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Photo by Greg Spiller, courtesy of Kate Leonard.

Kate Leonard of Telford Leonard Casting Talks Key Moments Leading to Her Career, What Keeps Her Excited About Casting

Alison Telford and Kate Leonard are the award-winning casting duo behind beloved Aussie TV series such as Deadloch, Bad Behaviour, Shantaram, Utopia and Glitch.

Based on Boonwurrung land (Melbourne, Australia), Telford and Leonard joined forces in 2018 after working together in the (natural-light-deprived) casting offices at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Fresh off their Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) win for Best Casting in Television (Deadloch) and Casting Guild of Australia (CGA) award for Best Casting in a TV Drama (Shantaram), we sat down with Leonard to discuss the importance of consistency, casting myths and more.

Could you walk us through some of the key moments that led to your career in casting?

When I was in grade 5 and the school play Charlotte’s Web was announced, I went home and wrote a big list of who in grades 5 and 6 should play each role and why. I was just obsessed with it!

Then, when I was in my first year at uni studying Arts, the Ned Kelly film started production in Melbourne. I asked the production manager, Catherine “Tatts” Bishop, if I could do unpaid work experience on the film. When she asked which department I’d like to work in, I just said “casting,” not really knowing what it entailed, but figuring it would be similar to “casting” the grade 5/6 production. I ended up as an assistant in the extras department casting hundreds of men with beards and firearm experience. So, it was a little different, but I loved it.

After 10 years in extras casting and stints as a casting assistant and associate, I wanted to be a casting director and get back to my grade 5 roots. I had met and worked with Alison Telford at the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] and we’d instantly clicked. When she wasn’t available to cast one of Chris Lilley’s shows, she suggested I do it. And the rest is history.

You’ve been in the casting game for some time now. What keeps you excited about your job?

That’s funny. I don’t feel like I’ve been doing it that long, but I guess it has been 20 years altogether. Every job is different. One week we are looking for Marathi-speaking Indian actors and the next, we are putting together the British boy band Take That in the upcoming Robbie Williams biopic Better Man. Right now, we are looking at a whole cast of people living with disabilities. It is always exciting to start on a new show. Representation on screen has always been important to me, so that keeps me excited as well.

I also enjoy reading the script for a new show for the first time and [having] ideas come into my head. I love and admire actors. I love watching their work; seeing their nuances and their interpretations of a scene. Watching performances never gets old. Sometimes a tape is so good I feel like we should have paid to see that performance.

On exciting things: Telford Leonard Casting won two major awards in the last six months. What did these wins mean to you?

I was really happy for us. Alison and I started the business in 2018, and in a short space of time, we’ve worked on some great projects together. We work very hard. We laugh a lot, we talk about actors and shows non-stop and both have strong—slightly obsessive—work ethics. All this led to two of our projects winning casting awards, which was validating.

When you think about the actors you’re always happy to call in, can you spot any common threads they share?

Consistently great tapes or tapes that are improving. Sometimes we have an actor who often gets very close and we keep getting them back in, then are so thrilled for them when they land a role.

Are there any myths around the casting process you feel would be helpful to dispel for actors?

That you don’t need to be on the casting platforms with updated profiles and accurate search fields! All casting directors spend probably 80% of the day on these platforms, so it is important to be on them.

Other myths: an actor once said they weren’t sure their self tapes were even viewed, which is a huge myth. Casting directors watch everything, every single thing that comes in. We also watch a lot of Australian films, TV shows, web series and short films, and we make a note of everyone. We are always watching you —in the non-creepiest of ways.

A good reminder! Finally, what’s the last performance in a film, series, or show that blew you away?

We talk about this question every day! Rosamund Pike in Saltburn. I love her. And Kate Box in Deadloch.

Special thanks to Leonard for her time. Keep an eye on the Telford Leonard Casting Instagram and Facebook pages for the latest news and updates.

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