Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
“If you quit, somebody else gets to live your dream!”
You could hear a pin drop after theatrical casting director Matthew Barry said this to a packed house of actors on October 22nd at Casting Networks’ free Inside the Industry Seminar. This was just one of the many wise insights Matt shared.
Professionally, I had the great pleasure of being Matt’s reader on director Nick Cassavetes’ most recent film Yellow and I have interned for Matt and his features casting partner Nancy Green-Keyes for the past six years. Not only do they have top casting abilities but they both are delightful people as well. Here is Matt’s bio-
Born in New York – Matthew Barry was a successful actor, best known for starring in Bernardo Bertolucci’s film “La Luna”. After many years of acting, he asked famed director Barry Levinson for a production job and was guided to the casting department. Matthew has since spent the next 14 years directing actors as a Casting Director, working with Directors, Tim Burton on “Ed Wood and “Mars Attacks”, Brett Ratner on “Rush Hour 1 and 2” and “Family Man”, Nick Cassavetes on “Unhook the Stars”, “She’s So Lovely”, “John Q” “The Notebook”, “Alpha Dog” and most recently “My Sisters Keeper”, and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer on “Crimson Tide” (Tony Scott) and “Con Air” (Simon West).
Matthew’s ability to spot and work with talent has allowed him to discover and was significant in advancing the careers of James Gandolfini and Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Money For Nothing”), Ryan Phillipe, Steve Zahn, Danny Nucci and James LeSure (“Crimson Tide”), Don Cheadle (“Devil in a Blue Dress”), Dave Chappelle and Monica Potter (“Con Air”), Lucy Liu (“Shanghai Noon”), Dakota Fanning (“Tomcats”), Roselyn Sanchez (“Rush Hour 2”) Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”), and Katt Williams (“Friday After Next”), just to name a few!
Matt began his seminar as he always does by kidding, “I’m Matthew Barry. I’m originally from New York, so f*** you! [laughter] I apologize to the young ones….. Like many of you, I started out in the theatre. My Father is a Broadway playwright, P.J Barry. If you go to Samuel French [Bookstore], he’s got a whole row of published plays. I encourage you to buy them because he needs the money. [laughter] When I was about five years old, he ran a theatre company (Hudson Guild Theatre Company) in New York [City] and my school was right down the block from the theatre company, so instead of going home after school, I just sat in the theatre and did my homework and watched my Dad direct actors. That was my introduction into the theatre world so at eight years old I said, “I want to do that!” At eight, I was Off-Broadway in a show at the Roundabout Theatre and by thirteen, I was on Broadway in a really bad Broadway show. At the same time, I got cast in a TV series for CBS called Ivan The Terrible. It was. [laughter] It didn’t last long. Then my ‘claim to fame’ when I was cast at fifteen in the starring role of Academy Award winning director Bernardo Bertolucci’s film Luna with Jill Clayburgh. It garnered me all sorts of fame and accolades and my head swelled like that. (holding his hands out surrounding his head) I quickly realized that there is no handle for Hollywood or fame, so I got into a lot of trouble… but had a lot of fun! [laughter]”
Matt continued, “I came out to Los Angeles and started working in television and did other feature films and I started to get bored. I was on the set of a really bad TV show one day and was like, ‘I’ve got to do something else.’ I enrolled in the UCLA Program of Film and quickly realized that I knew everything that they were teaching me, so I begged Barry Levinson who was a big director at the time, for a job. He was working on a new film called Toys with Robin Williams. I’m dating myself! He gave me a job in casting. I want to work on the set. I want to learn everything there is to know about production. I want to produce. That was…gosh… eighteen years ago. Holy mackerel! That was eighteen years ago and I’ve loved every single moment! Being from the ‘actors’ side’, you sympathize and you know how hard it is. You know that sitting out in the lobby waiting to be called in (as an actor) you’re looking around the lobby at the four big-breasted blondes and you’re the skinny brunette, you’re going, ‘What am I doing here?’ [laughter] and meanwhile inside, the casting director is going, ‘If I see one more big breasted blonde, I’m going to blow my head off’. Then you walk in going ‘I shouldn’t be here….’ And I’m saying, ‘No please!!!!’ ”
Matt went on to say, “I’ve had a great advantage because my career shot up very quickly and I pissed off a lot other casting directors because here was this snotty actor all of the sudden coming into their world and yeah, I know what I’m doing and I’m good at it. I think my big break was doing the Rush Hour films and that afforded me to go all over the world looking for talent. That’s what we all do. That’s what casting directors do. Look for talent. There’s nothing in the world like finding new talent.” He then looked at the young performers seated in the front row and said, “Young adults! Paying attention? There will be a quiz later on.” and he and they chuckled.
