Game of Thrones' Bafta-winning casting director on casting Star Wars: The Force Awakens and what her job is like

From Game of Thrones to Bridget Jones’ Baby, Nina Gold has cast it all. Here’s what you need to keep in mind to become a casting director like her

Heidi Yeung |

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A casting director has to understand a script just as much as the writers and directors.

How many of the following names do you know? Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Peter Dinklage, Sophie Turner, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega. What about this one? Nina Gold.

You may not know who Nina Gold is, but she is the woman who’s probably why you know all the other names. Gold is a casting director, and some of her most recent credits include Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Bridget Jones’ Baby, The Imitation Game, The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything, and Game of Thrones. (You may have heard of a couple of those.)

To be a casting director you must love films and filmmaking, says Nina Gold.
Photo: Bafta

If you don’t know what a casting director is, it may be because the role doesn’t exist in Hong Kong’s entertainment industry.

“I can’t understand how you can possibly do it without a casting director!” Gold said at the Masterclass with Nina Gold presented by Bafta and held at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts earlier this month. “It’s so much work and I don’t see how, if you were doing something else on a film, how you would have time to do all the things you’d have to do for casting.”

Casting isn’t just about picking names out of a hat. Gold has to understand a script just as much as the writers and directors in order to get a sense of who might be right for the part. On top of that, she has to do all the background research into the actors to ensure they’d be worth putting forward for the project.

”Casting the new people in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a pretty big risk, because it goes back 30 years and has a huge following,” Gold says.

For something like that, she may have to sit through hundreds, sometimes thousands, of auditions in person or watch countless video auditions actors send in. And sometimes a talent may have to be tested multiple times to ensure he or she is right for the role. The most Gold had tested one person for a role was 12 times.

Nina Gold is the first casting director to win a BAFTA Special Award.
Photo: BAFTA

Also, as there are always hopeful performers, “you have to be constantly building the knowledge of talents,” she says. And Gold finds talent everywhere: drama schools, theatres, primary schools, secondary schools, off the street … Many names you know today owe it to Gold, at least in part, for their current success. For example, Game of Thrones’ Turner, Williams, Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke.

Gold admits that striking the balance between what the studios, directors, producers, actors, and agents want, and managing all of their expectations is the most challenging part of her job.

“I need to have knowledge of the field, actors and talent,” Gold explains to Young Post. “I then need to present those choices to the director and producers, and then we work together to choose the right people. I audition a lot of actors, and sometimes make the deals with them too.”

Gold got her start while she was at Cambridge University, when a friend called her one day for help getting extras for an AC/DC music video. It was an experience which convinced her she wanted to work in filmmaking. There isn’t exactly Casting Director 101, so how does someone go about becoming a casting director?

Gold says it’s all about getting yourself out there and networking connections. At the start of her career, she cast many commercials and music videos, but what she really wanted to do was to work on films. During this time she met then-commercial director Mike Leigh, who later asked her to cast for his film, Topsy Turvy. The film snagged several awards and nominations at the Oscars, Bafta and Evening Standard British Film Awards, and the pair went on to work together on every Leigh film after. Many were recognised with nominations and awards all over the world.

The job of a casting director really is about trial and error, Gold says.

“As I’ve got older I’ve realised that my job is actually to have an opinion. When I first started, I was probably busy trying to guess everyone else’s opinion. I definitely have more faith in my own thoughts having some value [now].”

Beyond faith, Gold believes a casting director must truly love films and filmmaking.

“You have to genuinely like actors and acting,” she says, “because that’s what you’re dealing with all the time. You have to want to see people acting in films and theatre, and it has to be something that really interests you. You have to have a very good memory, and you have to have diplomacy.”

Is there a diplomatic way to say, “wow, we had no idea a casting director’s job was so complicated”? Yeah...

Edited by Ginny Wong