In contrast to the wet, dark and positively Wintery weather of the supposed Summer solstice outside, it is in the glamorous, plush and comfortable lounge bar of the Waldorf Hotel, London, that Neil Rutherford talks about his transition from actor to casting director, his career, latest ventures, and new book.
‘It was really by default. I mean I didn’t plan it at all. There are people now who kind of go ‘I want to be a casting director’, I never wanted to be a casting director.’
But what made Rutherford take the step away from performing?
‘I got stage fright.’
It is interesting that he developed this fear later in his career rather than at the beginning, yet Rutherford goes on to explain that he feels it must happen often, as ‘the higher you go up the ladder’ in any profession, the more pressure there is on you, the higher the risk and the greater the possible downfall. Rutherford’s acting career was extremely successful, and over the fifteen years or more he spent performing, the higher and higher the stakes became. This, combined with any potential personal problems one may have in life can become a burden too much for anyone to bear, so it is a brave and honest feeling to know it is the right time to stop – not just for oneself, but for the sake of fellow cast members, creative teams, and the paying audiences.
‘I’d always had a real passion for admin and directing…doing those other things that weren’t just about being a performer. I was never someone who was sitting at home watching ‘The Wright Stuff’ ‘til 5:30, getting on the train and getting in for the half, I was never that person. I write music so I was conducting soundtracks and orchestras, my music, during the day in the studio and then going off and doing the show in the evening, or I was in an admin office. I was at English National Opera for years in the technical department, running the technical staff, then running over to the Victoria Palace to go and do Annie with Lily Savage in the evening, so, that was my day. I always wanted to keep busy.’
“I know all about Neil Rutherford. Give him the job”
It is no wonder then, that Rutherford continues to lead such a hectic lifestyle today. He lives for it; it’s in his blood, and all of the work he was doing alongside acting proved to be a major asset to him when he made the decision to stop performing, as he was still working at ENO, and managed to get a position in the production office where he had an amazing year running their new productions – and then came the two events that lead him to become Head of Casting at Ambassador Theatre Group. Having heard that ATG were looking for a new assistant general manager, and that Hedda Beeby (whom he had worked with twice), was the person looking, Rutherford got on the phone to her and explained that he thought he’d found a good candidate for the job. He arranged for them to have coffee the next day where, of course, he himself turned up to meet her and surprised her by displaying his interest in the job, and reasons for wanting it. The second, and simultaneous event to transpire, was that the secretary to the general manager at ENO was about to leave ENO to become Howard Panter’s secretary at ATG, where she talked to Panter about Rutherford, praising him and his work, and so of course when Beeby went back to Panter suggesting Rutherford for Assistant General Manager, Panter, already informed said, ‘I know all about Neil Rutherford. Give him the job.’ Wow – so does Rutherford believe in fate?
Not long after accepting the position, Rutherford realised that ATG didn’t need an Assistant General Manager; they needed a Casting Director, and that was how he began. Over the ten years he has spent with ATG, Rutherford has helped the company blossom and grow into a massive and wonderfully successful organisation, doing incredible things along the way, such as getting names like Kiera Knightly and Patrick Swayze into their productions – events which have definitely changed the face of ATG.
It’s clear to see that he’s done a fantastic job, and been a phenomenal asset to ATG but, controversially, many directors know exactly the actors they wish to work with from the get go of any project, and with social media the way it is these days, it’s much easier to find out about other actors all across the world in just a few clicks, so is it possible then, that Casting Directors will become obsolete in say, ten years’ time?
Casting Directors are the ones in the theatre (for Rutherford about four nights a week) really, genuinely making it their business to find out about and get to know actors that they can suggest to directors for certain productions. A Director’s job is more to invest in how they are going to approach, interpret and discover their work, so how can they possibly have as much time to be finding out about all the thousands upon thousands of actors there are out there?
It’s clear then, Casting Directors are an extremely important part of the casting process. Does it annoy Rutherford then, when Casting Directors are not recognised alongside directors and actors in award ceremonies?
‘Yes it annoys me a little bit…but I know my worth…and I don’t really need credit. I know what I’ve done…but I’m sort of not really the kind of person who wants credit…I just want to do the best for the show.’
A lovely attitude – after all – stage managers and technical staff don’t win awards – and shows couldn’t function without them either.
“To see someone who really and genuinely ‘wants the gig’ is what appeals most”
Not wanting to wear out such a busy man who has kindly given up his free(ish) evening, just a few last ‘top tip’ questions…
Does he have advice for someone who wants to get into casting? Rutherford explains that the best advice he can give is that a good Casting Director should love actors. Casting panels genuinely want actors to be good, so in order to get the best from them, you have to love and nurture them.
What would make him sit back in an audition situation, impressed? To see someone who really and genuinely ‘wants the gig’ is what appeals most – and he cannot stress enough that ‘preparation’ is of the utmost importance. That may sound obvious, but Rutherford recounts how incredibly frequently auditionees turn up carelessly underprepared.
Finally, I ask him, sipping the remainder of my gin and slimline, ‘Will you sign my book?’, which he does with a smile.
‘Musical Theatre Auditions and Casting – A performer’s guide viewed from both sides of the audition table’ is available to buy now from Amazon.co.uk, and after having read only the foreword and introduction, it is clear to see what a warm, entertaining and highly relatable friend this book will be to any performer.
Rutherford has left ATG, knowing the time is right – clearly he cannot stay still in one profession for too long! So off to Australia he flies, to pursue a wonderful adventure directing South Pacific at The Sydney Opera House. The best of luck to him, as he continues to explore every nook and cranny of the performance industry. Who knows what else fate has in store for him?
Click here to purchase Neil’s book.
Or, to WIN Musical Theatre Auditions and Casting – A performer’s guide viewed from both sides of the audition table, tweet us @fourthwallmag your worst audition story – the best (or worst!) will win a copy.