Matt continued, “If you look up the films, I’ve broken many, many, many, many careers. Academy Award winners. I usually bring my book of the first pictures and resumes but the last time I did it, they stole half of them. If you have my Halle Berry one, please bring it back. But we all start out somewhere and the one thing that I want to say to all of you in this room today and by the way, thank you for sharing this day. It’s a beautiful day and you’d probably rather be outside at the beach than stuck in a room with me but the one thing I want to say to you is that everything about you walks into our offices. Everything you feel in your heart walks into the office and so you have to believe in yourself. You’ve got to wake up in the morning, you’ve got to look in the mirror and believe whole-heartedly that ‘Yes. I can.’ I don’t mean to sound like a motivational speaker but it’s very, very true. Everything about you… your aura, your energy, EVERYTHING walks into that room and we can tell. We’re weird people, us casting directors. We’re like jackals. We can smell it. [laughter] ‘Okay…let’s see what they’ve got.’ There is nothing greater than having some surprises! Every single film… and I’ve been doing this eighteen years …on every single film there’s somebody who walks into my office and I think, ‘They’re wrong for the part’ and lo-and-behold, they blow me away and I go ‘Wow! Now that’s great because I’m always going to remember you.’ Again, casting directors are like that. We are always going to remember you.”
Matt then mentioned, “If you look at who just won the Emmy recently… Margo Martindale has been around forever. We all know Margo. All of the sudden, you start to get into that circle. We all talk about you. You have to understand something. Casting directors are just as competitive with each other. If they’ve hired you, what do they know that I don’t? I do this all the time. My partner and I go back and forth when looking at pictures and resumes and I’m saying, ‘Wait a minute. What does Lisa Beach know that I don’t know? What does Jane Jenkins know that I don’t know? Wait a minute….Debra Zane hired her? Okay….let her come in and see what she’s got. “
Furthering his point, Matt then sited me because just minutes prior to the seminars’ beginning, I got a phone call saying that I had booked an AFI film and the week before had shot a co-star role on ABC’s sitcom THE MIDDLE. Matt said, “Again, you start to work. Tracy just booked an AFI film today. This is after booking The Middle. Work begets work. It’s an energy. You do an episode of The Middle and all of the sudden, you’ve got that swagger. [laughter] You laugh but it’s very true. You have that swagger. Actors that come in just have that cockiness that they can do it and you go…’Oh really, oh really?’…..and then they ‘bring it’…and you go ‘Ohhhhh….okay!’ That ‘s what gets you going. That’s what gets you working and we all want to work!”
Here is some more valuable and pertinent information Matt shared at our last Casting Networks’ seminar that he spoke at is still pertinent.
Matt continued, “I got to work with some phenomenal Directors…I was working for Tim Burton, I worked with Jerry Bruckheimer, Ridley and Tony Scott, Burton again and it was even more exciting. I was building my career, building my reputation and building my resume. In about four years, I broke off from Vickie and started a company with my former agent Nancy Green-Keyes because we love each other madly and Lord knows, she puts up with me and I put up with her. She had seventeen years of being an agent breaking a lot of huge careers and it was my resume that got us in the door and her expertise dealing with agents. I only had four years and she had way, way more than I did, so it made a terrific ‘good cop, bad cop’ kind of scene.”
