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Why Casting is Like Cooking


Jessica SmithLet me first admit that I have never cast anything. Well, my own projects, sure. And I have helped out with a few readings. But as for actually being involved in a true casting, no, I have not been.

But that does not stop me from thinking that I would be great at it. Don’t we all think we would be awesome at casting (please indulge my sarcasm a bit).

Even though I am not a casting director, I do believe I hit upon something recently that puts it into perspective for me.

I was in my kitchen baking some cookies. On this particular day, I needed to bake a gift for someone. But before I could whip up my yummy, tried and true chocolate chip cookies, I discovered I was out of a few important ingredients. I started to make substitutions, but then realized that I wasn’t sure how it would turn out and I couldn’t take a chance with this recipient. Whatever I made needed to be good. However, I also didn’t have time to try something new. What was I to do?

And that is when it hit me: Casting is like cooking!

Now, of course, we know that all the ingredients of a dish must complement each other in order to be successful. But I don’t mean just the final product of casting. Come with me as we discuss even the audition process itself in terms of cooking and how casting directors must scrutinize their ingredients before even attempting to mix them together.

Let’s say my husband calls to tell me that his boss is coming for dinner tonight (I know that sounds like a sitcom premise from the 1950s, but bear with me on this). There are two issues at play here. One, I don’t have a lot of time. Two, I need to impress. Some might say the need to impress is the perfect time to try that super extensive, crazy Pinterest recipe I stowed away for some special occasion. But here’s the problem with that recipe—I have never made it before. What if it takes too long? What if the pork loin turns out too dry? What if the crazy blend of goat cheese and turnips tastes about as good as it actually sounds? No, the moment to impress is not the moment I choose to do something wacky. I save those moments for my close family and friends—the ones I know will love me no matter what.

The moment I need to impress is the moment I bring out the pork loin recipe that always gets rave reviews. To use some real life examples, this is when I make the same sausage balls and no bake oatmeal cookies for Christmas gifts. This is when I bake the scrumptious chocolate chip cookies for the bake sale.   I know from past experience these dishes will deliver.

Let’s take this to the world of casting. I’m a casting director and I have been hired to cast the smaller roles in a smaller market. I have never worked for this director before. I would like to work for her on all of her projects henceforth. This is probably not the time I bring in the 90 year old grandmother to audition for the bar bouncer, unless, of course, the script calls for that. This is the time I bring in the five toughest, biggest guys I know and have hired on similar roles many times in the past. Because I know these guys will deliver.

Now, let’s say my closest girlfriend is coming over for some girl time. We plan on having drinks, stuffing our faces with junk food, and watching Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. I’ve had this recipe for spicy cherry pistachio dark chocolate sea salt clusters burning a hole in my recipe folder. I’m dying to try this fantastic combination of all my favorite flavors, but don’t want to gorge alone.

Yes, this is the moment I try something new. It may turn out disgusting, but will my friend still love me? YES! I can take chances with her because I know she will always be back.

In the casting room, once I, as the casting director, have developed a good rapport with a particular director or set of producers, then I can take more chances. They have tasted the original cookies and liked them. And since they trust me with the chocolate chip cookies, they’ll be more likely to try my chocolate chip and raisin cookies. That is, they’ll let me throw in a 90 year old grandma as the bar bouncer once in a while.

Most of the time, casting happens quickly and looking the part is a large percentage of what is needed in casting. So when I get whiny in my head about not being called in to audition, or about not booking such and such part, I try to remember that casting is like cooking. All the ingredients have to complement each other and one errant nut can throw off the whole batch of brownies. Thankfully, the industry is full of creatives who will sometimes toss in a few nuts just to see what will happen. But I also need to be mindful that the casting directors have their own jobs to do and it is not make sure that I have a career. Their jobs are to serve the project and make sure they continue to have projects on which to serve. Sometimes I will be in the mix of perfect ingredients and sometimes I will not.

And sometime, if I as a young, Caucasian brunette, find myself in a room full of Mr. Olympian types, I won’t worry that I’m horribly wrong for the part. I will instead appreciate the risk that casting director is taking on me and I will do everything I can to make sure that day’s batch of cookies is delectable.

Jessica Leigh Smith

About Jessica Leigh Smith

Jessica Leigh Smith can currently be seen running around town in her yoga pants, toting her two little girls everywhere she goes. Being a mommy has played into Jessica’s latest projects, Mommy Parodies. The first is a parody of a song from the movie Frozen, which has reached almost 40,000 views (and climbing) on YouTube: Jessica’s most notable acting roles are co-starring roles on One Tree Hill and Drop Dead Diva. Coincidentally, Jessica was toting her daughters in those roles as well, since she was pregnant both times. In addition to acting, Jessica has co-produced an educational series for actors, called The Dinner Project, putting actors and casting directors face to face. Episodes can be found at For more about Jessica, the actress, please visit her website,, and follow her on Twitter, @JessiLeighSmith.