant on How They Cast ‘Masters of the Air’

With credits like Barbie and The Batman, casting directors Lucy Bevan and Olivia Grant have firmly established themselves as the top choice for directors needing stand-out ensembles. The new Apple TV+ series, Masters of the Air, only solidifies that reputation with their casting of Austin Butler, Callum Turner and Barry Keoghan as fighter pilots during World War II.

The pair took some time out of their busy schedules to talk about their work on the show and their process of casting not only the leads but the other roles, which was over 300! They also discuss their self-tape tips, auditioning and how much they love working with actors. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This show feels like Band of Brothers, where besides Austin Butler and Barry Keoghan and Callum Turner, we’ll look back in a couple of years and the whole cast has become successful.

Lucy Bevan: Well, interestingly, Austin hadn’t done Elvis at that point. He was actually in rehearsal for Elvis when he first auditioned for us. So, he’d really caught all of our eye in the Tarantino film [Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood]. And we were so impressed by it.

There were over 300 speaking parts in this show. How do you even start something that massive?

Lucy Bevan: We started in each plane. So, we looked at the planes and who was in each plane, and then we built the cast around that. Well, we started with the leads as you do in every cast and you build the ensemble from there. But we specifically looked at the planes and we wanted everyone to be very specific and very vivid in their plane so that they stood out from each other. We broke it down like that.

We had diagrams of the planes on our wall in our office so we could imagine who would be sitting where in the plane. You’ve got to be quite relatively diminutive to fit in the ball turret because those guys had to be really quite small to fit in the ball turret. So, we were very aware when we were casting of the all the research of the act of the planes themselves.

Olivia Grant: There was one marketing meeting where I think we had 10 different planes on the floor in an office out in the middle of nowhere. And it was just like 12 headshots around planes and just being really nimble and moving people around so each plane felt as distinctive as it could.

Lucy Bevan: I remember in our first meeting, we were smartly dressed and wearing heels. And in the next meeting it was like, right, we’re in trainers, because we were basically climbing all over the office with headshots, putting them on the wall, putting them on the desks. One plane here, one plane there. It was really quite athletic.

From the time you guys got the job, how long did it take you to fill this massive cast?

Olivia Grant: It was a year, about a year and a half. I think we were casting up until, I think, the last two weeks of that shoot. So, it was like a full year and a half.

Lucy Bevan: There’s that really beautiful scene in the final episode with the lovely actor speaking, the Jewish refugee who’s speaking Yiddish in that last episode. Leon Silver, his name is, he’s a lovely, lovely theater actor from here. And he was quite late on in the process. They’re beautifully written scripts. Every role was written so well, we were able to cast it quite specifically, I think.

What was the hardest role for you to cast?

Olivia Grant: That’s a really good question. I think Lucy, would you say Rosie Rosenthal? It’s such a big part because it had to take over in the lead in the sense from Austin and Callum who brilliantly sets up the first few episodes, and then he comes in and he becomes such a leading man. We knew that we wanted to have an actor who was authentically Jewish for that part. And it’s just a real beast of a role and he was such an impressive man in real life. And through doing a huge search in the US we came to Nate Mann, who I think at that point had just done a small part in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Licorice Pizza, which hadn’t come out.

Lucy Bevan: And he auditioned for us. They all did. And he did a great audition and then we just did a recall.

Do you watch everything that you cast?

Lucy Bevan: Yes. I really love this and at the end of watching the last episode, my boyfriend said to me, I wish there were more episodes. So that is the best compliment, isn’t it? Yeah, I was absolutely, I am absolutely thrilled with it. I think they’re all terrific in it, I really do, I’m so pleased with it.

One thing that tickles me about it is that you’ve got these three American, well, Callum and Nate are American, and then a couple of the Tuskegee guys are American and everyone else is British. And that’s just great that we have this amazing talent pool here and lots of actors out of drama school and starting out to give them that opportunity and for them to rise to the occasion was a thrill.

Was this cast mostly through self-tapes?

Lucy Bevan: Because it was COVID, we didn’t do so much in the room, we normally cast in the room, but because it was COVID, we did it a lot with self-tapes and also Zoom recalls. Auditions on Zoom are not ideal, but they’re better than nothing.

