Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Ruth Weisberg | Founder of Mike Lemon Casting

Interview :: Mike Lemon
by Ruth Weisberg, 1 Sep 2007

This month's Creative Personality is Mike Lemon, founder of Mike Lemon Casting - the Philadelphia area's premiere casting company. Mike Lemon Casting has over 20 years of experience in Film, TV, Commercials, Industrials and Voice-over featuring both traditional and online casting methods.

Mike can be reached at: [email protected]

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Host: Ruth Weisberg; Director of Photography: Paul Van Haute;
Sound Operator: Alec Pezzano; Hair/Makeup: Juanita Berge; Postproduction: Haley Productions; Editor: Tia Refait

PCG: At a time when so many people want to break into the film business and get into acting, leave it to someone like you to get into casting.

ML: Well, I began as an actor. I always thought I wanted to be an actor and I loved it. Well, you know, we worked together. I loved it. I called Elena DiSantos, who is a casting director here in town, to see if I could do some extra work on the "Witness," the Harrison Ford movie. She was frantic on the other end of the line and I got off the phone and I called her right back and I said, 'Do you need some help answering the phones?' because I was an unemployed actor. I went in and after spending three days in her office, I knew I was supposed to be a casting director. I started in my basement. I cleared off the ping-pong table to put up all my file folders, all the racks. It was an unfinished basement, too! Oh, those were the days.

PCG: It's obvious you didn't want to cast yourself in a job you didn't like, or a career you wouldn't like, either.

ML: When I was a kid, like everybody else, I'd read a book, and I'd visualize the movie. And I never saw myself in the movie – which is what an actor would normally do. So I saw that I'd come home to my vision to become a casting director instead of an actor.

PCG: You can't exactly go to school to train to be a casting director. What particular skills, abilities or talents did you bring when you got into this?

ML: The producers, writers, and directors come into the room with their idea – black on white, black ink on white paper, two-dimensional – and I'm able to watch the actors walk in the room and breathe life into it... over and over again. And sometimes it's really magical to watch someone's vision and idea come to life. And I think I'm fairly intuitive. Like to think so, anyway. I think I was born to do this.

"What I look for in actors is authenticity—that I believe what they're saying, that I believe who they are, that I believe what they're feeling."

PCG: What particular personality or character traits do you value?

ML: What I value in terms of performance in front of the camera is authenticity. What I look for in actors is authenticity—that I believe what they're saying, that I believe who they are, that I believe what they're feeling. I also hope that's who I am.

PCG: What do you consider your cinematic 'big break' as a casting director?

ML: I'd been casting for 7 or 8 years – doing commercials, industrial films and voice-overs, all of which I enjoyed. That was my ambition. And then I got the call from Jonathan Demme's office about casting the movie, "Philadelphia" that changed my life. It changed my life personally. It changed my life professionally. The film had a very strong vision. They wanted to 'open the hearts and minds of the people of Peoria,' as they put it. And I was astoundingly successful at doing that. And not only was it just this incredibly rich working experience, but to be working on a project with... a higher order of purpose to change the world in a positive way. And I thought 'This is amazing!'

PCG: The movie "Philadelphia" certainly put you on the map as a casting director. And working with the director and the cast 'n crew of "The Sixth Sense" wasn't too shabby, either.

ML: The making of "The Sixth Sense" was amazing. What happened with "The Sixth Sense" was unbelievable. The success of a billion-dollar film and an Oscar-nominated best picture and, well, to watch the Oscar's and see my director sitting in the front row was quite, quite exciting.

PCG: Philadelphia is on the cusp and at the hub of great cinematic happenings. You must be really jazzed about that.

ML: This exciting news, first of all about the state monies – they've now been made available – and the studios that are being built, sound stages. Two different projected studios in the area is just, like, mindblowing! I don't know whether it's something in the water, something in the air, whether it can be directly related to what's going on, and I think it can be, at this point we're talking a half a dozen different films that are all planning to shoot within the next 2 or 3 months here. It's a really exciting time.

PCG: Have fun with this one. 'People would be surprised to know...?

ML: I think that people would be surprised to know that I'm a real person. There have actually been moments in my career where people have come up to me and said, 'You're real? I didn't think there was a Mike Lemon.' You know, like I was the Wizard of Oz or something. Behind a screen or someplace. But then I am a real person, and people think, perhaps, that this casting director is going to not connect with them, not gonna care, not gonna come across like a real person. And I'm just me. I'm still the kid who was born in Indiana. I'm still the kid who went to Kennett High. I'm still the actor who was doing dinner theater at the Three Little Bakers. I'm still the same person... and I like that.

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