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If this couch could talk

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Nancy Bishop is new to the role of author. She is currently launching her book Secrets From the Casting Couch at locations around Europe. The book condenses her 10 years of experience selecting actors for such major films as Casino Royale and Wanted.

When the production business started to slow locally a few years back, Bishop developed a new role for herself, coaching actors on how to audition for the camera. “I thought, ‘There are so many actors who need help with this’,” she said. “There was no work, and there was really a need for it. There are a lot of really good actors who don’t cast well.”

Bishop has a background in stage. She wrote her master’s dissertation on Czech theatre and built up the Prague-based English-language company Black Box International before moving into casting. “I knew how to work with actors because I was a director,” she said. “As a casting director, you try to get a performance out of them for the camera. The difference is that you just have to get one good take.”

Even accomplished actors who give masterful performances on stage can appear flat and lifeless in screen auditions, Bishop has found. “I was working with some of Slovenia’s most famous actors, and some of them, even though they’re really good, they had forgotten some of the basic acting skills,” she said.

“You see someone in a film or in the theatre, and then they come to the casting and it’s like they’re totally lost. A lot of times they’re unprepared, but sometimes they don’t even answer these basic questions, like ‘Who am I?’”

Bishop says Czech actors have so many opportunities to work in domestic film, television and theatre that they have little incentive to seek roles in international films. “There aren’t a lot of Czech actors who really have the ambition to work outside of the country,” she said. “There are a few Czech actors in Los Angeles who have contacted me. They’re not famous, but it’s hard just to be a working actor, so if they’re doing that, they’re succeeding on some level.”

Bishop has taught master classes throughout Europe, offering coaching to accomplished performers as well as complete beginners. This autumn she inaugurated a screen acting program at the Prague Film School.

The Prague-based artist Stewart Moore has attended Bishop’s master class. His first role came when he responded to a casting call for dark, bearded horsemen with British accents for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. He will also appear in the upcoming release Solomon Kane.

“Auditioning can be pretty stressful, but Nancy is good at showing you how to deal with that better,” Moore said. “It’s amazing how different you can appear on camera, and I think most important was getting an insight into what the casting director sees.”

The Prague-based producer Kevan Van Thompson met Bishop while working on the A&E TV series The Scarlett Pimpernell and has since collaborated with her on another six productions.

“Nancy is very different from many of the other casting directors I work with because she has a speciality niche here in Prague, and several others come to her for local knowledge. She has rather cornered the market,” Van Thompson said. “She directs, acts, writes and teaches, so she has a handle on other areas of production which many casting people do not have.”

Bishop launched Secrets From the Casting Couch at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe earlier this year. It will be released in the US in May.

Secrets From the Casting Couch is a practical guide for actors, not a kiss-and-tell exposé of show business. The casting couch – or at least Bishop’s – has no tales to tell. “In my office, it’s where my dog, Leni, sleeps,” she said.

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