The long read: Nina Golds role is invisible, and yet her savor has shaped much of what we watch on movie and TV. By Sophie Elmhirst
Earlier this year, the casting director Nina Gold sat at the back of the stallings of the Criterion theatre in the West End and watched a group of students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland perform their showcase. After three years at drama school, each actor had a couple of three-minute scenes to impress a silent audience of agents and casting directors on their lunch hour. Gold slid down in her seat, as if wanting to remain unseen. Every now and then, she scribbled something next to a name in her program, drew a circle around a face.
At the end, Gold bolted through the vestibule, past pilings of photographs of the students laid out like market wares, and drove vigorously across London in her tiny electric car.” How the fuck do they do it ?” she said.” You look at those kids, even the ones who weren’t that brilliant, and they were really devoting it their all, weren’t they? They had to get up there. I mean, can you imagine ?” Over 30 -odd years, Gold has become the most powerful casting director in the UK, her taste shaping everything from Game of Thrones to Bridget Jones’s Baby, yet she can still be amazed by what actors do and why they do it.
Back in her office, which occupies the front room of her big Edwardian house in north-west London, Gold and her deputy Martin Ware discussed the showcase.
” I liked his face ,” said Ware, pointing in the programs at a young blond actor named Elliot Baxter.” I thought he could be a good Chernobylly-type soldier .”
“Yes!” said Gold.” I thought he could be a Chernobylly type too .”
Gold was midway through working on an epic Sky-HBO five-parter called Chernobyl, about the 1986 nuclear disaster, which had more than 100 speaking components. (” Whoops ,” the screenwriter Craig Mazin told me,” these things pile up .”) Gold had been casting it since last September and it was due to start filming in April. Although she had already confirmed the actors Jared Harris, Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard for the three lead roles, there was also plenty of unfilled proportions. The exact number maintained changing- 102 one week, 109 the next- as the script was still being revised. Gold and Robert Sterne, with whom she was casting the reveal, were hunting for mostly British actors who could convincingly play 1980 s Soviet soldiers and firemen facing near-certain death by exposure to radiation. So far, most had been too chatty, too gestural, too cheerful.
Chernobyl was one of many tasks that required attention. Gold was also firming up who would play Prince Philip in the third series of The Crown, calling in actors to audition for a movie about Nell Gwynn, casting a remake of Shogun, and starting work on the next Star Wars instalment, for which she kept being summoned to secretive sessions at Pinewood Studios. Sitting by her desk, which has two drawers, one labelled “home/family/personal” and the other ” CASTING”, Gold tried to counting how many projects she was working on.” It would be the end of my career if I acknowledge I’m doing eight at once ,” she said, serious and solely unserious at the same time, a typical mode.” Let’s say six … Perhaps we should just say four. One at a time !” She paused.” Things stagger around in an annoying way .”
There was a moment, somewhere in the nexus between Game of Thrones and The Crown, where it felt as if Gold’s name was gliding through the credits of every high-end prove on Tv. Her 167 credits include many grand British success tales- The King’s Speech, The Theory of Everything, the Paddington movies and every Mike Leigh film since Topsy-Turvy. But in the past few years, she has ascended into Hollywood’s mega-franchise league( the Star Wars saga, sequels to Jurassic World and Mamma Mia !). Gold is partly responsible for the impression that British performers have colonised Hollywood, sneaking unknown young pretenders, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, into Star Wars, and concealing Gwendoline Christie beneath a silver helmet as a stormtrooper commander.