In the Casting Chair: Annie Mulhall
Written by Donna Sorbello | Posted by: NewEnglandFilm.com
Annie Mulhall is a familiar New England casting figure, especially to Rhode Island actors. But Mulhall, a woman who embraces change and the challenges it presents, took a circuitous route to her profession, passing through LA, NY, and other places before landing back on the coast. Mulhall started out on the stage, taking dance lessons and starring in community theater. After creating her own shows and having gigs at places like Don’t Tell Mama’s in New York, she then got into the publishing world (she was Secretary to the President of Putnam-Penquin), and next worked in production for MAD-TV and Saturday Night Live. As if an actor in a repertory company, she continually acquired new personas with no regrets for relinquishing the ones she’d left behind, although always retaining her positive outlook and easy likeability.
When Mulhall’s father had a stroke and was left with a form of dementia, there was no hesitation to her moving back to Rhode Island to assist in his care, though that dictated a move back home a bit earlier than she had planned. When she came back in 1998, there were no casting companies in Providence. Mulhall had some experience in producing talk shows and other projects, assisting the likes of Quincy Jones and David Saltzman, as well as a hand in the casting of some independent films, so she decided to start her own company. Not one to dawdle about anything, she bought a house, and started to establish herself by organizing the annual auditions for local theatre companies like Trinity Rep and the Gamm Theatre. She officially got under way as LDI Casting in 2001.
Over the years, Mulhall has grown into her role as a casting director, although it’s come with bumps in the road that have helped her see where she’s needed to change her ways. She has always had an approachable, down-to-earth earth attitude toward actors. However, she admits that early on her naturally easy-going personality actually created tension in her work life. In 2007 and 2008 she experienced some particularly heavy casting years and found herself burnt out and sick from stress. Luckily, the same serendipity that brought her to Rhode Island just as the film industry was growing there gave her a way out–in 2008 a friend offered up an empty Florida condo just as a brief teaching stint arose down south. