2 L.A. Session Directors on What Actors Need to Know

My goal for my series on the unsung heroes of casting is to introduce you to a few of the amazing people who work behind the casting directors, to demystify the casting process, make you feel more connected to those that touch your life in the pursuit of booking, and hopefully make the whole experience less intimidating.

So far we’ve met a casting associate and lobby assistants. Now I’m speaking to session directors Jolene Kay and Charles Carpenter. It’s not often that the casting director will be in the room for a commercial audition; they hire session directors like these two to run the session, direct the actors, and operate the equipment.

If you’re a commercial actor in L.A., chances are they’ve put you on tape already. They’re not only skilled at the job, but they have the best attitudes. Any of us would be lucky to have either one running our audition.

On where they’re from and getting into acting.
 I was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in Missouri. My upbringing kept me very grounded and beautifully naïve. That’s both a blessing and a curse. I’m just very open to connecting with my fellow human beings. It’s at the heart of pretty much everything I do.

The first acting role I ever had was a production my mom put on at Christmas, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and I played Ollie, a little boy, because she ran out of townspeople I suppose. I don’t think I committed to the craft until about two and half years ago, and that’s when things really started materializing and taking off for me.

Charles: Born here, in L.A. How I knew I wanted to be an actor was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. My mom took us to the movie. For those two hours, I didn’t care about anything in my life. I thought to myself afterwards, What an amazing power that is, to suspend whatever is bothering you, and just enter another world. That was when I knew I was an actor.

On becoming session directors.
Jolene: I feel like I just called you, and said, “Hey, I like your job, and I like you, how can I have your job?” It took about six months training with you to actually get to the point where I was familiar with the program and felt a little more comfortable directing people and keeping it moving.

Charles: I started in 2000. A friend of mine brought me over to Cathi Carlton’s office. I saw it was a great opportunity, got in, and started running lobbies. Within about two weeks, Cathi said, “OK, one of my guys is out of town. Can you handle this session?” You’re never going to say no. I said, “Oh, OK, yeah. Absolutely.” Turned out that I had a knack for it, and continued on ever since.

On why they love casting.
 The thing I love the most is every actor being different and every person being a new chance to find that thing, that piece of direction that’s going to make the audition amazing, even if it’s adjusting an eye-line or adjusting the tone or the speed. Or sometimes it’s as simple as, “Hey, buddy. I’m your friend here. I’m going to delete the takes that are crap.” Sometimes that’s all the actor needs to be like, “OK. We’re working together, not as opposing forces.” When that clicks, it feels like all is right in, maybe not the world at large, but that little world that exists in the audition room.

Charles: What I love most is working with the actors, getting the best performance I can out of them. That’s my job. I love the interaction. I want everybody who comes into my studio to feel safe and to feel creative, so that they can come in and give the best performance that they can. It’s a 7-8 hour acting class that you’re teaching every day. You get the information from the director, you talk to the casting director, and then you present it to the actors. I love dialogue-heavy days, where you really get to dig into the material and find what works really well.      

On advice for actors.
Jolene: I interviewed a woman who’s well into her 70s. She looked at me and said, “Life’s hardly ever what you think it will be, but it’s all OK.” Which was huge to me, because I tend to have half of my brain in the future and half of it in the past, and then you spend a lot of time thinking about the what-ifs? Don’t do that. Your career is hardly ever going to be what you think it’s going to be, but it’s all OK.

That and don’t ever, ever make a career choice based in fear. Not ever. One hundred percent of the time you’re going to regret that decision.

Charles: If you believe it, you can be it. That’s really it. Believe in yourself, and believe that you deserve to be happy in this journey. Life doesn’t have to suck. If all it is is about money and booking, then you’re going to have a very narrow definition of success and window to find happiness. It’s about the journey, the friends you meet. That will open doors to other things that you didn’t even think were possible, like writing for me. I’ve written three fantasy novels: shieldofdestiny.com. That was an extension of who I am as an actor. We’re all storytellers, so if you’re a storyteller, tell your story.