Hollywood casting director behind Game of Thrones explains why the show can’t have a more diverse cast

Nina Gold, who has also cast films including Oscar-winning The King’s Speech and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, explains the nature of her job and says she wants to work with Wong Kar-wai

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 December, 2016, 9:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 11:08am

You probably haven’t heard of Nina Gold, but if you’re a Game of Thrones fan you’ll know all about Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke. Well, it was Gold who helped make these actresses famous by casting them in the HBO drama series.

She’s championed young talent on the big screen, too, serving as casting director for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for example.

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“Casting the new people in The Force Awakens was a pretty big risk,” Gold says on a recent visit to Hong Kong for a Bafta masterclass at the Academy for Performing Arts. “Star Wars has this huge following, and already has all these stars in it. We had to find young people to take the story forward, and we thought they were great, but it’s not until you’ve got it out there in front of 300 million people that you know whether the risks paid off.”

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She is constantly going to drama schools, and watching films, theatre and TV shows, to keep an eye on emerging talent. She’s also sent countless audition videos – so many she had to hire a person just to upload them all. She has to research the background of actors, and test them, sometimes multiple times, to make sure they’re right for the part she has in mind for them.

“You have to be constantly building the knowledge of actors,” she explains. “The more you do it the more you can refer back to lists of people you had in mind for other roles, and the more you get a sense of whether directors and actors will work well together.

“And sometimes you can’t think of the right person for a role for ages, and suddenly it comes to you as you’re brushing your teeth,” Gold laughs.

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With more than 20 years in the business, the Briton also has actors she has turned to for multiple roles, such as Eddie Redmayne, who she cast in Les Misérables, The Theory of Everything, and The Danish Girl. Is show business largely about who you know, then? Gold says it is more complicated than that.

“I’ve been doing it a long time, people know me and I know lots of people, and now I do work with a lot of the same people over and over again,” Gold concedes. “But it doesn’t matter how well connected you are, if you’re not right for the part it’s crazy to cast you in it.”

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She’s not saying there’s no connection between casting directors and the talent they’ve cast, though.

“Certainly in the UK, everyone knows each other, it’s a small world and it definitely helps. It’s nice to work with people who feel like old friends, but it’s great to work with new people too and make those new connections.”

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She got her start in the role while studying at Cambridge University when a friend asked for her help getting extras for an AC/DC music video. “When I first started, I worked on music videos and TV commercials. I really wanted to work on films but I didn’t really know how to make it happen,” Gold says.

She got her break into film through working with British director Mike Leigh. “I had cast a commercial for him and we became friends. He asked me to cast Topsy Turvy, and that changed the course of my career.”

Gold has cast every Leigh film since, which between them have earned nine Oscar nominations. She’s cast films including The Imitation Game, The King’s Speech and The Martian, and says she’d love to work with Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai, Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee or China’s Zhang Yimou.

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Funnily enough, one of her biggest successes, Game of Thrones, nearly didn’t happen. “It wasn’t really my cup of tea,” she says. Fans should be grateful she took the plunge, even if it is not always a smooth ride. The series has come in for criticism for the lack of diversity of its principal cast members, but on this issue Gold says it’s important to remember the series is based on books that are very descriptive and specific about the appearance of its characters.

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The film industry as whole, she says, is “already shifting towards greater diversity”.

“We are more aware that to not take diverse casting seriously is uncreative and silly. We’re all trying to do castings that reflect real life, and real life is full of all sorts of different people. We’ve got to have them all,” she says.

Casting for a film or TV show can begin up to a year before filming begins. Casting directors receive a script and have to get to grips with its requirements and understand the points of view of a project’s writers, producers and director in order to find the right people for the roles. So, we asked does she know what’s going to happen next in Game of Thrones?

“[David Benioff, D.B. Weiss and George R.R. Martin] haven’t written the next lot yet,” she chuckles. “I don’t know where we are in the books vs the script race. They know what’s going to happen, but I don’t yet. I have several of my own theories.”

Might you share them? “No, thank you,” Gold says with a smile.

Oh well, it was worth a try.