Actors with Lisa London's new book. Photo courtesy of Lisa London.

Actors with Lisa London’s new book. Photo courtesy of Lisa London.

GALO: How has it been as a casting director to watch actors like Emma Stone and Jonah Hill develop their careers? How would you say they have grown and shaped themselves as actors since they first came into the business?

LL: For me, whenever I help someone get their first jobs or help someone out early on in their career, and they go on to become hugely successful, I always feel like ‘Hey, I had a bit of a part in that’ because I saw it from the beginning. With Emma and Jonah, they have gone on to have amazing careers, and I’m very excited for them. I think they’re very talented and their choices for what they’ve done are fabulous. And I always feel so great when I look back knowing that I had a little bit of a hand in that.

GALO: You have mentioned that comedy is one of the hardest genres to perform in. What would you say are some of the determining factors for an actor being deemed right for a comedic role? Can you give me any examples of actors that you found were great comedians during their auditions?

LL: The thing about comedy is that it’s tricky — it is knowing how to make moments funny. Sometimes when you read certain material, you think, ‘I’m not really sure if this is funny,’ and then you’ll bring the right actor into it, who knows how to make things work, and it becomes very funny. You might not always see it on the page right away, but hopefully, you can get the right talent and they hit those moments, and it works. There are people with that innate ability to hit those moments, definitely, and then there are people I’ve seen who developed that comedic timing.

I did a sketch comedy show a number of years ago called The Edge, which was before MADtv, and there were actors that we cast, like Tom Kenny, who voices SpongeBob, and who’s a very funny guy. We brought Jennifer Aniston in (this was before Friends), and we actually cast her in this and her first movie, Leprechaun. She is very funny, beautiful and really talented. Another person who’s very funny and who has gone on to do a bunch of movies and has a successful TV show is Kat Dennings — we put her in House Bunny.

GALO: What would you say is one of the most difficult aspects of being a casting director? Are there certain moments that are more difficult than others, like telling someone they’re not right for a particular role? 

LL: There are two aspects that are tricky. One is when you find somebody that you really believe in and in whom we see the potential, and then we have to convince the other people — the producers, directors, studio executives — that that person has the potential. Sometimes they don’t see what we see, so that can be tricky. Sometimes you win that battle, and sometimes you don’t. The other thing is if I see somebody that has potential and they are talented, but they don’t wind up being able to step up to the plate and deliver, and [as a result they] don’t wind up getting a call back, or they’re not quite ready. But that doesn’t mean that in a few months, after continuing to work on their talents, they won’t be ready, because I have seen that occur a number of times also.

For example, I remember Victoria Justice, who came in to audition for a pilot we were working on after we had cast her in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, and they didn’t feel she was quite ready for the lead role yet. I remember telling her mom that “I guarantee in six months she’ll be on a series.” And six months later, she wound up getting a role on Zoey 101. So you can see that sometimes, you have to tell these people to keep persisting, and that’s what happened here.

GALO: When you begin a new project, such as a show or a movie, is there a certain process that you tend to stick to when it comes to deciding who would be best suited for a role? In other words, when you have the character concept, do you tend to begin with well-known stars, or do you search for new talent? How is that decision usually made by a person in your position?

LL: It all depends on the project. For example, on a Disney project that we’re doing, this type of project would be more of a search. We knew from the beginning that we would search the country for new talent. If you’re doing a movie, it’s usually already decided by the producers or the director that they want a [big] name for [a main] part and the supporting roles might be for new talent or not as well-known actors. There may be a point where we discuss other names for roles, but not always.

GALO: Your new book, From Start to Stardom, will undoubtedly be a very useful tool for aspiring actors and their parents. You have said that you introduced the idea of writing a book to your friend Rochell Goodrich during a trip to Boston after having been asked many questions about the process of breaking into the business by hopefuls throughout the years. Would you say that being asked those questions was the main catalyst for your decision to write the book, or was there more than one?

LL: The main reason I wrote the book was because I just wanted to help actors. I love actors and I wanted to help them. I was asked those questions a lot, and when I told Rochell that I’d thought about writing this book, she said that was a great idea. We wrote it very user-friendly to make it interactive and easy to read. There are many books out there about acting and auditioning and about the business, but if you want to be an actor, this is the A-Z guide about doing it — about the business of acting.

We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on it, there have been people who have already been doing it for a while, and they have told me that there have been things [in the book] that have helped them with their auditions.

GALO: You have said that being “well-rounded” usually makes for a better actor. What would you say is the main difference between someone who is well-rounded versus someone who is passionate about acting, but not so experienced and mature? How does it affect their performance?

LL: When I speak about being well-rounded, I mean that besides their singing, dancing or acting, that they also do their homework; that they have really worked hard and studied and researched the role. For example, if you’re going in for an audition, do you know who the director is, know all the players, and have you researched the project, because then you know the tone and how the role should be played. The more you know, the better you do. You can have a conversation with the directors then so that they think, ‘Wow, this person really knows their stuff.’ Versus times when I’ve had actors come in and say, “You know I’ve never seen this show,” and it’s been on for about a year, and they don’t really know much about it, then I know they didn’t do their homework.

GALO: Discovering new talent is one of the many passions you hold in your profession. Would you say that during your career, you have encountered talent that is specifically better suited for theater such as on Broadway versus television roles? How can you tell where an actor may better flourish?

LL: I think that’s a personal choice of what an actor wants to do. We met Megan Hilty, who was on Broadway in Wicked. She came out to L.A. during the national tour of Wicked and she was so funny and talented, and we gave her a role on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody; we had this role that she would be awesome in. She went on to do Smash and Sean Saves the World, so she can do theater, television or film. She is super talented in anything that she does.

One last thing I’d really like to mention, you can’t study to be a star. You can study to be the best actor you can be, that is what’s important. Do your homework, do your research. Being a star just happens because everybody agrees that a person has that “it” factor. You can’t say that every person has it. Rather, it has to be something that the masses agree on an actor having. There are athletes, dancers, all kinds of talent that have that charisma. It’s an intangible quality. If it’s your passion and your dream, you go for it, and don’t give up.

From Start to Stardom: The Casting Director’s Guide for Aspiring Actors is currently available for purchase via or via the book’s official Web site.