As one of the casting director of some of TV’s most popular shows, Michael Testa has truly carved
out a respected name for himself in Hollywood. Michael’s career in casting is proof that hardwork
and pursuing your dream the right way will pay off big for anyone who has the ability to persevere.
I Am Entertainment Magazine sat down with Michael over coffee and a bagel to discuss his work on
the hit TV series ‘Cold Case,’ and ‘Make It Or Break It,’ and find out what he looks for when casting
actors for roles on his shows.
IAE: Please tell us where you’re from and what inspired you to get into film?
MT: I’m originally from New Jersey. I always knew I wanted to work in the entertainment industry in some
capacity I just wasn’t sure what that would be. So I ended up studying film in high school and college.
IAE: What college did you attend and what was your major?
MT: I went to Northwestern and studied Radio, Television, and Film. It was a great experience for me. It was
very theory based as opposed to production based, but I got a good understanding of film and television
history. After college, I drove to LA with no job in place, but was determined to work in the film business.
IAE: What was your first job in the film business and how did it help you get your start?
MT: My first job in film was working as a PA on a film after I graduated college. The film was shooting right
across from where I lived and my uncle, who was the Chief of Police, told the production company that if they
wanted their permit, then they needed to give me a job opportunity (laughs). So that was my unofficial, official
first job. It was a great learning experience and I recommend anyone who wants to learn anything about film, to
go and be a PA because you can learn all aspects of the filmmaking process.My first official job in LA was
working as an intern at Stephen Cannell Productions, the company behind such TV shows as ‘21 Jump Street’
and ‘Hunter.’ I interned for 2 weeks and then I got put on staff as a casting assistant for the TV Show ‘Hunter.’
IAE: As the casting director for such hit TV shows as ‘Cold Case’ and ‘Make It or Break It,’ what are
the top 3 mistakes most actors make when auditioning for a role?
MT: That’s really tough. I’d say that the first mistake most actors make is not really committing to what they’re
doing in the room. I get a lot of nice readings, but I don’t want nice; I want something that is going to make me
remember the actor and really see him or her in the role their reading for.
Number 2 on my list is when the actor doesn’t really understand what the scene is about. This goes hand-in-
hand with not committing to the role. That’s why I recommend all actors take a really good scene study course
because it will help them break the scene down and connect the dots.
Number 3 on my list, and one of the things I hate the most is when actors use props. Don’t do it, because it’s
IAE: How important are acting workshops and do you ever find new actors there?
MT: I do actually find some actors through acting workshops. With the nature of my show ‘Cold Case,’ I need a
lot of actors because we cast anywhere from 18 to 27 roles per episode. We also do “double casting,” where
we have to find two actors to play the same role but different ages. I need to see a lot of faces to be able to
cast people who look alike, and also act alike. I think acting workshops are becoming more and more important
because casting directors aren’t seeing as many people as they should. I recommend that actors be very
careful and do their research when choosing which workshops to attend. Make sure the Casting Director who’s
giving the workshop represents the type of shows that have a lot of opportunities for roles. Be sure to research
the Casting Director and see if they fit the type of actor you are.
For example, I recently taught at a workshop on a Sunday and the following Tuesday I called a girl from the
workshop in for an audition. She booked the role on Wednesday.
IAE: If someone wants to become a casting professional, what are some of the steps they should
take get started in the right direction?
MT: I would jump right into and become an intern at a casting office. This will give you a real idea of what the
casting world is all about. I think people have varying perceptions of how they think casting works. I’d also
recommend that you develop your own taste for actors. Who you like and what you do and don’t like. I know a
lot of people who can actually do the casting aspect of it, but they don’t really know what constitutes a good
actor or how to fit the right talent to each role. You don’t want to set up people for auditions, just so you have
people auditioning because it doesn’t really work.
IAE: We’ve heard a number of horror stories about how some talent reps tend to make casting
difficult. What are some of your pet peeves when dealing with talent reps?
MT: Well, I actually like most of the talent reps I deal with. For the most part, the majority of them are very good
at their job and really know what they’re doing. But there are a couple of agents out there who tend to assume
that they know more about a project or client than I do, so they can try and strong arm me into hiring their
For instance, I had one agent who I believe purposely mishandled an actor’s opportunity to have a recurring
role on one of the shows I was casting. This agent was way too confrontational and so I went to my Executive
Producer and said, “Listen, this person is bringing way too much drama.” Long story short, the actor was
removed from two episodes as a result. I really don’t know what this individual was trying to accomplish by
being confrontational, but in the end he lost his client money and future opportunities.
IAE: What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your job, as well as the most difficult?
MT: Giving people the opportunity to book a role doing what they love to do. Seeing actors fulfill their dreams
is a great thing. I remember having this kid come in to read for a guest starring role on ‘Cold Case,’ and he
was struggling to get work at the time. So he came in and auditioned for it, and he got the part. He was so
happy, and to see him finally get a break was very rewarding for me.
The most difficult aspect is dealing with the politics. I understand that some of the politics is necessary, but
when it gets in the way of creativity, then it makes my job really hard. My goal is to cast and make the best
episode or movie possible, but sometimes politics gets in the way of that.
IAE: If you could change one thing about the film business, what would it be and why?
MT: I would change the types of movies that people invest in. The indie film circuit is almost non-existent now,
because everyone wants a “name” attached to their film. It used to be that indie films were where new talent
would develop, but now indie films don’t feel like they’re indie anymore. That’s something I would definitely
I love casting indie films, and sure, it’s a lot more work but the payoff is very rewarding when a film does well.
|Michael Testa, Casting Director for Cold Case & Make It or Break It
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