Casting director Nancy Bishop: “The 1990s were a glorious time”

“I was drawn to Prague in the 1990s because I was a big fan of Vaclav Havel and was working on his plays in Chicago at the time.

“In 1989, one of the petitions circulating in the Chicago theater community read, ‘Get Vaclav Havel out of jail.’ I signed it and then he became president! It was that crazy and glorious time when many Westerners came to Prague. I made contacts there, then a friend told me that he needed someone to stage a play in Prague and asked me if I wanted to come and do it. So I ended up coming to Prague as a theater manager.

“The 1990s were a glorious period when the wall had fallen. Anyway, I came to Prague and ended up becoming a theater director in a company and that’s exactly when all these film productions started coming to the country, because they realized that Prague was a beautiful place, that it was cheap and that they had very skilled film crews. They started shooting stuff, and because I knew the actors, they would just call me and ask if I knew any actors who spoke English. And I would say, ‘Yes, I do’. That’s how I got into casting. It was a bit by chance. »

Is it true that English speakers could get small roles in big Hollywood productions when they are not actors?

“Yes, there were non-actors who had a chance just because they had the right accent and it still happens sometimes. You have amateurs who can play roles. In those days it was also more difficult to find Czech actors who also spoke English. Now there is a very high level of English proficiency in Prague, but back then there was none. It was very difficult to find older people who were fluent in English. Sometimes the Czech accent worked or the actors ended up being dubbed. One of the first things I worked on was that great sci-fi series ‘Dune’ and the Czech accent worked there, because the actors were supposed to be from other planets (laughs), so pretty much any accent would work in the script. It was also an exciting time for me. Otherwise, I never would have gotten into it. in the cast. I had to learn all about the cinema, because I leave the theater. I knew how to direct actors and get a performance out of them. However, I had to learn all the tricks of the movie just by doing it.

And the big roles? Was there an amateur actor here who ended up landing a lead role in a foreign film?

Nancy Bishop |  Photo: Nancy Bishop Archives

“It happened sometimes with children. Ironically, this particular ‘Fugitive Pieces’ production didn’t film in Prague, but they needed a boy from Poland and he got the lead role. He works now. He is also credited as part of the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Why is the Czech Republic such an attractive location for film shoots?

“I think it’s because we have beautiful, historic places that haven’t been marred by WWII, so it’s all very authentic. And now you have a lot of production companies that really know what’s going on. they do, because they have been doing it for a long time. And the Czech Republic is not the only country in this respect. Certainly, its neighbors do it too, be it Slovakia, Poland, Hungary or Romania. The joke is that things are getting less and less filmed in Hollywood itself. If you live in LA and you shoot something, chances are you’ll leave Hollywood.”

So it seems that you made your career in Prague. What prompted you to move to London more recently?

“Well, just because I lived in Prague for many years. I am a Czech citizen now. I have always loved Prague. However, I felt that I had more or less done everything I could do there and London really is the hub of acting I would say all over the world I think the best actors are in London and it’s a very lively place if you do what I do .I go to the theater here almost every night.It’s also the first stopover.If American films come to shoot in Europe, they will certainly come from London.It has been a real privilege and an honor to reside here and to know the talent from London. While I started my career as a local casting director, playing the roles they needed in Prague, I now play all the roles, so it’s very exciting and interesting for me.

I imagine it must have been stressful working in the cinema at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when many films had to stop production?

“I think the good thing about casting is that you can do it while you’re not filming. At the start of the pandemic, everything stopped. As you remember, there was no Covid tests we didn’t know much about it and productions just stopped however the audition process didn’t have to stop as we had the video technology so we were able to continue to prepare and editing movies. You can do post-production or pre-production. The other thing about video auditions for actors is that there’s now a way to turn off the camera to that they didn’t have to see each other. I think it was quite off-putting for some of the actors that they had to see each other while they were auditioning.

Photo: Nancy Bishop Archives

If we move on to your new book which has just been published. I had the opportunity to read it and it is very practical. Especially the second chapter which provides 12 strategies for the actor on how to go through the casting process. Are these strategies your invention? And could you tell us a bit more about them?

“Yeah, I guess they’re my invention. I had just started casting myself when I started, so I also had to learn, with the actors. I had to learn more about working on camera because I came from a theater background, as did many actors I worked with. There was really a lack of training and work on camera. Then there was also the audition process. It was after doing that for a while that I realized that a lot of actors, good and professional alike, really struggled to audition. What happened was I started giving lessons on it and when I was doing that I had to stop auditioning for the students. I think that’s how I found the strategies.

“Having said that, some of the things I emphasize in the book are not mine at all. A lot of them are the basic steps of Stanislavski’s acting. [Konstantin] Stanislavski being of course the famous Russian director who really modernized acting. All the actors refer to him today, he is so deeply embedded in our training. However, I think sometimes when actors audition they lose sight of the basics of acting, because they think their goal is to impress the casting production, whether it’s the director, the director of cast or whoever they are. before. They forget that their goal must become the character’s goal [they are auditioning for]. Stanislavsky spoke a lot about these goals. Then there are also the basic facts of the scene – who are you, where are you, who are you talking to and what do you want. Some of the things I remind actors of in these 12 strategies are these basic Stanislavski steps, so the ones I didn’t make up. But they are important, because sometimes actors lose sight of these basic things.

Nancy Bishop’s book is available both online on platforms such as Amazon, as well as in bookstores across Europe and the UK. In North America, it is scheduled for release in June.

Berta D. Wells