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Photo courtesy of John-Deric Mitchell.

Success Story: How John-Deric Mitchell Booked the Oscar-Nominated Film ‘Past Lives’

John-Deric Mitchell is having a moment—one he is manifesting one day at a time. That moment, by the way, is for his appearance in Past Lives, which was nominated for two Oscars (Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay) at this year’s Academy Awards. Mitchell tells the story of how he booked his role in the film on Casting Networks, and fills us in on the exciting twists and turns that are coming with it.

How did you decide to become an actor?

I started acting at the age of nine and got my first commercial. I’m originally from Virginia. The commercial I had booked was an Oscar Mayer commercial, and I was like, “All I got to do is make a sandwich, sing a song and get paid? Mom, this is the job I want for the rest of my life.”

[My Mom] put me in dance, took me out of acting and said, “Nope, you’re going to dance first and then we’ll work our way to it.” I moved to New York as a dancer and injured my knee, and I was like, “What else do I have to fall back on in entertainment?” I said, “Wait a minute, I have acting and print modeling.”

Tell me the story of how you booked Past Lives off of Casting Networks.

[In 2019] I went in, sat down and had an interview with [my agent]. She’s like, “Where do you see yourself in your career? How far are you thinking of going?” I told her, “I want to win a SAG Award, or I want to win an Emmy or an Oscar.” And she’s like, “Okay, let’s just get your face out there now and then we’ll see about getting these other accolades that you’re trying to reach.”

Fast forward to Past Lives. I submitted on Casting Networks online. Me not thinking much of it, I’m just like, “It’s just another gig. Let me submit to it and see what happens.” It was for a featured background role.

I quickly heard back and I was like, “Oh.” They said, “Can you submit a video of you just reacting without saying any words? We just want to see your body language and your facial expressions.” I was like, “Okay, I can do this. I got this in the bag. That’s me.” I submitted that and they’re like, “Great, can you work three days in upstate New York?” I was like, “Oh, this is really happening fast now.” I mean, it was all within a week’s time that everything was happening.

It was all because of Casting Networks putting up that post. I was able to get all this stuff in to get there, and this casting company reached out to me. They were the ones who were like, “Yes, we love your look. We think you’re great for this part.”

They sent it to the director. [The] director wrote back to them [and] said, “Yes, he’s what we’re looking for.” Within two weeks, I was packed up and I drove myself to upstate New York. We filmed for three days. I didn’t think anything of it. They broke it down to me, “This is just a background role, but it’s more of a featured role/principal.”

I said, “Oh, the principal role.” They said, “Well, it’s a background role, but you have a name and you’re in with the principal.” I was like, “Okay.” Again, I think to myself, “It’s just background work. That’s what I’m doing.” I was assigned an assistant. I had hair, makeup, wardrobe. They had everything lined up for me. I just had to just show up and be ready.

John-Deric Mitchell smiling outside. Photo courtesy of John-Deric Mitchell.

You mentioned via email that this changed your life. How so?

After we wrapped, everyone from the hair [and makeup] department, they’re like, “Come, come, come. We want to take pictures of you.” I’m like, “I’m just the background.” They’re like, “No, no, no. We remember you from POSE. You were in POSE, but now you’re doing big things.” “Like, I am? I mean, I know I’m doing a feature gig, but okay, I’ll take the picture.” I took the picture and thought nothing of it.

A few days later they’re like, “Oh, the movie’s going to Sundance.” I was like, “Okay, great. That’s wonderful.” Again, not thinking anything of it. Maybe about four months after everything, I heard, “Oh, the movie’s going to Korea and it’s doing great over in Korea. Now the movie’s coming back to the States. It’s going to be in theaters in July.”

I didn’t even get a chance to go see it. It went into theaters [and] the next thing I know it was out of the theaters. I said, “Well, it’s got to stream online somewhere,” and then sure enough it’s going to be on Amazon. Then fans of the film Googled the cast. I started getting all these random people asking to friend request me. I was like, “Who are these people? What’s going on?” And then someone sent me a picture and said, “This is you from Past Lives. You’re in Past Lives. We saw you.”

And I was like, “What? What’s going on?” Then my friends reach out. “John, oh my God, we saw you. We saw you in Past Lives. You’re doing it!” I said, “Okay, let me get this Amazon Prime. Let me look it up.” And I saw the movie and I was just like, “Wow.” It was a beautiful, touching movie.

Next thing I know, the same friends that saw me, they were like, “Are you watching the news right now? The film that you’re in? It’s up for an Oscar.” I was like, “Are you serious?” I looked it up, I said, “That is me. I am there [as a credited feature role]. They actually put me in there.” Fast-forward to where we are now, I am trying to book any and everything that will get me to an Oscar or an Emmy or that SAG Award that’s out there.

What would you say helps somebody succeed on Casting Networks?

Stay consistent. I know it may be a bit tedious. You see the emails come in, you submit, you may not hear back [or] you may not hear back right away. It may take a week, it may take a few days, but you will hear back. You will hear something. Even if they released you, or you’re not the fit that they’re looking for or the director didn’t pick you, continue to keep going and to not give up.

John-Deric Mitchell on the couch. Photo courtesy of John-Deric Mitchell.

Do you have any audition advice that you can share?

Well, yes, I have an audition today. Commit to the role. Read over everything. They tell you in casting to read full details of what they’re looking for. They may give extra, [but] if they don’t ask for extra, do not give extra. Give exactly what’s on that page for them to see. Only give extra when it’s your time to speak about you, to speak about your part of who you are, where you’re from and what you like to do. Other than that, keep it straight to the point.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Chris Butera is a voice actor specializing in commercial, eLearning and corporate narration reads. When he’s not helping clients achieve their goals, he's playing guitar and bass.

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