Vetting Young Talent With a Hollywood Casting Director
Seventeen years ago, when Harriet Greenspan began freelancing in Nickelodeon’s casting department in Los Angeles, she was one of the only youth casting directors in the entertainment industry. “Now everybody’s casting kids,” says Greenspan, who is tiny and blond with an outsize Queens accent. It’s no longer just Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel that want a piece of the lucrative youth market. “It’s Amazon and Netflix and every other network,” Greenspan says. “It’s a kid’s world.”
Perhaps the biggest shift Greenspan has witnessed in almost two decades of casting is with the types of teens that are now in demand. “Years ago, it was all beautiful and skinny,” she says. “Today, we look for a real kid, a real person, somebody everybody can relate to, including Middle America. A popular kid doesn’t necessarily have to be gorgeous.” And a show doesn’t necessarily have to stick to its original script if the right actor comes along. “If we have a family of African Americans and then we find this great Caucasian kid, or we have a family of Caucasians and find this great Asian kid, we’ll write this storyline where maybe the child was adopted or fostered,” Greenspan says. “Today, it’s just, ‘Let’s get the best actors.’ ”
This past fall, for a TV movie about a sports-obsessed 13-year-old, Greenspan auditioned between 60 and 80 kids a day for almost six weeks. Here are some of her unvarnished reactions.