Actors Casting Directors Love: Chris Game on Jorge Garcia and Jason Segel

(As published in Backstage / West; July 7, 2010)

I had the privilege of casting Jorge Garcia and Jason Segel in a 2005 film called The Good Humor Man.

Nathan Stevens, Jorge Garcia, James Ransone and Jason Dill in “The Good Humor Man” (2005).

I had met Jorge on his first commercial, which was, I believe, a Sprite commercial, and then went on to cast him in many commercials. He was always a tremendous joy to work with in every sense of the word. His on-set attitude was always wonderful, his waiting-room attitude was always wonderful, and his auditions were always terrific. The thing about Jorge is oftentimes Jorge would come in for a gig that you think is not right for Jorge, and once he comes in, then everybody’s thinking he’s perfect.

Jason was someone I was aware of from Freaks and Geeks who I had to have for this little film I was casting. I really believed in him. I met him first at a reading at Anthony Edwards’ house. Jason really wanted to be in this film, and he really did his homework.

Jorge and Jason were both very humble about it, and that really touched me. On the set, they would geek out on the entire soundtrack of Les Misérables and sing all of its songs together in these bleachers at some park or high school we were shooting at.

Not only are these two of the nicest and most talented actors I’ve ever met; they’re also two of the smartest. I had a whole bunch of people come in to the Good Humor Man auditions, and many of them are stars now. And everybody who came in off-book for that project is now famous. And everybody who didn’t was either some nobody or a friend of mine.

Working on The Good Humor Man was one of the greatest experiences of my life thanks to Jorge and Jason and writer-director Tenney Fairchild.

CD Chris Game Brings His Well-Rounded Experience to the Audition Room

(As published in BackStage / West; October 29, 2011)

By Jessica Gardner

Chris Game knows what you’re going through. The Los Angeles–based casting director has worked as an actor, director, writer, and production assistant and has been teaching acting for over 10 years. As a casting director, he uses all his experience along with his subtle humor to help get the performance he wants from the actors who audition for him. Humor also helps when you need to cast roles such as a diver who can do a triple lindy or a blind albino African American who can dance and play guitar — both of which Game has been asked to find. “I also once had to populate a Tibetan village within 24 hours,” he says. He has also cast national commercials for Harley-Davidson, Swiffer, Shell, Burger King, Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Wells Fargo, Beck’s, Lego, Oscar Mayer, and many other companies. His independent film credits include “The Good Humor Man,” “The Uninvited,” “Donner Pass,” and the upcoming “Scary or Die.”

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

My background is in theater. I am a proud founding and active member of the Elephant Theatre Company. I even came up with the name for the company. I was reading a book on Sam Shepard at the time, while directing one of Shepard’s early plays, “Red Cross.” The book describes the time when Shepard was writing “Operation Sidewinder.”The play needed a giant rattlesnake from outer space. Their means were modest back then, so Shep­ard was going to scrap the play. Famed director and Bob Dylan collaborator Jacques Levy said something like, “Sam, if you need an elephant on stage, we’ll find a way to put the elephant on stage.” It became our name—and part of my ethos.I was just in a world-premiere play at the Elephant called “Love Sick”[extended through Nov. 5]. Yes, I really act, and I know how hard it is. I am also a casting director, acting coach, and teacher. Acting gives me the opportunity to say, “You’re welcome to come see whether I am full of shit or I can practice what I preach.” That element is thrilling.

I was thrown into casting. Over a decade and a half ago, I was a lowly production assistant, and that job was often abusive, grueling, and exhausting. It was also incredibly exciting and one of the most accelerated learning experiences I’ve ever had. At the time, I also co-wrote with my friend Mike Vaez and directed a play called “Half Way There.” I invited all of the producers and directors I worked for to the play. On opening night we were sold-out and got a standing ovation. When I returned to work Monday, I was suddenly seen in a whole new light. The producers and directors I had worked for as a P.A. began hiring me as a talent coordinator and casting director. I always say, “Make your vocation your vocation—before it is your vocation.” I did that, and my career was then handed to me without my having to look for it.

Nobody mentored me as a casting director. Everybody just expected me to know what to do. I had been directing for the theater for about seven years by then, so I had that part down. The rest I learned from on-the-job experience. I always say, “If you’ve driven through a shit storm, then you know how to drive through a shit storm.” To be honest, my style of directing and especially teaching is more influenced by Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin.

SHOW VERSUS SHOWCASE

The funny thing is, I am a casting director who doesn’t believe in auditions. I want to see you in a show, not a showcase. I love meeting talent in class. I love casting students when I can — but please note: The casting director does not cast the actors. The casting director calls in the actors. So the people who hire me are responsible for the final decision to cast the talent. Sometimes they may ask me to weigh in with my opinion. When this happens, having more exposure to your talents as a student of mine can be a huge deciding factor.If I can’t see you in a show, I recommend meeting me at a workshop studio like the Actor’s Key. Its setting is intimate and the talent is very well recruited.I was asked to describe what I’m like in the audition room. I asked my assistant, and she scrunched her face, grabbed her forehead, and replied staccato-style, with her eyes closed: “Sincere. Compassionate. Intense. Honest. Fast. Productive. Constructive. Loud.” (She said that one apologetically.) “Actor-specific.” I cop to that.I rarely read in auditions anymore, but when I do, I try never to read the same way twice. Be ready to fly by the seat of your pants. Get used to enjoying that sensation. Clock in like you already have the job, and if you f–k it up, you lose that job.

