John Jackson – Casting Director
Late last year, Council Bluffs native John Jackson was busy working on the made-for-cable movie, “A Breed Apart,” in Budapest. (It premieres on STARZ! this spring.)
On his flight back, he read the script for Alexander Payne’s latest project, “About Schmidt.”
By December, he was committed to working as the film’s casting director.
Although he enjoys working with Payne – this is the third film he has cast for the Omaha director, including “Citizen Ruth” and “Election” – he said the hours are long and the work demanding.
“It becomes your life,” he said. “If I get up at 7 a.m., I won’t go home until 9 p.m. I work about 12 to 13 hours a day. For four to five months, I don’t have that much of a life.”
While casting for “Election” two years ago, Jackson was acting in the Blue Barn’s production of “Quills,” and he said he didn’t know how he juggled rehearsals and performances with his casting duties.
Jackson has been a casting director in Los Angeles for about 15 years, and until about four years ago, also worked in Omaha.
“It can be a very stressful, frustrating and thankless job, unless you believe in the person,” he said.
To be successful in the profession, Jackson said, a person has to be organized and have an understanding of acting.
“The person has to be receptive to the human condition,” he said. “It’s not just about casting someone with great credits to their name. The person has to have the right instincts, gifts and willingness to do what they need to do. If they have that, you can get that performance, even out of a nonactor. Alexander has done that.”
Although Jackson had nothing to do with getting Jack Nicholson on board for “About Schmidt,” he has been instrumental in hiring everyone else.
“When you cast, you have the speaking and nonspeaking roles or atmosphere,” he said. “For the speaking roles, we have been reading locals, but we’ve also been broadening out to Minneapolis, Chicago and Kansas City.”
When he started work in January, knowing the production would come to Omaha, Jackson began going through his files, looking at people he already had read.
“After I read the script, I made notes for certain parts,” he said. “Then I contacted all the agencies and told them what I was looking for.”
To uncover those gems who may not have representation, Jackson got the word out through the media.
“I cull through all the submissions,” he said. “Then, if I’m interested, I ask them to come in and read and put it on videotape.”
Jackson meets with Payne on weekends to go over the videos. If the director sees someone he likes, the actor gets a “call-back,” and a meeting is arranged with the director.
Jackson said he has received about 3,000 submissions, so far.
Although many believe that only the “beautiful people” get roles, Jackson said this is simply not true.
“It’s not just being beautiful – something has to leap through, even in a snapshot,” he said. “You have to connect with that person, even someone with a unique look …
“A huge percentage of what we get, unfortunately, are 16-year-old girls who want to be models. That’s not reality, and we have no real use for that.”
Because only a small number of submissions came from people of color, he said, he actively went out and sought them.
“By and large, we got a good selection of people,” he said.
Even though filming on “About Schmidt” has been under way since March, Jackson said he will be casting roles almost through the end of May.
“I still need to cast seven speaking parts,” he said. “I need three college-age males, between 18 and 22, one of which is Asian. That’s really the most pressing now.
“It’s been tough. I’m looking at my calendar, and I’m fine for this week and next; then it gets dangerous.”
Jackson also needs to fill positions for a grocery store manager and security guard.
Those interested should send a current photo, a resume, if they have one, and contact information to Jackson’s attention at Avery Pix, 4454 S. 67th St., Omaha, NE 68117.