Cinema Australia Original Content:
Western Australian Casting Director, Annie Murtagh-Monks has recently been awarded the 2019 Casting Guild of Australia Award for Best Casting in a TV Drama for her incredible work casting around 100 speaking roles for Season 1 of ABC drama series, The Heights, beating out Total Control, Diary of an Uber Driver and the latest season of Wentworth.
“Everyone dislikes the audition process, but it’s a necessary bite, so I try to make it as painless as possible.”
Interview by Joanne Kmaid
Let’s celebrate the past! How did you discover the late Heath Ledger?
I originally cast him in a small guest role in a kids’ series when he was 13 years old, then auditioned him again before he had an agent at the age of 15; finally casting him in Sweat by which time he had turned 16. Then he went on his own adventure.
When actors walk through your auditioning door, what emotions fill the air?
Most often fear. Everyone dislikes the audition process, but it’s a necessary bite, so I try to make it as painless as possible. Having previously been an actor, I can empathise and help them give their best performance. Professional actors know they won’t get every role they go for, but the more they improve their craft skills, the greater chance of scoring roles. And when you treat others with respect, people will want to work with you.
Would you like to get back into acting?
No, I took myself off the market as an actor when I became a casting director, as I didn’t think it was ethical to be doing both. For as long as I am casting, I won’t act professionally. But I do love being a casting director and acting coach! They utilise different skills that complement each other.
Very exciting, The Heights Season 2, premieres tonight on ABC. Would you consider The Heights to be a modern-day version of Neighbours?
I see The Heights as a hybrid between a series and a serial soap. Neighbours shoots six episodes per week whereas we only shoot two. This has allowed us more time to work on scenes and flourish our end product.
Congratulations on winning Best Casting for The Heights!
I was deeply honoured to receive this award and wasn’t expecting it. I loved being part of this series which represents modern Australia in an entertaining and authentic way. I hope audiences continue to love it and the ABC commissions a third series.
How challenging was it to cast actors with a disability?
It was a challenge that took time, effort and thinking ‘outside the box.’ There isn’t a large pool of disabled actors in Australia, but my son Daniel Monks, is part of this pool and he was a valuable source in finding disabled actors. Thanks to him, we were able to cast Bridie McKim and Adam Bowes in The Heights Season 2. Daniel was mentoring Bridie at the time while she was studying acting at NIDA.
Is it common to hire new talents with no previous acting experience?
On a show like The Heights, it was necessary in order to be true to the authenticity and cultural diversity we were aiming for. Fortunately, we had time to provide acting coaching to bring the ‘newbies’ up to speed once filming commenced.
Are you an avid viewer of your TV work?
I love watching all Australian content! On my soapbox, it is vital that we continue to advocate for Aussie films and TV projects, as we are at great risk of being swamped by copious overseas productions. Our children are starting to pronounce ‘new’ as ‘noo,’ and don’t realise what the Australian accent is or what stories are uniquely ours.
Walk us through a day in your life…
No two days are the same. It’s what I love about my work! My days are long as I usually go out to the theatre or cinema four nights per week. My days include, searching for the best actors to suit a production, talking with actors’ agents, scheduling screen tests, auditioning actors, teaching Screen Acting at WAAPA, and watching loads of audition tapes and film and TV drama on the streaming services.
What untold dream would you like to pursue?
Travel the world with my husband for six months. Travel is my other passion and I ensure I get overseas once a year. We are booked to visit Scandinavia and Russia later this year, hoping Covid does not prevent that.
Your son, Daniel Monks, has an amazing list of credits. Did you inspire his acting and filmmaking adventure?
Daniel came out of my womb with a burst of energy and love of all things dramatic. I performed a one woman show when I was seven months pregnant, so possibly that set him on the path. And he played my child in a film when he was six months old (his first pay cheque as an actor). I have been honoured to watch him dedicate years to training incredibly hard to develop his craft skills, and it is paying off wonderfully for him now. He opens on stage in The Seagull in the West End of London next week opposite Emilia Clarke.
Season 2 of The Heights is now airing on ABC.