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Casting Director Nina Gold on ‘Slow Horses’

British casting director Nina Gold could not be busier, having cast several shows currently streaming, including Apple TV +’s Slow Horses and Bad Sisters, Disney’s Andor, HBO’s Rain Dogs and Amazon Prime’s The Power.

With five Emmy wins for such critically acclaimed and pop cultural juggernauts like The Crown, Game of Thrones and Chernobyl, Gold is poised to add a few more titles to that list — including Bad Sisters, for which she was recently nominated for an Emmy award in the Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series category.

Gold spoke to Casting Networks about casting the Gary Oldman-led Slow Horses, a spy thriller about a team of British intelligence rejects working in an MI5 department for those who have made too many mistakes.

Two seasons of Slow Horses have already come out, with season three already wrapped and season four shooting. Was there anyone already attached to star in the series when you were brought on board to cast?

No one was on. We tried to get Gary Oldman and started there. When he said yes, we were absolutely thrilled. Then we took it from there.

Was that onus on you to get him or the producers?

It was my job to get him, but it certainly wasn’t my job to make his deal, thank God (laughs).

Actor Gary Oldman walking outside in a gray shirt and black tie. Gary Oldman in “Slow Horses,” now streaming on Apple TV+. Photo Credit: Apple TV+.

Have you worked with him before?

I worked with him quite recently. I was going to cast a film he was planning to direct. In the end, it didn’t happen for various complicated reasons. But we worked together quite a lot during that time.

When Slow Horses came around, did you read it and instantly think it would be something for Gary? Or do you make a short list of actors and huddle with the producers to decide who you will approach?

You try to make a list of ideas. It’s always better to have more than one. Then you talk, and talk, and talk (with the team) and eventually offer it to someone.

Gary must have been an amazing get. He’d never done a lead in a television series before this.

I know. That’s what we kept saying. I think he just really loves the character and the writing.

With Gary on board, how do you corral the rest of the rag-tag team that works around him?

We did it through a lot of meetings and auditions. Everybody wants to work with Gary. And Gary is very generous to other actors and very cool to work with.

Were the auditions done in person, or over Zoom?

In Season One, we began in person, and after the pandemic started, we did a lot more over Zoom. Eventually, we would meet people in person at, like, a million miles away from each other wearing masks.

As a casting director, what is your preference – Zoom or in person?

It’s much better to meet people in real life, but you have to make it work, regardless which way it is. Over Zoom allows many more actors to have a go at it and allows you to audition more people. They don’t have to be available to meet in northwest London on a Wednesday afternoon!

Were there any characters particularly challenging to cast?

In Season Two, casting the Russians was quite hard. We needed a real feeling of authenticity instead of having it be a bunch of English people pretending to be Russian. Real Russians aren’t necessarily hanging around waiting to be in an English series. You do a lot of research and try and expand your knowledge into other countries’ acting pools.

So in the end, the actors you hired were…

They were all from other Eastern European countries but had grown up speaking a lot of Russian. They had the linguistic ability and a general sort of feel.

Actors Gary Oldman and Emily Bruni sitting on a couch in "Slow Horses," Gary Oldman and Emily Bruni in “Slow Horses,” now streaming on Apple TV+. Photo Credit: Apple TV+.

Do you have any pet peeves as a casting director when actors come in?

Auditioning is hard. I feel for all the actors who have to walk into the room and make it work at the click of a finger. It’s difficult. I hope they remember that, as casting directors, we’re on their side and want them to get the part. We are here to help. I appreciate how extremely difficult it is. I mean, I couldn’t do it, my God! And when they don’t get [the] part, it’s [got] nothing to do with the fact that they weren’t good. It’s because another person was more right.

Why do you think some actors feel they are bad at auditioning but great when they’re on set in the role?

With auditioning, you are put on the spot. Once you’re playing the role, you have much more information and input to make a complicated version of the character. When you’re auditioning – especially nowadays – nobody gets to read anything properly, so as an actor, you are hoping you’re giving it the right approach.

This is where being in front of the casting director, instead of self tape, is helpful because of feedback.

A casting director can certainly help with direction. I may know [some] background about the character and have more context than an actor who’s just come in, is given one scene, and doesn’t know anything else that’s happening outside of that. I have compassion for actors and appreciate them putting themselves out there like that.

When it’s a self tape, and the actor clearly did not have enough information and therefore did not nail the scene, does that mean no callback?

Sometimes when it may not have been quite right, but they seemed good, you let them have another go and try again. Or maybe you think, “wow, they’re really good,” but now you realize that part should be a 17-year-old female instead of an 18-year-old boy. Factors like that could rule people out just as quickly sometimes. Ultimately, somebody must somehow whittle it down to only one person playing that part, with that one person being the right person.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May and has been updated to reflect Nina Gold’s Emmy nomination for Bad Sisters.

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