Matt stated, “The one thing I’ve learned is that I love actors and I love talent. There’s nothing in the world that makes me happier than to discover new talent. You never know from where, from anywhere. From San Francisco…from Australia. A bunch of us top Casting Directors did a tour of Australia and we were all fawning over these three actors who are just going to blow up! New York…anywhere! I did a film; don’t hold it against me, Good Luck Chuck. [laughter] We all have rent to pay, right? We needed a really, really, really large woman. Our director wanted a 500 pound woman and so I found one on MySpace down in Texas, so you never ever know. But the one thing I love is talented new people and thinking outside the box. I think all Casting Directors are like that. We want to find somebody fresh. We always see the same people. I know it’s hard sometimes. It’s hard to get in, it’s hard to get an Agent, it’s hard to get a Manager and it’s hard to be seen…. But if you have talent, I promise you, if you stick it out, you will be discovered. I’ve seen it too often. I’ll give you a perfect example. Many of you saw Avatar? The bad guy, the bad colonel Stephen Lang. Stephen Lang has been around since time began! Finally, after beating down the doors, doing all those bad roles and going out on auditions, finally, Michael Mann cast him in Public Enemies…then he gets Avatar, so he’s got two gigantic films and now he’s finally reached that pinnacle in his career that he’s waited all those years for. I’m so happy for him! Those are the ones that stick it out…those are the ones who don’t say, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to happen for me.’ No…he kept at it, he kept working hard. That makes me happy. Only you can decide in yourselves and in your minds, ‘Do I keep at it? Do I keep at it? Do I keep at it?’ I always say, you never know what’s going to happen! When you look at all the Blockbuster films that come out, some of them bomb and some of them are great and then you have something like Paranormal Activity*, right? (*Editors note- whose lead character was cast through LA Casting) Who would have thunk? It happened years ago with The Blair Witch Project. Another one…Christoph Waltz from Germany. (Inglorious Bastards) He was a B movie type TV actor who just happened to get a great break and is a fantastic actor. It’s all in here (and pointed to his head).”
Matt also suggested putting names of the Casting Directors on your resume and said, “You have to understand that Casting Directors, we all talk, we’re friends, we all know each other and we compete with each other. If I lose a job to Joseph Middleton, fine. At least I lost it to Joseph Middleton. I love Joseph and Joseph’s the same way with me. He may have said, ‘I couldn’t cast My Sister’s Keeper. I would’ve f’ed that up.’ But we all talk amongst ourselves and we all are competitive. Show of hands. On your pictures and resumes, how many of you put down which Casting Director you were hired by? How many people are here? One out of seventy or eighty? Who’s the first person that sees your picture and resume? A Casting Director or a Casting Associate, right? If I turn around a picture and resume and I see that you’ve been hired by somebody good, I think, ‘Why do I not know this person?’ That’s a huge advantage. Put the Casting Director down because we’re just as competitive. If somebody has hired you that I like, I want to know who you are. That’s the difference of you getting into my office and not.”
Matt went on to say, “At the most, I can read 60 people a day or if I want to go late, maybe 70, but I think 60 is probably the limit. That’s on top of all the phone calls we have to take from Agents and Managers, the people who are pitching us and all the pictures and resumes we have to go through. Again, that’s the key-your picture and resume. I’m not the first one to tell you that. It has to be something that jumps out at us. I see so many pictures where, the photographer that you have chosen, is not somebody that you get along with. Maybe you were recommended by somebody…’Oh, go to Flavio! He’s the best photographer!’ Well, you go and spend $600 to take pictures with Flavio and you don’t get along with him, so your pictures come out like this! (Then Matt made a funny face) That’s what I see and that’s not what’s going to get you in.
