A Conversation with Casting: Victoria Burrows
The casting director talks about the importance of self-tapes.
A fan of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy? Thank Victoria Burrows. As the project’s casting director, Burrows was responsible for giving actors such as Elijah Wood the chance to bring the beloved characters to life. Burrows also cast The Hobbit trilogy, and other box office hits, such as Cast Away starring Tom Hanks, and The Polar Express. Below, Burrows talks about her career in casting, and why self-tapes matter (and the actors who have booked major roles off of them!).
Why did you choose a career in casting?
I was always drawn to film/TV. My first job was working in a movie theatre.
My mother was an astrologer, and in a few guidance readings she suggested middle management in the arts was best suited for my future career. I was a receptionist in December 1977 at a production company when I observed the casting of a TV movie called A Woman called Moses (The Harriet Tubman story)…that’s when I had my “ah ha” moment, and pursued finding a job in casting. I was hired to be Ramsay King’s assistant in October 1978…and still love it to this day.
When you worked on films that already had huge fan bases — such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit — did that present any special challenges when casting those iconic characters?
In this production, just a few — height for the Hobbits, casting some stars in certain roles and doing accents. Peter Jackson gave us creative freedom to bring him who we thought would be best. It was an amazing and fun collaboration for everyone during the casting process — and it obviously worked out well.
You have also worked as a casting director for multiple television series, including the original 21 Jump Street (starring Johnny Depp). Does your approach to casting for television differ from how you approach casting a film?
Only in the fact that TV wants the star names that pop for TV audiences, and films want film stars. But the CD’s job is to find the talent that pops in the role — the actor that “owns the role” as we say when we are looking, and that’s really for both TV and film. That being said, film stars have been crossing over to TV in limited series now, which is a big plus for casting.
Is there a project that you are particularly proud of? Or one that had any unique challenges?
LOTR and The Polar Express were both challenging and films I’m proud of. The Polar Express was a first of it’s kind with Mo-cap acting. We were involved with all the roles, and it was great fun. LOTR was magical because of the books and what the audiences expected — they were going to judge us on how the actors filled the roles. For us to bring Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, and Viggo Mortensen to Peter was exciting.
How do you discover new talent?
We remain open to meeting new people, and keep watching films and TV shows for talent. We just found a young boy (Jazhir Bruno), 9-years-old in Atlanta that had done one ‘short’ — and he is our lead boy in the film THE WITCHES starring Octavia Spencer and Anne Hathaway coming out in October 2020.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career as a casting director?
Know how to multitask and answer phones. Watch TV/FILMS all the time. Make yourself a personal database of talents you love. Agents and Managers are your allies.
[You also] must love working with actors. It never gets boring watching actors bring characters to life in their own style.
What is one piece of advice you wish you could share actors before they audition for you?
Commit to your character when coming in. Memorize at least one scene. As an actor that loves acting, enjoy the work — an audition is the job as much as getting the job. Consider us supportive cheerleaders when you come to audition. We want you to be the best you in the role you can be!
What’s next for you?
Looking forward to another season of Project Blue Book and some other films that are not ready to be cast just yet.
Is there anything I should have asked, or anything you would like people to know about you?
I believe that self-tape auditions are going to be happening much more in the future.
So I recommend that actors work on their self-taping skills. It’s not just a talking head of dialogue. Make something happen in your auditions. If you have two ways of doing the role, tape it, send it to your agent/manager and see what happens. Think a bit out of the box.
We love creativity in auditions.
Elijah Wood got LOTR from a self-tape.
Max Martini got Contact from a self-tape.
Jahzir Bruno got The Witches from a self-tape
And many others!