The audition room — virtual or otherwise — is a special place that often creates a good story or two for all parties involved. For the most recent installment in our series that features commercial casting directors sharing their tales, Casting Networks virtually sat down with the owner of Orange Street Casting. From Pepsi to Burger King to American Express, Becky Wu has worked with a number of major brands during her long-running career in commercial casting. And she’s seen some things along the way. Keep reading for a window into a few of Wu’s most notable casting sessions, replete with Covid coughing fits and having to stop a “420-friendly” client from getting everyone high in the room.
It’s great to virtually meet you, Becky. What’s one of your best tales from the audition room that you can share?
Years back, I was casting a commercial that called for all types of outlandish, circus-like characters. For the initial appointments, we were renting a studio at Space Station, which was a facility where multiple casting directors could hold their different sessions at the same time. The room right next to us was being used by a prestigious Shakespeare school that was auditioning LA talent. It was a funny juxtaposition because our waiting area was filled with a colorful array of actors there for the commercial. From clowns to acrobats to contortionists that could play the violin in crazy positions, we had quite the crowd outside our audition room. People were warming up and practicing their talent, such as juggling, right there in the space. You get the picture. Then there was the waiting area for those auditioning to be accepted into the Shakespeare school. Everyone on that side was just very calm and self-contained as they quietly sat waiting their turn. And we shared a wall with the Shakespeare casting people, which separated our session rooms. It was supposedly soundproof, and I hope that was actually the case because our auditions were very loud.
[Laughs] I can imagine it would be distracting if an actor were reciting something out of Hamlet and circus sounds started filtering into the audition room.
Right? And regardless, the Shakespeare people were definitely curious about what we were doing. Whenever I’d step out of our room to call in the next person to audition, someone from the Shakespeare side would be like, “What’s happening in there?” [Laughs] It was quite the spectacle. But I love how the story represents the variety you’ll find in the acting world. Auditions might not always be in such stark contrast to one another, but they could truly involve anything.
It sounds like it! Do you have another tale you can give us that provides a window into the commercial audition room?
Sure, this one happened pretty recently and involves Covid. I was doing callbacks via Zoom for a commercial I was casting and had an agent reach out to let me know that their talent was getting over Covid. They told me she contracted it more than a week and a half prior and that she should be testing negative shortly. At that point, the commercial wasn’t going to be filming for another two weeks so the timing all checked out. My clients still wanted to see the actor for the callback, and I brought her onto the Zoom call with everyone on it. After she did her read, I checked in and asked how she was feeling. The actor was really enthused to let us know she’d just tested and gotten a negative. She was like, “I’m so excited to be back in the game and just feel fantastic — I’m on top of the world!” There were some big arm gestures that accompanied the exclamations, and she definitely seemed to be recovered and firing on all cylinders. I let her know that we were happy she was feeling better and thanked her for coming in. I’ll pause here to note that I normally let the actor end the call on their end rather than remove them from it, myself, because it works better with how Zoom is set up.
Oh no, Becky. I’m getting nervous about where this might be going.
[Laughs] Right as I was telling this person that she could press the “end meeting” button, she said goodbye. So I think the actor didn’t hear me say it and thought she was off the call. The camera angle changed like she’d shifted the phone she was using for Zoom. We could only see part of her face, but it was a really tight close-up. And before anyone could say something, the actor just lets out the loudest series of coughs you’ve ever heard. She seemed to be trying to hock a loogie — you know, get some phlegm out.
Oh my goodness, that is such a relatable moment. I think we’ve all been on a Zoom call where we either thought we were muted or off the call and found out that wasn’t the case.
Exactly. The funniest part was how she’d been seemingly holding in that cough the whole time and managed to be the perfect picture of health until she thought the call was over. When I let her know that we could still see and hear her, the actor got this deer-in-the-headlights look and just hung up the call. The clients had had their video muted up, but at that point, everyone started popping up on screen to share a laugh because we’ve all been there one way or the other.
Wow. I don’t know how you’re going to top that one, but I’d love to hear one last audition tale if you have it.
I have one more to share, and it’s actually from when I used to cast music videos before I transitioned over to commercials. I was previously a partner at a different casting office when this story took place. We were casting a music video for a major artist, and he wanted to sit in on the session for it. Artists would normally review the audition tapes we sent them rather than attend in person so the situation was already a rarity. The artist arrived on our session day, came into the room, sat down, and proceeded to light up a joint. He may not have been familiar with the audition process, but you definitely aren’t supposed to hotbox the room. [Laughs] So we had to handle that, and he ended up putting it out, but that was definitely a first.
Those interested in learning more about the commercial casting director with some memorable audition tales can check out the Orange Street Casting website. The company is also active on Instagram, and Wu shared during the interview that the platform is also a good one for connecting with her. She can be found there as @beckivelli.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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