Photo by Jeff Game

USING BATMAN’S BELT

Casting commercials comes with unique challenges, the No. 1 challenge being the time limit. Commercials are 15, 30, and 60 seconds long. Our training as actors often hugely lacks any commercial training. Whoever taught us to act in a duration of three seconds or less?  I teach audition technique, and I tell students I will give them a utility belt, just like Batman, that they can use on every audition.Actors often ask me what my best advice for auditioning is. I can’t give you an entire utility belt in one answer, but I’ll give you a clue: “Silent” and “listen” have the same letters. Or, as I joke with actors who know me better, “Shut up and listen!” Also, make the human choice and never concern yourself with what you think we want. You need to audition like, “F–k you! I dare you to pick somebody else!”

Act every day. Other artists practice their craft every day. Painters paint every day; writers write. This town is filled with people who say they’re actors and spend most of their time not acting. Fall in love with the craft of it. Your work ethic will get you more jobs than the actual work.

Chris Game on John Cazale in “Dog Day Afternoon”

(As published in BackStage / West, July 2011)
“There’s just something in that face that takes you into an area…that’s very dark. Personally dark…and [pauses]… heartbroken.” So says the late great Sidney Lumet of my favorite actor, John Cazale. The first time I discovered the geography of that incredibly nonpareil visage was on a summer day in 1976. I was 6 years old, sprawled out face down on the linoleum in my bedroom. (Yes, there was linoleum in my bedroom.) The surface of the floor was cooling as I enjoyed my Slurpee and Red Vines. I was reading Mad magazine’s parody of “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Dum-Dum Afternoon.” I kept staring at that face, just the way they drew Cazale. I knew I would have to learn everything I could about the owner of this face.

John Cazale in "Dog Day Afternoon"

Cut to: a year later. I am sitting on the lima-bean green shag carpeting in my father’s apartment and I am being confronted with the face and artistry of John Cazale for the first time. “Dog Day Afternoon” is the Saturday night movie and I’m allowed to stay up and watch it. The television we are watching it on has a rotary dial that clicks when you change channels. The choices of channels are 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. That’s it. No cable and no remote: “Dog Day f—ing Afternoon” is on! There are no distractions and no turning back. The experience is a visceral and galvanizing one for me. (And that’s only partially due to the fact that my father has been feeding me sips of his beer.) On that evening—amidst the forest of shag—with a 7-year-old’s buzz on, I found my calling. That performance by John Cazale coerced me to become an actor. Others wanted to be Pacino. I wanted to be Cazale. (Later, I realized I wanted to be Sidney Lumet and work with Cazales and Pacinos—and that’s when I found my vocation.) But that evening I watched the face of a clearly ancient soul brought to me through the character of Sal.Cazale only made five films and he played one character twice: precious Fredo from “The Godfather.” Cazale died of cancer while making “The Deer Hunter.” He was in love with Meryl Streep at the time. He was 42. He would be dead a year after my epiphany moment. I’ve never seen an actor convey more pathos or act with less vanity than Cazale as Sal (except maybe, of course, Cazale as Fredo). Go back and look at the way Cazale inhabits characters, the way he wears their clothes. The way he uses furniture. Pacino mentions the way he would “check out the environment.” In life, we are nearly always more engaged in everything around us than the person we’re speaking or listening to. Cazale always found those moments.

As Fredo, Cazale almost shrinks himself. The lips are thin, the mustache is thin, the clothes are too big (look at how small he looks in his suit as he flees Michael in Havana). He embodies that chair like a praying mantis on his back, flailing on the ice, then collapses in exhaustion. As Sal, he seems so much larger. It’s all in the stride. He appears to elongate himself with a stride that seems six feet across; and with the flairs, and the machine gun, and the Cuban shoes, it looks even wider. He seems to constantly fill the entire frame even when he is back in the distance of a long shot.

Favorite moments? The Wyoming moment. You know the moment if you’ve seen it. Pacino’s character, Sonny, asks Sal what country he’d like to be flown to after the bank robbery they are in the midst of committing. Cazale’s answer is “Wyoming.” He doesn’t play it for laughs. He plays it as an innocent. It’s the moment he takes before discovering and then the moment after Sonny tells him that Wyoming is not a country, when Sal purses his lips and we see into his cold soul and it shatters our hearts.

Then, there’s the moment when Sal asks Sonny if he was serious about throwing the bodies of the hostages out. Sal says he’s ready. In that moment, Cazale says more with a stare and a swallow than most actors convey in a career. The tragedy Cazale willfully infuses in this film is that these innocent lives are in his hands. It’s not about the f—ing money; it’s an act of desperation.

A heist film has never had a character like this and cinema will never have another John Cazale. Both Streep and Pacino credit Cazale with teaching them more about acting than anyone else. Streep said what made John special was “the specificity of him.” And I like that: “the specificity of him.”

Chris Game has been casting commercials, music videos, and movies for more than a decade. His work includes three features—”The Good Humor Man,” “The Uninvited,” and the upcoming “Scary or Die”—as well as current ad campaigns for Swiffer and Chrysler. He is also an acting teacher and a founding member of and frequent director and actor with the Elephant Theatre Company in Los Angeles.