Game of Thrones casting director Nina Gold talks about her process

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Nina Gold winner of the Contibution to the Medium Award at the Sky Women In Film
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Nina Gold winner of the Contibution to the Medium Award at the Sky Women In Film /

Unseen and unknown by the general public, casting director Nina Gold is nonetheless a revered name in show business. From Game of Thrones to Star Wars to The Crown to Jurassic World, Gold has helped bring a lot of your favorite movies and TV shows to life, and she’s happy to talk about it in an exhaustive interview with The Guardian. What role does a good casting agent play in the creative process?

"We have to stop people casting the wrong people. We have to try and get them to make the right choices without bossing them around. It’s quite difficult."

We’re guessing Gold had the day off when the Sand Snakes were cast.

But seriously, folks, Gold’s fingerprints are all over Game of Thrones, and the show is infinitely better off it. She has a remarkable knack for mixing experienced actors (Sean Bean, Michelle Fairley, Charles Dance) with talented newcomers (Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Isaac Hempstead Wright) in a way that meshes just right. Part of it is her exhaustive work ethic. In the case of Game of Thrones, Gold auditioned over 200 actresses for the role of Arya Stark before landing on Williams. As showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss put it, “If you’ve got the stuff, you could be performing in school plays in a sheep meadow and she’d find you.”

But as Gold lays out, casting directors can only find people — they don’t have the find say on who actually gets the role; that decision is up to the director or showrunners. So to cast the best person, Gold has to master the art of pressuring people without seeming like she’s pressuring them. That can get dicey, as when she was casting the role of Prince Phillip in Netflix’s The Crown. “This morning I found myself on the phone saying maybe I just don’t care and you should cast the wrong person to play Prince Philip. Maybe I just don’t fucking care,” she recalled. “But then you realise you would be really shit at your job if you just let them have what they want.”

Pretty much everyone who’s worked with Gold praises her, with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy calling her “a legend in her own right.” Despite that, Gold has trouble explaining exactly what makes her so good at her job, although many of her collaborators point to an ability to see things in roles and actors that others don’t. John Lithgow was a surprising choice to play Winston Churchill in The Crown, for instance, but it got him an Emmy and a Critics’ Choice Award, plus a bunch of nominations, so she must have done something right. “The algorithm would probably be not quite as interesting as somebody who’s a tiny bit off algorithm,” Gold said. “Can I also confess that I don’t actually know what an algorithm is?”

Still, Gold tried to describe her process. “I think more vibe than visually. But then you can’t cast somebody who’s visually completely wrong. It’s definitely more of a feel and an essence thing.”

Bella Ramsey: Another one of Gold’s great finds
Bella Ramsey: Another one of Gold’s great finds /

One of Gold’s biggest joys as a casting director is watching her choices pay off, and seeing the careers of people she found as unknowns blossom. She’s gotten to see that with people like Eddie Redmayne, John Boyega, Dominic Cooper and Andrew Garfield, all of whom she auditioned when they were nobodies in their early 20s and all of whom have gone on to great success (Redmayne won an Oscar after Gold cast him as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Boyega is now the face of Star Wars, etc). But there is a harder part to the job. “Every time you choose somebody, you are not choosing someone else,” Gold said. “There’s a hell of a lot of dashing of hopes and dreams involved.”

Gold cast some no one named Kit Harington in his first-ever television role. We think this kid’s gonna make it.
Gold cast some no one named Kit Harington in his first-ever television role. We think this kid’s gonna make it. /

As a casting director, Gold is sensitive towards calls for more diversity in Hollywood, although it can be a hard sell on many of the predominantly English projects on which she works, given the country’s penchant for making historical dramas about English history, with lots of queens and kings and stuff. But Gold can do things like cast John Boyega in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a move for which Idris Elba praised praised her in a 2016 speech in front of Parliament. “Since when did the lead character in Star Wars come from Peckham? Since a woman with imagination became the casting director.”

Once a project is cast and performers’ salaries have been negotiated (another one of Gold’s duties), Gold still worries about the movie or TV show.

"We’ve still got the thing of, Christ I hope this is actually going to be really good. Sometimes the script’s great, the actors are brilliant, everything’s good and then … it’s just not as good as you thought it was going to be. Don’t know why."

Well at least that little Game of Thrones project worked out.

Next: Season 8 filming: Game of Thrones clears out of Ballintoy Harbour

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