The talent spotter
Irishwoman Ros Hubbard is one of the world’s best-known casting directors, having worked on everything from The Commitments to Lord of The Rings, and discovered Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Colin Farrell. She tells Michael Dwyer the secrets of casting a movie
FTER MORE than 20 years as a Hollywood casting director, Ros Hubbard is set to become a familiar face on the RTÉ2 series
on a threemember jury assessing the prospects of rising and aspirant actors. In marked contrast to the judging panels on and
this jury is unusually benign and considerate.
“There are no humiliations,” she says. “It’s much more like the real world. In the real world, you don’t humiliate people. You’re respectful and polite.”
Next Friday, she will be sharing her insights and experience with an audience of 12- to 19-year-olds in a masterclass at the new Cinemagic festival in Dublin. “I’ve been given such a wide range, but I’ll concentrate on audition technique,” she says. “It’s the gap in the education of actors. Most don’t know that, from the minute they walk into an audition, they’re on as soon as they appear.”
Are today’s young actors more confident than earlier generations? “Oh, yes,” she says, “and some think they’re better than older actors. Acting is instinct, and it’s God-given to begin with. All you can do is hone up that instinct. Look at Saoirse Ronan at her age.” And she cites Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who was in his mid-teens when she discovered him in a Cork pool hall while casting the David Puttnam production
“I talked to the man who ran the pool hall and he said there was this great kid who comes down from Buttevant and that I should meet him. I could see the conviction in the man’s face. He was right. Jonny was amazing. He didn’t get the job, whether it was that everyone was afraid of his star quality, or that he didn’t quite fit the part because of that star quality. It shines off Jonny.” She gave Colin Farrell his first TV role in and his movie debut in
“Again, the star quality shines off Colin the minute he walks in the door. Even if he’s just saying, ‘How’re you, Ros?’ it’s there, it’s radiant. I think his stardom has surprised him more than anybody.”
She was born Ros Cox in Ranelagh, Dublin, a few streets away from Maureen O’Hara’s birthplace. “After my Leaving Certificate, I went to California, where I worked in insurance,” she says, “but I couldn’t wait to get back to Ireland because I missed the social life. I worked at Betty Whelan’s model agency, and then I opened a model agency with two other ladies. Some people were casting commercials and asked me about our models.That’s when it began to dawn on me that my gift in life was to able to spot talent or choose suitably for a role.”
She opened her own casting agency, and met and married John Hubbard, an Englishman working in advertising. “He came to Dublin for six months as a copywriter with Kennys, and stayed for six years. I went back to London with him and had my kids, Amy and Dan. There was one Christmas when he was very busy and he asked me to help with casting some ads. I did 13 ads that Christmas week with one child on my hip and the other crawling on the floor.
“It got around that I was quite good and I began to get quite a lot of work. From there on, I cast commercials and then I was offered the TV series
Soon afterwards, in 1986, Ros landed her first feature film, with Dennis Hopper and Michael J Pollard.
“At this stage, John had begun to get disenchanted with advertising and he asked me if we could survive if he joined me in casting. We have a great relationship, and he brought another very good slant. Being used to pitching and presenting in advertising, John knew how to talk a good game with Los Angeles and with producers.”
The Hubbards had not cast any movies in Ireland, although Ros had cast various commercials here, before Alan Parker asked them to work on (1991).
“When we met Alan, we found this great communion between us,” she says. “There was an immediate connection.” They arranged an open casting call at Dublin’s Mansion House, which drew more than 5,000 applicants.
“There were four of us at the front desk. We filmed every single person that came past us. Anyone who was good or interesting was sent inside to Alan. Then we looked at each other’s tapes and called back a few hundred. We weren’t just casting the 12 leading roles, but all the many people who had roles in the film, no matter how small.”
After working with Parker again on (1996), the Hubbards were back in Ireland and casting “That was turned down by our company because John read it and said it wasn’t our kind of thing” Ros says. “But I had a look at the script. I was roaring laughing and I told John we had to do it.
“We got it back. Dermot [Morgan] was attached to it already, and they were talking to Frank Kelly, and Dermot had mentioned Ardal [O’Hanlon]. But we did the rest of the casting, starting with Pauline McLynn as Mrs Doyle.” Working with Parker again on
(1999) presented the Hubbards with the challenge of casting three boys as author Frank McCourt at different ages in his life.
Meanwhile, John had discovered Kate Winslet as a schoolgirl and recommended her to Peter Jackson for his
breakthrough movie after a few low-budget horror movies the Hubbards had cast. They went on to work with Jackson on
and and will join him again next year on which he’s producing, and which he’s directing.
Are the Hubbards subjected to a lot of pressure from pushy agents who can’t take no for an answer?
“Oh, yes, and they take it personally when you disagree and you feel one of their actors isn’t right for a role. If it’s a big Hollywood studio film, you’re really under pressure from the biggest agencies in Los Angeles, as well as the managers, but we have good dialogue with Hollywood.”
There has been talk about inaugurating an Oscar for casting directors, but no progress so far. “There should be one,” Ros says. “The work that goes into casting is colossal, and it is creative. Why should we be the only department that doesn’t get recognised in the Oscars? We should have one just for being nice and coping with the fear at the beginning of all productions!”