Jon Snow. Rey. Fantine. Lars Erikksong. Queen Elizabeth II.
If there’s a character that’s captured your imagination over the last 26 years, there’s a good chance Nina Gold brought them to life on-screen. Among Gold’s impressive 180 credits as a casting director, you’ll find prestige TV darlings (Chernobyl, Top of the Lake, Harlots, Taboo, and the juggernauts: Game of Thrones and The Crown), blockbusters (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World: Dominion, Mamma Mia Here We Go Again) Oscar contenders (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables, The Theory of Everything, The Two Popes, 1917); and indie hits (Attack the Block, Annihilation, Disobedience).
“My job is to have good ideas about how to turn the character on the page, and in someone’s mind, into flesh and blood,” she told Refinery29 over the phone from her home base of London.
Gold discovered Kit Harington, Emilia Clark, Sophie Turner, and Maisie Williams, as well Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. She’s also the genius who gave us Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan in Paddington 2. It’s no surprise that Gold has been nominated for 13 Casting Directors of American Awards (and won five), as well as two BAFTAS. She’s also won five Primetime Emmys and come September, could very well add a sixth award to her collection. She’s nominated once again for Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series for her work on The Crown season 3.
Ahead, Gold shares the biggest challenges she faced on the lush Netflix drama this season, and how casting has evolved since she first started.
Refinery29: What were you looking for in Season 3 when it came to casting the older Philip and Elizabeth?
Nina Gold: “We were looking for two things. One is to cast people who can play a version of the real Philip and Elizabeth. Another thing is to take on the example of the fictional Philip and Elizabeth that we’ve been dramatizing, and have some continuity with that, capturing the spirit of the characters.
How far in advance did you start thinking of who would play these characters in future seasons?
“We started thinking about who was going to be the queen in season 3 a couple of years ahead. We talked about it a lot. I can’t quite remember when we actually made the decision, but we’d been talking about Olivia Colman for a very long time.”
There was some controversy in that casting because Olivia Colman has brown eyes, while Queen Elizabeth II famously has blue eyes. How detailed do you get in casting people based on real individuals? How important is it that they really look like them?
“The real queen does have these incredibly bright blue eyes. Even now, at 90, she has these dazzling eyes. I kept thinking it was really important, and at one point we were talking about changing Olivia’s eyes with contact lenses, but in the end, once we actually got down to it, it seemed more important to have her incredible humanity and brilliant acting capturing the essence of the character rather than lookalike details.”
What was the hardest role to cast this season?
“Princess Alice was quite difficult, because we needed an elderly actress who [can play] a bit deaf. And we ended up finding the wonderful Jean Lapotaire.”
How do you find new talent?
“In normal life, I go to the theater a lot, and go to the drama school and the drama student showcases. I watch a lot of TV. It’s a sort of constant, rolling thing.”
What’s been the most drastic change you’ve noticed in the casting process since you started doing this?
“The internet! You have a lot more information about people at your fingertips, and can look stuff up. Like, who’s that person in that thing and what was their name?”
What was your first job?
“My very first job was getting quite a lot of extras who all had to own their own leather jackets to be in an AC/DC video. I was a student at the time, and my friend who was a stylist said, ‘You’re bound to know loads of people who own their leather jackets!’ And I said, Yeah okay, I’ll try. And I did.”
What’s the most challenging aspect of casting?
“We have to disappoint. Ultimately, you can only cast one person, and there are so many good people out there who could get the part. And they don’t get the part not because they’re not good, but because they weren’t exactly the right fit. It’s quite hard.”
How do you envision the casting director’s role in furthering inclusivity and diversity in film and TV?
“Helping to create a pipeline of future stars is an area in which a casting director can play a role in helping to correct exclusion. Understanding that for someone to be prepared for major leading roles involves having gotten experience with smaller roles along the way, CDs can play an active role in helping to build BIPOC actors’ careers by identifying and supporting them from the start of their careers and ushering them into the biggest roles once they are ready. For example, I met John Boyega when he was a teenager and cast him in a smaller film, Attack the Block, in which he was brilliant and that started to pave the way for him taking on a starring role in a huge franchise, and the rest is history. I do believe, however, that the way to correct inclusion starts with the voices and stories that are being heard and told, and commissioned to do so. We need to address this in the industry as a whole.”
“When it comes to historical accuracy, the approach to casting is entirely dependent on the piece and the director’s specific approach to the project, and we are tasked with drawing within those lines (The Crown, Chernobyl). But when there is a story that isn’t based in historical accuracy (Star Wars, for example) we must be expansive in the idea of building those worlds and must be intentional in either introducing or further continuing to develop careers and foster a fully rounded inclusive approach to peopling these worlds. We shouldn’t be blind — we should have our eyes wide open.”
Going back to The Crown, you’ve already cast Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in season 4. How did that come about?
“We actually brought her in for a really small role in season 3, and were struck by not only how good she was but also what a Princess Diana vibe she had. Then, when we were auditioning people for Camilla, we read a scene from season 4 between Camilla and Diana, and we thought, We’ll get Emma Corin to come in and be a reader for the audition. She was so great, eventually, it really seemed like it had to be her.”
Has anyone ever read for the wrong part?
“We did actually cast Vanessa Kirby in a different part in the early days of The Crown, until we realised that we’d missed a trick and that she would be perfect as Princess Margaret!”
Are there any actors out there that you would like to cast, but haven’t had a chance to yet?
“I don’t understand how this has happened, but despite having cast Daniel Kaluuya in a small part a long time ago, I ‘ve never managed to cast him in a major starring role yet. Actually, I do know how — he’s never available!”