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Photo courtesy of Katie Doyle.

‘Next Goal Wins’ Casting Director Katie Doyle Shares Hawaii Life, Meeting Taika Waititi

You might think that being a casting director in Hawaii is tricky business, but Katie Doyle has been doing it for a long time, and definitely has it nailed. A former actor who moved to Oahu after having a spiritual reaction to the place during a visit, Doyle has built a career helping studios find native talent for their productions taking place in the Aloha State. Sometimes, she fills a role or two, other times, like with Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins, she fills out most of the cast with locals. She spoke with us from Honolulu.

How did you get into casting?

I have had a narrative for a lot of years about when I first discovered I loved casting, and I’ve been lying, because it actually happened when I was in junior high school.

A woman named Shirley Grant, who I haven’t thought about in years, saw me in a show in Teaneck, New Jersey. She was a manager of kids, and she wanted to get me to do commercials and stuff and my parents were horrified. The only way my mother would let me do it is if I went to work for her after school. And I gotta tell you, that’s actually when I first knew really what I should be doing. But because I’m a slow learner, it took me a lot more years to get it.

So then you didn’t immediately give up acting and go into casting?

(Laughs) After college, I ended up being a reader for ABC in New York City. I realized with my back to the producers and the director, all the stress and tension was off of me, and it became this mission of life to get this person to relax and give the best performance they could. But I still went on and acted for a little while, and it wasn’t until I came to Hawaii that I ended up with some incredible mentors and found my way to what my true passion is, which is casting.

I want to talk about how you got to Hawaii, but first, let’s talk about this job reading. How did that happen?

I graduated and started the audition thing, began doing little things, under five roles and got my AFTRA card. I started doing television commercials a little bit more frequently back in the day when statistically you had a better shot at it as long as you stuck to it. I took a million acting classes and was working on a soap with a recurring role. It wasn’t every day, but I liked them and they liked me, and one thing led to another. I loved the casting people and loved the producers. There were signs along the way, but it did take me a while to figure out.

To be fair, a lot of times when you’re younger, you have your mind set on something and can’t see the bigger picture or even recognize some of the signs the universe might be sending you.

I think that is very true. But also, thinking back to being an actor in New York when I was coming up, there was a romance to it. Doing the craft, the academia of it and those late nights of so much cigarette smoke and drinking and talking about the essence of it. I feel a little bit bad for some of the people coming up through the ranks now because it’s so technical and so pristine. I think you have to work harder to just sort of let your hair down and be who you are.

That’s interesting. How do you see your role as a casting director in that space?

To be honest, when they come into an audition, I think it takes a lot more effort to create an honest and safe space to build a rapport with people, especially those living on an island. It takes a lot to build a relationship when I get to see people that I know here in our little pool.

That feels like a good segue to talk about how you ended up in Hawaii.

I went to college with someone who was born and raised here. I had moved from New York City with my husband to California to care for his best friend who was dying of cancer at the time. My friend from Hawaii called and said, “You guys should just come here, there’s so much work here and there’s so much to do.”

I was sort of tired of the industry, tired of everything and one thing led to the other. If you ever talk to other people who are transplants, this is not an uncommon answer, something happens when you get here. I’m getting emotional about it. That indescribable Aloha spirit thing. I looked at my husband and said, “We’re gonna live here.” Within 12 months, I had convinced him.

So then what was the process to go from becoming a Hawaiian transplant to where you are opening up a casting office?

I came here for a job that wasn’t in the industry. When that fell through, I was one of the few SAG actors [here] at the time, and when you live on an island, if there’s a new SAG actor, you’re a hot commodity. A local casting director, Margaret Doversola, got wind and I just started to book things.

I developed a relationship with her and she became my first mentor. I would help her with casting calls for commercial stuff and I finally said one day, “I really don’t want to do any more acting. What I really want to do is stick this out with you.” I worked with her for a long time.

I would think, working in a place like Hawaii, you’re also an ambassador for native talent.

We’ve spent all these years trying to convince folks to hire locally, instead of always automatically saying they “can’t do it,” or they “can’t handle it.” Part of my job is when I’m given the opportunity, if it’s a team that’s open to that kind of collaboration, that’s when I have to be there. I can’t push too hard. It’s doing the dance.

Was Next Goal Wins like that? Aside from Michael Fassbender, you must have cast everybody.

It was a very unusual set of circumstances. God bless Mary Vernieu and the people at Betty Mae casting. Without her, I wouldn’t have worked on half the great projects that we worked on here.

I want to tell you the story of my first meeting with Taika. The day that Taika and his producer showed up, they got lost trying to find my office, and I realized that he was literally around the corner and down the lane by one of the piers where the cruise ships come in. I’m going to get him and I realized, I have a minivan and I have a pet pig, and I had just done this thing where I had taken all the seats out except for the passenger seat to get my pig loaded in to get her to the school for this presentation for these little kids. And I’m running out down the stairs to get in the van, and I’m going “Oh my God, I have the Pigmobile.”

(Laughs) They never said a word. I think Taika is the one who jumped into the back where there were no seats. I just introduced myself and drove back and got him in and we proceeded from there. That was a great experience.

To bring this to a close, what piece of advice or wisdom would you give to somebody coming to audition for you?

Be prepared. Do your homework. I think one of the most important things you can do is be so prepared that for the day before you, you’re coming in, if you’re given the time, stop looking at it. Read a newspaper, pick up a book, go talk about something with your neighbor. Being prepared means that you’re able to step away from it and not think about it right before you walk into my room.

The more interesting you are as a human being, the more you know about the world around you, the more aware you are and the more generosity of spirit you have that comes across within seconds of you coming on screen or walking into the room physically, I’m going to know what your spirit is saying, what your soul is like, what kind of person you are.

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