Casting the Irish film ‘Situations Vacant’

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Photo: Situations Vacant

Gordon Gaffney talks to Lisa Mulcahy, the director of recent Irish release Situations Vacant, about her approach to casting and one of the film’s stars, Shaun Dunne, talks about how he got the part.

Situations Vacant is a new Irish comedy written by first-time writer Steven Murray and directed by Lisa Mulcahy, who has cut her teeth on several shorts and on the TV drama The Clinic. It follows the lives of Dave Bracken (Diarmuid Noyes), Vinny (Shaun Dunne) who are both loveless and jobless, and friend Tom (Sam Corry) who, although employed and in a relationship, is unhappy and bullied in both. Barstool sage Whack (Brendan Conroy) advises Dave and Vinny that they should lie in their interviews and, although initially their lies pay off, they soon start to unravel.

Shooting started in early 2008 and Grand Pictures’ budget of €200,000 meant that big-name actors were not an option. This meant the cast was mainly made up of actors aged 19–26 who, while not household names, had similar experience and training to many actors around the country.

Many have acted since they were children through the Abbey Children’s Programme, Ann Kavanagh’s Young Peoples’ Theatre, and the Talented Kids & Teens Performing Arts School & Agency. So, although in their late teens or early twenties they have had many years acting experience. All have gained some experience in theatre, including appearing in productions in the Gate, the Abbey, the Gaiety and in the West End. On-screen credits included short films, well known features such as The Magdalene Sisters, and the almost rite-of-passage acting jobs in Fair City and The Tudors.

With CVs not too dissimilar to so many actors in the country, how did these actors get their break in Situations Vacant?

Lisa Mulcahy takes up the story. ‘Louise Kiely [the casting director] had worked with a lot of unknown people, so she knew Shaun and other people that we cast. She cast 32A, so she knew all the girls involved with that.’ And how did you come to work with Louise? ‘She had worked with Grand Pictures before and was enthusiastic. I had phone conversations with her and we got on well – we met for coffee and hit it off. It was good to have a low budget, as I wasn’t forced to work with people I didn’t want to.

‘I love auditioning people,’ Lisa continues, ‘some directors don’t like working with actors but I do; the audition process is very cheap and I try and see as many actors as possible. Louise ended up organising about four hundred actors to audition’.

Normally the audition process (see Film Ireland magazine’s article ‘The Business of Acting’ in issue 131) would have a casting director, the director and sometimes the producer present, but the auditions in Situations Vacant were different. Lisa explains: ‘We hired a female actor to read with the guys at every audition and a male actor to read with the girls. Usually the casting director reads, but some casting directors mightn’t be natural actors. Louise is, but the casting director has another job to concentrate on during the audition and having the actor there for the day allows them to do that.’

Having a trained actor also allowed improvisation in the auditions which both Lisa and Shaun Dunne, who plays Vinny in the movie, found helpful.

‘It took the pressure off me as I wasn’t looking directly at the casting director. I could focus on my performance – it’s different when the person you are performing against is actually critiquing you. Only 1 in 10 auditions would be this way, and an audition is an audition. As long as you go in with the right mind set, whether you’re reading with the casting director or an actor, if you’re right for it you’re right for it.’

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_41ZG-wIM8[/youtube]

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