Interview: Nancy Bishop

Just like in the movies: sits down with the freelance casting director

It was 1999, and Nancy Bishop woke up with a dream heavy on her mind. Her dream had been a psychoanalyst’s delight: she was walking uphill, carrying a bus on her head–she was clearly exhausted.

The Connecticut native, after immersing herself in Chicago’s theatre scene, had made the move to Prague in 1994, and become involved in the theatre scene here, swiftly transitioning from directing to artistic director of the Black Box Theatre. But she was finding the work more and more cumbersome. The funding, and even actors, had always been difficult to secure, especially when they were aiming for a selective English-speaking audience. She was writing grants, trying to get the actors paid and making the theatre professional.

“It was okay for two years. But most professional theatres in the world are state-funded. I was fighting for money, for actors, for audiences. It was so exhausting, and with English theatre it’s harder,” Bishop explains.

Shortly after having the bus dream, Bishop’s theatre was performing Kafka’s “The Trial” in Dublin. And she was already feeling the inevitable temptation of transplanting her life and career to an English-speaking city, a place where she could find more satisfaction from her work. So, she gave up her flat, packed all of her belongings and quietly let them be loaded into the moving truck along with all of the pieces of the theatre’s set.

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And then, as in any good drama, the unexpected (yet somehow always expected) plot point arrived, and Bishop received a phone call just before the theatre crew departed Prague. It was the producer of the American sci-fi television show Dune. “I have a job for you,” he told her, and just like that she was given over 60 roles to cast—and a new start in Prague, the city she had been trying to escape. Bishop of course still made the trip to Dublin with the theatre to direct the play.

“There we were, unloading all my books and clothes,” Bishop recalls. “I had to send it all back.”

Like a true Prague expat, Bishop had tried several times, and may even try again, to leave Prague behind, to move on to some other English-speaking place where she could continue her career.

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But since her assignment as casting director for Dune, Bishop’s career has swerved away from the theatre toward the movies.

“After too much time spent doing things against the stream, all of the skills I had developed were perfect for film casting,” Bishop says.    
Now, with over 50 American and British films and television shows under her belt, Bishop works as a freelance casting director, running her own agency, Nancy Bishop Casting, with partners in many offices around the world. Some recent films she has cast for include Red Tails, Casino Royale, G.I. Joe, Wanted and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.   

The Emmy-Award nominated casting director earned her master’s degree in Theater History Criticism at Northwestern University, and her bachelor’s degree in Acting and Directing from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

When Bishop began her career as casting director, that was the “golden age of films” she said, which lasted from about 2000 until 2007. Hollywood was producing an endless amount of movies in the fairytale landscapes and the then-cheaper sets of eastern and central Europe.

“I didn’t have to market myself, the calls were coming in. You just don’t know which way life is going to go. It’s happened several times in my life.”

But times have changed. Once Bishop would have five projects at a time, and now there is more space in between casting work. However, she´s putting her skills to use in other ways, and now holds the position as head of the Film Acting department at the Prague Film School.

Bishop works as a locations casting director, casting actors mostly from Central Europe and the UK in the place where the films are shot. More recently, with assistance from coordinating partners, Bishop has been conducting workshops all over Europe whenever she has the time, using her years of experience to help actors understand what they are up against when auditioning for a role. She’s even written a book on the subject, “Secrets From the Casting Couch: On Camera Strategies From a Casting Director,” published in 2009 by Methuen Drama.   

As Bishop explains it, “Production pays me a fee, and they might say, ‘Find me 20 actors.’” Having worked with actors in and around Prague from day one, usually English-speaking actors, Bishop knows who to call on. But sometimes the assignment can be a bit challenging, like a scavenger hunt.

“Sometimes I have to just go out on the street. There are no rules,” Bishop says.
Now that Bishop seems to be settled in Prague, she says she does speak functional Czech, having taken classes when she first arrived.

“I need it for my work. I advise anyone here to learn Czech. But I’ve forgiven myself for not speaking it well,” she adds.

Bishop very much believes that ”luck is when preparation meets opportunity,’ and feels that she has been very lucky in her experience in Prague, “like I’ve been at a cross-section. I wouldn’t have had this if I had stayed in the States.”

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