US casting agent digs Aussies
Rebel Wilson. Picture: AP

Technology and changes to the way auditions are held are making it easier than ever for Australian actors to land roles in American television shows.

With more auditions conducted via screen test than in front of studio and network heads, Aussie actors just need to be able to nail the American accent on tape for a chance to get a foot in the door.

"I have been hiring casting directors in Australia, London and Canada for 18 years," said Keli Lee, executive vice-president of casting for the ABC Entertainment Group.

"It is actually fairly easy because of the fact there are so many wonderful Australian actors and they actually have a much easier time with the American accent."

Lee has been with ABC for 21 years and had a hand in many Aussies and West Aussies making it big on the small screen, including Melissa George, who starred in Alias then Grey's Anatomy.

"You know what; Melissa George, I have always been a fan of, she has done a number of shows," Ms Lee said.

"She did a couple of other pilots for us so we were really excited to actually get her in the show (Alias).

"For our new show, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Sophie Lowe is such a star. We love her. I am so excited; it is one of those moments where we discovered someone unknown and we were so excited to have her, she is so lovely.

"We also have Emilie de Ravin in Once Upon a Time, Brett Tucker in Mistresses and Clare Bowen in Nashville.

"In ABC Network shows we have Rebel Wilson (in Super Fun Night) who is such a huge star. We are so lucky to have her, and Kate Jenkinson in the same show."

Australian television shows are not known for their ethnic diversity but Ms Lee has built a reputation for casting diversity at ABC with stars such as Sandra Oh in Grey's Anatomy and Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim in Lost.

How hard has it been to get different faces on to the small screen?

"Ultimately it is the writer or the creator's vision," she said. "They are writing about their experience and especially if they are writers who are coming from Middle America where they may not have grown up with diverse people, they may not be as open, especially if it is a show about their lives.

"For the most part television has evolved so much in the last few years and most producers understand how important diversity is in our shows and how to get a bigger audience.

"I am really excited that we were able to get Kerry Washington for Scandal. I would say for ABC Studios and ABC, the ones I am most proud of as shows were Grey's Anatomy, Lost, Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty. That was a really pivotal year, because those casts were the most diverse.

"We can tell our future producers, look at these shows, and look at how successful these shows are, and they are successful because they represent so many different faces."

Ms Lee was at college and planning to go to law school when her career path changed.

"I was 18 and I was working at this comedy club and the headliners of the time were Tim Allen, Jerry Seinfeld and Roseanne (Barr) right before they were about to get their own television shows," she said.

"Then there were the ones opening up for them; Jon Stewart, Louis CK and Ray Romano. And these are the people I was socialising with, I was around, and they are the ones who introduced me to the entertainment business."

She landed an internship for Phyllis Huffman, who often cast Clint Eastwood's films, and the rest as they say is history.

"I remember the first day, I didn't know what casting was, I actually had no clue about entertainment but I had the time, I was eager to learn and said I could answer phones and do whatever she needed me to do.

"She threw me in the middle of it all and that is the best way to learn."

Ms Lee said star quality was hard to define but said it wasn't really that hard to pick.

"I bet you if you were in my position and you did it even just a year, not even a year, I think if I gave you a few auditions I bet you would be able to get it pretty quickly.

"It's the same when you meet people anywhere. Let's say you're at a cocktail party or you're at any event and you are talking to numerous people and there's that one person who is so engaging and so charismatic that you cannot stop talking to the person, you want to continue to be around that person.

"I think that is the same feeling when I am seeing these auditions; that person is so engaging and so watchable and so accessible, we want to see them in more episodes."

The West Australian

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