I’d only worked in advertising a couple of years before I moved to London, but during that period I wrote tons of radio commercials.
Not yer newfangled “BUY THIS! BUY THAT! IT’S GREAT IT’S CHEAP!” kinda radio commercials, but subtle, sophisticated, funny, monologue-y, wordy ads that were so witty and brilliant that no one ever had a clue what they were advertising. Let’s just call it my little spoke-in-the-wheel-of-capitalism (which, now that I think of it, is a nice description of my entire advertising career).
They took radio ads seriously back in 1980s NYC. We’d arrange casting sessions and call in thirty, forty actors for an ad, determined to get exactly the right one.
Then I moved to London, and discovered that not only was casting not done for radio, but it was frequently not done for film and television.
‘Use Jack Dee,’ was a line I heard a lot.
‘But he’s in everything.’
They’d look at me quizzically. ‘That’s a good thing. People know his face. They know he’s supposed to be funny.’
I always wondered why we couldn’t just make the ad funny — scour the comedy clubs, discover some amazing untried unknown, be the first!
But no. No one in England ever wanted to be first (see also Keira Knightly, Keira Knightly and Keira Knightly).
Genuine, original casting requires that you close your eyes, ditch your preconceptions, think laterally, do something unexpected. Not Stephen Fry this time. Not Keira. Not Jude. Not Colin. Not the usual suspects, good as they are.
And yet…whenever I think about Kevin McDonald doing street casting for Daisy in How I Live Now I feel a bit nervous. Wouldn’t it be better to get a star? Soairse Ronan? Emma Watson? Mia Wasikowska? Someone who signals that this is a big film before you even step foot in the cinema?
But maybe it’s more fun to make a star than to buy one?