A casting of thousands
As half of the renowned wife- and-husband team behind Hubbard Casting, Ros Hubbard has helped decide who we see in blockbusters from The Lord of the Ringsto the Bourneseries
FOR OVER 40 YEARS Ros Hubbard has been the woman sitting far behind the camera, the Dublin-born casting agent who has found the screen talent that has left lifelong memories with audiences around the world.
Her company’s credits are legion, from casting T he Commitments, the Lord of the Ringsfilms, The Hobbitand most of the Bournefilms to discovering Colin Farrell.
In her crowded, bustling office off Oxford Street, in London, Hubbard watches the rain fall outside as she talks about the changes in an industry that was never for the faint-hearted. “Standards are higher now. In the old days there weren’t as many people trying to break in, and things were a bit more lenient. There was more rehearsal time, more chances. Now you have to be bloody brilliant and get it right as soon as you can. The minute you walk in the door [as an actor] there is judgment in that room. It is much more realistic; it is very tough. It is very artistic, but it is just harder and much more competitive.”
When they were casting The Commitments, Hubbard, her English husband, John, and their staff scoured Dublin in search of the unfound stars that Alan Parker, the director of the 1991 film, needed to bring Roddy’s Doyle’s book to life on screen. “We were out every night, looking for bands, looking for kids. It was a 24-hour job. It took us about three months, which is longer than you would be given nowadays. Budgets have really decreased, and, secondly, they don’t put casts together until the last minute.
“We find the leads now, and we mightn’t go back to do the rest of the casting for maybe another six months, until the money is agreed. For The Commitmentswe found them in the Baggot Inn, we found them on the streets. Dublin was rife with talent at the time. You could throw a stone and hit a band. We’d go in and watch, and at the end up we’d go up and try and find a roadie, or a manager, or a dad, and ask if they would come the following day for a workshop.”
For the final casting search she hired Mansion House for three days. “That involved us pleading with every radio station, putting in ads, dropping things into pubs and schools, hospitals, saying, ‘Do you want to be in a movie?’ We have done that all over the world.”
Now much early casting work is done online, using Twitter, Facebook and other social media. “It is so fast. Yes, you will be deluged. But you still have to put in the work. You still have to watch them, get them to read a script, keep tabs on them.” Even with technology that offers unknowns a chance to be seen, few will succeed. “That is the sadness. One of the things that depresses me most is that we can see 10 people of which seven or eight are right, but only one is going to get it.”
TODAY, HUBBARD IS a judge for the Baftas and the Iftas, and John (whom she met in Dublin when he was an advertising copywriter) has a vote at the Oscars. They spend each Christmas watching movie after movie – not always a joy, particularly when it comes to sitting through some of the fruits of Ireland’s independent film-makers. “Three a day, so your Christmas is ruined,” she says with a laugh.
Ireland has not made the mistake of cutting back on tax incentives created by Michael D Higgins when he was minister for the arts, in the mid-1990s, to encourage foreign film and television companies to work in Ireland. “They didn’t make the same clever decision here in the UK, but they are going back to it. Look at what has been done: Morgan O’Sullivan [as executive producer] on T he Tudors, [at Ardmore Studios,] in Bray; Northern Ireland is the location for The Game of Thrones, one of the biggest shows worldwide. They are business-like.” But there are problems. “For independent film-makers it has become a little too easy to make films there. I have to judge quite a lot of small Irish films. I sometimes think that they need a little more discipline in what they are shooting.
“I just find it a little indulgent: a lot of concentration on violence, foul language, oversexuality, as if nobody had ever done it before. It is all very intense and lewd. People don’t talk like they are talking on those films. That could be sorted. It is an overexcitement about being irreligious, an overexcitement about being free to do what you like, and maybe it has gone too far the other way. I am not a Holy Joe myself, but I have a certain moral code, and I feel that we are not even trying.”
Colin Farrell’s 2003 film Intermissionis an offender that comes quickly to mind. “The smack that Colin gives at the beginning is unacceptable, and yet they all laughed. It did quite well, but I just thought, Why is that funny?”
Equally, Irish theatre has not kept pace. “They do the traditional stuff for the tourists. I think it is a fault. I have done Juno and the Paycock, and I love it, and there are great lines, but we are more alive than that, and we should be more relevant.”
But genuine Irish talent has emerged. “Look at what is coming through: Lance Daly, Gary Shore, John Moore. They are the happening directors in LA, never mind here in London. There are tremendous directors coming through that mess.”
Despite the global competition, Ireland has natural advantages. “Culture never goes. We are a cultured country. Younger people know more about film acting. The Irish are very good at it, because they are very organic and they don’t get overtrained. They come from the pits of their stomachs. It is a very naturalistic form of acting,” she says, although she quickly adds that aspiring stars must learn that a global industry is now looking for ‘real people’ who can still connect with audiences around the world.
“You don’t have to go around with a Rada accent. They want real people, close to the streets. American audiences will not understand what they are saying, so they have to be Rada Gorbals or Rada Sheriff Street, as it were. There’s no point talking in a Dublin accent if no one can understand what you are saying: you have got to talk with a Dublin accent but, nevertheless, be intelligible everywhere, because it is a communications business.”
HUBBARD, WHO WAS born Ros Cox, left Dublin for Los Angeles in the 1960s, although she worked in insurance for two years rather than in the movies. “I missed Ireland terribly. The social life in Ireland was and is brilliant. When you are 17 or 18, you miss Lansdowne hops, or Belvedere on a Sunday night. I did enjoy it. I then came back to Dublin, and I got a job in a model agency, with a lady who has just died, Betty Whelan.”
After another year in New York, where she worked in advertising, Hubbard returned to Ireland and set up her own model agency, which “was great fun: I made no money, but we were always in the papers”. Her casting career started after she developed a flair for suggesting talent for commercials, and a move with her husband to London brought quick success.
Hubbard remains in love with films and actors. “I gave up for a while. I did the Royal Horticultural Society course and wanted to be Helen Dillon, the TV gardener. But what I missed was being in a room and getting an actor on tape and getting this feeling at the back of your neck, where you know that you are in the presence of real talent. Am I still enthused? Some days. Other days I say I am not coming into this office again.” It happened two days ago. “All sorts of things were going wrong. I swear this is true. I went to see [the musical] Jersey Boysfor the eighth time, and I was restored. I want to be near these people. That is the drug. They are the candles, the actors, and we are the moths.”
Ros and John Hubbard host a casting masterclass at Galway Film Fleadh on Saturday, at 2.30pm; 091-562200, galwayfilmfleadh.com