We’re all creative people. We grew up creatively. That’s why you are here today. That’s why you are in this industry because you are creative, so you have to start thinking creatively. A normal and picture and resume….it’s fine. In a class that I teach, I start out by having a book of 40 pictures and resumes and say that you have 60 seconds to go through all forty and pick out two. That fast. What’s it going to get you to look at the picture and turn it around? If you have a great resume but a terrible picture, I don’t get a chance to turn it around because you haven’t grabbed me. Again, I’m not the first Casting Director to tell you this. It’s got to be something that speaks to us. That says to us, “Turn me around. See who I am!’…. ‘What if we don’t have anything on our resume?’ Well we all got to start off from somewhere.” He then showed us a resume with one credit on it, then turned it over revealing a black and white headshot. He said, “Here’s somebody who got in my office. It’s Charlize Theron’s first picture and resume. Show and tell, right?” He then showed us Jennifer Garner’s old black and white photo and said, “She was seventeen years old and all she had done was theatre. That’s her first picture and resume and she was with a little, teeny tiny agency in New York.” (*Editors note regarding Matt’s files – Having interned for Matt and Nancy over the years and worked on Matt’s extensive files of actors’ chronological headshots that date back for many years, his actor files are impressive and a lot of work to keep updated!)
- “Trust your natural instincts.”
- “If you think you’re prepared, be more prepared.”
- “Understand which mediums you’re reading for.”
- “Don’t change the lines with three lines. Even with three lines, you’ve got to make a choice. What are your thoughts behind what you’re saying? Keep it simple. What you think, may not be what you’re saying. These are those teeny, tiny moments. Those delicious moments!”
- “Be prepared to adjust.”
- “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
- “If you’re reading as a lawyer, wear a suit. If you are reading for a doctor, take off your hat. Also, don’t wear a smock. It stinks of desperation.”
Also, when you go in for Matt and Nancy, all actors stand during their auditions so an actors’ energy does not dissipate.
Matt also cited the power of actors’ hard copy postcards and told us that he likes them. He then told the story of an actor who sent him frequent postcards, so Matt knew who the actor was over time. Matt said that this actor also postcarded other casting directors which resulted in being booked in a role in the film Titanic that he worked on for three months. Matt told us that actor’s first residual check from Titanic was $155,000, to which Matt commented, “Not bad for the price of a few postcards!”.
As with the last seminar, Matt also “read” all the actors attending up on the stage, by doing fun & interactive improvisational exercises. There was much laughter and everyone had a lot of fun! Matt’s re-directs and observations were very insightful and valuable.
After the lively exercises, Matt closed with, “Again, you all spent your time with me, so I really appreciate taking your time to come down. Bringing your kids. It’s a beautiful day. If you have any questions, ask. It might take me a couple of days to answer. I’ll try to answer as long as they’re not long winded. Hopefully, you had fun. It’s an organic way of thinking. Here’s the thing. You’re going to notice this for the next few days and you’re going to laugh… ’Oh that Matt Barry!’. Every day and every place that we go and with every person we meet, we judge them. That’s just what we do. It’s human nature and how you talk to these people is based on what you’re thinking. If you go to Subway, you’re not just ordering a ham sandwich. You’re looking at the guy or girl going, ‘Did this guy wash his hands?’. You’ll say, ‘Ham sandwich?’ (in a questioning tone), or if it’s a Playboy Bunny behind the counter, it’ll be ‘Ham sandwich’ (in a flirty tone) [laughter], it’s all based on what we’re thinking. I want you to start being aware of your thoughts and what you’re saying to people and how your thoughts dictate what you’re saying. We do it every day of our life but yet we don’t do it in our craft. To me it’s asinine because when you’re in a scene with somebody and you’re reacting to somebody, there should be thoughts there. It’s not just about lines. It’s never about lines. Yes, the lines are important but when we act every day, there’s always a thought behind something. When you walk into a casting office, don’t pre-program everything because anybody who has something pre-programmed in my office, I’ll say, ‘Let’s do it again. Let’s change a few things.’ It’s like the robot. They come unglued… ‘That’s not how the coach I trained with told me to do it.’ No… because I’m trying to get you to be more natural. Those are the directors that I work with. Those natural reactions. Those real life reactions.”
Lastly, Matt teaches a very affordable four-week class with only 16 students. Matt said, “I do teach a class and I work you really, really, really hard. I tailor my program to you, 18 and older, at all levels. If you’re great, you’ll be outstanding.” Personally, I look forward to taking Matt’s class. I know he’s got “the goods” and I will learn a lot. Thank you friend and bright casting director, Matthew Barry! To contact Matthew and to learn more about his classes-