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BSS2017: Casting Matters

If you look up Kerry Barden on IMDB, be prepared to scroll through the credits for over 200 films and shows he has casted. With more than 28 years’ experience, he has been responsible for the actors who are in American Psycho, Monsters Ball, the Pitch Perfect franchise, Oscar-winning indie darlings Dallas Buyer’s Club, Good Will Hunting and Spotlight, to name a few.

Although he’s firmly ensconced in the American industry, he has come across NZ on some of the projects he’s been involved with, casting Craig Zobel’s NZ-shot Z for Zachariah and the in-post My Abandonment, featuring Thomasin Mackenzie (The Changeover, Lucy Lewis Can’t Lose, Bright Summer Night).

By the time Barden was five he had set his eyes on acting. He performed in plays through school and college, studied theatre at University Georgia. After a decade of producing and casting for plays, he took a casting internship for six weeks with Roger Corman, and absolutely loved it.

There is, Barden told the BSS audience, a perception that the casting director holds all the power. On every production that he has taken on, Barden has seen it as an ongoing collaborative process between himself and the director. He has discussions with the director about the elements of what they were looking for in the story, works with actors in auditions to try to bring out what Barden believes the director wants, and present those results to the director.

“I have the ability to work with actors and show the director that they (the actors) are interesting enough to make the story more interesting,” he said.

A common philosophy throughout his casting process on any production is not to be locked into one idea. Touching on the conference theme of authenticity, Barden noted he looks out for nuances actors can bring to the role – an understanding of a period or location as well as the ability to understand or inhabit a character, for example.

Barden’s CV contains a good amount of TV work as well as film, and he noted the change in the environment the introduction of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have brought. “It’s nice to know when you are doing a pilot that the show is going to continue.”

His most challenging audition was for American Psycho. By the end of the day he was completely drained, because of the subject matter. They had done a table read with Billy Crudup, who admitted afterwards that he couldn’t go there as “it was too gross”. Christian Bale, by contrast, was comfortable inhabiting that dark character day after day.



Casting the bigger budget movies can be tied in to varying agreements that need to come together with the agents, lawyers, finance deals, and the availability of the big names. With smaller independant projects, there is more freedom for raw talent discovery – such as casting Jennifer Lawrence in the $US2 million Winter’s Bone (produced by a former BSS presenter, Alix Madigan).

The thing I took away most is Kerry’s calm nature, his emphasis on how much of a collaboration filmmaking is, and how fortunate he feels he is.

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