Person to Watch: Diane Heery
Trying to break into show biz? Casting agent Diane Heery can get you there
By Terri Akman

“Silver Linings Playbook,” “The Lovely Bones” and “The Sixth Sense” are just a few of the award-winning feature films Diane Heery has helped cast. In fact, the West Deptford resident recently won her own award – maybe not an Oscar, but a professional triumph nonetheless.

“There is no Oscar category for casting, but there is an industry equivalent called the Artios Award,” says Heery, 59. “We received the Artios Award for casting ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’”

While the studio cast leads Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, Heery filled in the supporting cast, including Philly actors Patsy Meck, who portrayed the high school principal, and Rick Foster, who played the bandleader in the dance scene. Even Heery’s husband, Pat McDade, made the cut, playing Lawrence’s father.

“It was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had in working on a film,” says Heery. “The director, David O. Russell, is an incredibly creative man. He knows how to work with actors really well to get exactly what he wants out of them. He likes to find actors who are experienced in improvisation, so that’s what we had to focus on. There’s a lot of instinct involved in choosing a cast. I’ve been doing this for so many years. I started out as an actor myself, and that really does help in knowing what the actors go through.”

Heery got her bachelor’s degree in theater from Temple University and was a full-time actor for a while, but shrinking roles and an interest in casting altered her course.

“There is a bit of reality with women’s roles that there are plenty of roles for young women up to 30-ish, and then the amount of roles available fades away,” she says. “Then there aren’t a lot of roles for a woman until you are in your late 40s or 50s. Look at any TV show or commercial: the average age of the mom is going to be 28 and Grandma is going to be 55. You rarely see old grandmas. There’s a hole in the middle for women. It’s gotten better, but it’s still not as equitable as it is for men.”

As roles began drying up, Heery helped out in a friend’s casting office and realized it was a job she enjoyed and was good at. She started her own casting agency 20 years ago, hiring for movies, commercials, TV shows and training videos.

“I love being the one making the phone call to tell somebody they got the part,” she says.  “And the actual audition process is special because you see so many great actors who are really fabulous.”

Only one actor will get a particular part, and that leads to a less fun part of the job. “It kills you because you could bring in 10 people for the same role and they are all really good,” she says. “Some people are going to get disappointed but they have to have thick skin because they know odds are they’re not getting the part. You go in, do your best, know you did your best job and walk away. Sometimes you didn’t get it, because there are factors out of your control. You might have been the best actor on the planet, but they wanted somebody taller or fatter, or they wanted their brother-in-law to have the part instead.

“Acting is probably one of the most difficult fields in the world for anybody to try to tackle. I love when people say, ‘Oh, it’s a great secondary job.’ But it takes a very special person to pursue this as a full-time career because it’s very difficult. You put your own self on the line and an audition is a job interview every time. The odds are that 95 percent of your auditions you will never book. To try to make a living at this is stressful.”

Heery wants people to understand that the keys to success begin with talent and professionalism. Stories of someone getting discovered at the mall are overrated and highly unusual. Even most people who do school or community theater don’t have what it takes to actually make the big time.

“I see too much heartbreak in people who have a long way to go before they can compete as a professional,” she says. “They’re not realistic about their level of talent and can’t compete for a paying job. People say they want to try this, but they don’t realize the commitment that’s involved.”

Taking classes from professional acting coaches is a good start and a way to network. That goes for kids too. If you believe your child has the drive and interest, there are roles for child actors, but it’s also a very difficult road to travel for the child and parents.

“That’s even harder because there’s a divide of who truly wants to be an actor, the kid or the parent who wants to see the kid as an actor,” says Heery. “Is the parent trying to live their childhood again through their child? I see that a lot. It’s very discouraging when I see a parent pushing their kid into an audition and the kid is obviously terrified, in tears, or just doesn’t want to be there.

“It’s a huge commitment for the parent, as well. If you commit to have your child be a professional, then one parent can’t have a regular job. One parent has to be committed to driving that child to auditions four or five days a week – driving to New York or Philly or Baltimore. That’s a whole day of your life every time there’s an audition. And that’s just the audition, never mind booking the job.”

A lucky few do make it, including Evan Jonigkeit, a former Temple University student who got his start with Heery. He’s appeared in the TV hit “Girls” and has a role in the next X-Men movie.

One way to get a taste of being in a movie is to appear as an extra. Heery puts out a call on her website for extras, and people email their information and hope they’re a fit.

“We also do general auditions to meet new actors once a month,” she says. “You submit your picture and resume, and we give appointment times to come in and do a general audition for future work.”

Heery needs to always be prepared for the next time her telephone rings. Though the details are still secret, she just landed two new casting contracts – a pilot for ABC and M. Night Shyamalan’s next movie. Both will be shot in Philadelphia.

“One of the coolest things for me is that it’s different every day, and life will turn on a dime,” she says.

“During a recent week we were casting four different TV commercials, a training video and prepping a movie. The world will turn upside down on a phone call, and all of a sudden you’re off to the races.”

March 2014
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