Olivia Grant: Yeah. I remember trying to work out the technicalities, trying to get six people on a Zoom to try and see chemistry-wise if they could all be in the same plane with each other and all reading in lines here and there. And it was like one of those math things going, ‘how are we going to do it?’ And then it ended up working beautifully. We did that quite a lot through the process.

And then you would switch actors around if you felt they would be in a better situation, better plane?

Lucy Bevan: Yeah. That’s right. And Lance, you know what, as we did on this show and in everything that we ever cast, people came in for one role and then we cast them in another role. And often, an actor will come in for a relatively small role and they’ll get cast, they’ll be so good and they’ll be so right for a bigger role they’ll get a bigger role. And that happens a lot.

So, I always say to young actors, if you think it’s a small role, go for it because you never know what might happen. If you go for it, you might get a bigger role, which is what does happen.

Olivia Grant: I was so thrilled to see, I think it’s episode one or two, there’s a really young actor that we’d done a workshop with called Jack Crutch. And I remember casting him and he had no scripted dialogue, and then I watched the episode, and he ended up with five lines of dialogue. And I just did such a massive cheer because. It’s still a small part, but it’s just so exciting when that thing can change on the day.

Lucy Bevan: And Olivia remind me, the little kids at Toby Eden, our little kid who’s got a limb difference, we were really conscious of having visible disability in the show. And obviously when you’ve got pilots and you are all in a plane, you can’t… Disability is difficult to achieve. So, we made sure that the two little boys, the two little local boys in Norfolk who were always waving at the planes and being nearby and playing and messing around with Raff Law’s character, he’s got a limb difference, he’s got one arm. And that was really important to us to make sure that there’s visible disability in there somewhere. And also, we had lovely Tommy Jessop in the first episodes who’s in the scene with the darts board, who’s a great actor with Down Syndrome. That was important.

I wish casting directors would do actual Zoom auditions more.

Lucy Bevan: It’s difficult. Self-taping is difficult. The only thing you can do is make a commitment and go for it with the information that you are given, that’s all you can do. It’s the best you can do. But agreed, we like to do Zoom auditions where we can.

Olivia Grant: And I think we’re really trying as much as we possibly can to get actors back in the room because it’s so fun for us to.

Casting directors always say this, but you guys are really a champion of actors. Just watching your faces when you talk about somebody, like that little kid who got a speaking part, you were so happy. I don’t understand why actors might think that you’re against them.

Lucy Bevan: You really want actors to do well. We want everyone to come in and do their best and do well and surprise us.

Olivia Grant: We’ve gone into this because we love actors, and we love working with them. You always want somebody to get the gig. But, we also work on a basis that they may not get this one, but that audition never goes away in our minds. We can always think of them for other projects.

Do you guys still watch demo reels?  

Olivia Grant: Yeah, we do. I think we always try and give somebody an opportunity, whether it’s a tape or an IRL meet if we don’t know them, because no matter how small the scene, it just gives us such a better sense of them. But yeah, we do watch a lot of show reels.

What are you looking for in those that make them stand out?

Lucy Bevan: Short. Start immediately with the action, don’t have doors opening and closing and walking into a room in a big wide shot.

Olivia Grant: Yeah, no montages.

Lucy Bevan: Yeah, no montages. Just get straight in there with whatever scene that you’ve got.

What’s your self-tape tips?

Lucy Bevan: Self-tape tip would be light yourself nicely.

Olivia Grant: If you’ve got access to a good reader who isn’t going to try and pull focus, that’s really helpful.

And I think if you want to try two versions, we’re always happy to look at more than one take. If you want to try something more bold with one and pull back on the other, we’re always happy to see both. And we’ll only ever send which we feel is the best one.

What is the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you guys in an audition room?

 Olivia Grant: We did have some people turn up in full cat costumes when we did Cats, which was completely understandable, but that was quite fun.

Lucy Bevan: We got a self-tape once on a film call Ghost in The Shell of an actor who is now doing so well who shall remain nameless… and he did the audition with a paper bag over his head. I leave you with that. I’m not going to say who it was. It was a strong choice, but I remember it.

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