A graduate of Ryerson Theatre School with a BFA in Theatre Performance, Jesse has appeared on stages and screens across the country. Over the years, he has had the opportunity to work with some of the busiest and most respected Casting Directors in Toronto as a Casting Assistant and Casting Associate. In 2018, Jesse opened Jesse Griffiths Casting (JGC) with the goal of combining his passion for the arts, knowledge of local talent and the desire to develop and nurture the next generation of artists.
1. WHAT WAS YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING A CASTING DIRECTOR?
Great question! The very long story short began when I was still an actor. A wonderful friend of mine (who was currently working as an assistant for a casting director) asked if I could be a reader. It was for a CD that I had not had the pleasure of auditioning for, so I jumped at the opportunity. We hit it off during the session and that reading gig led to many more. Eventually, the time came for my friend to move on from her assistant job and I was asked if I would be interested in taking over. I was. Over the next few years, my focus was split between casting and acting but eventually, the voice in my head grew loud enough to convince me to double down on casting. A few years later, with the support of friends, colleagues, mentors and complete strangers, I decided to start my own company and officially launched Jesse Griffiths Casting (JGC) in 2018.
2. WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT CASTING?
Actors. I love them. If I can’t do it anymore, I want to surround myself with their energy, professionalism, fearlessness and creativity. I love finding someone the world has yet to experience. I also really enjoy giving a little extra push for an actor who I know can pull off a role.
3. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING ACTORS?
Train. All the time. Don’t stop. Take classes. Read books. See plays. Do your research. Watch the shows that are shooting in Toronto. Be a reader for auditions. All that obvious stuff aside; take care of yourself. Eat. Sleep. Exercise. Surround yourself with good people. The tortured/starving artist is one way to go, but why put yourself through that. Acting is the best job in the world, but you need to have a life too.
4. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STAGE MOMS AND DADS?
Listen to your kids. Is this something they really want to do? Acting will always be there. Heck, you can start at 80 if you want to. There is nothing wrong with being a kid a little while longer. If acting is something your child wants to do, you must also be prepared for the journey. You are their guardian and will be required to be with them for auditions and days on set. It’ a big ask, make sure you are also ready for it. There are lots of great classes and teachers out there that can prepare both of you for a life in the industry. Lastly, just because your child has said at one point that acting is something they wanted to do, remember that they can change their mind at any point and they will be looking to you for support.
5. WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISTAKE THAT PERFORMERS MAKE WHEN AUDITIONING?
Not being prepared. Your lines should be memorized, but if this is not the case, then you must be comfortable with sides in your hand. But being prepared is not just memorizing your lines. It’s showing up 10-15 minutes early, in appropriate attire, having learned everything you can about the project i.e. tone, cadence, relationships, genre, director/writer/producer etc. Also, make the basic choices in advance, don’t wait for direction. Decide if you are standing, sitting, leaning, entering and where your eyelines are. What are the stakes, public or private setting and how do you feel about the characters you are interacting with? These are simple things that can set you apart.
6. IN YOUR OPINION, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR TALENT TO HAVE A DEMO-REEL?
It’s not the end of the world, but in this age of smartphones and editing software, there really is not a whole of excuses. Something is better than nothing. Even if you compile scenes from classes or shoot something with a friend, good acting is good acting and casting will see that.
7. IF AN ACTOR HAS NEVER AUDITIONED FOR YOU, WHAT CAN THEY DO TO HAVE THE HONOUR OF THAT FIRST AUDITION WITH YOU? (E.G. A DEMO REEL? A SELF-TAPE? SPECIFIC TRAINING? SPECIFIC EXPERIENCE?)
I love to see actors in their element. If you are in something, let me know and I will do my best to come. I try to see as much theatre as I possibly can. But let’s not limit it to theatre: improv, sketch, stand-up, dance, art exhibits. If I’m asking the actor to do their research, I have to step up and play ball too. I think it’s best to coordinate any outreach to a casting director through your agent. They might be able to provide some necessary guidance.
8. IN OUR OPINION, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR AN ACTOR TO BE ON THE ROSTER OF A TOP AGENCY?
I think it’s more important for an actor to have a healthy relationship with their agent. There are all kinds of agents and agencies out there. Some are bigger, others more boutique. All agents see the same breakdowns, so it comes down to how they are representing you. Clear communication is the bedrock for a healthy actor/agent relationship.
9. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE CANADIAN ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY DO DIFFERENTLY IN ORDER TO GROW?
We have the best crews, talent, locations and a pretty competitive dollar. I think the industry is alive and well in Canada, but we can always do better. I would start be deepening the support of our educational organizations that seek to nourish and develop the next batch of writers, directors, actors, crews etc. At the end of the day, we are in the business of telling stories and I want to hear more stories from a wider array of people; New Canadians, the LGBTQ+ and Indigenous communities, young adults and people of colour to name just a very few. Let’s support Canadian writers and Canadian stories.
10. WE ALL HAVE MENTORS (THE PEOPLE WHO GIVE US THE HOPE, INSPIRATION, AND THE DRIVE TO KEEP GOING) … WHO ARE YOUR MENTORS AND WHY?
There is not a doubt in my mind I would not be here today without the continuous support of Stephanie Gorin, Jason Knight and John Buchan. They took a chance on me and by doing so, changed the outcome of my personal and professional life. They are patient, supportive and have a great eye for talent. It is no wonder why they are some of the busiest Casting Director’s in the city. I have nothing but the utmost respect for them and am so thankful for their guidance and support.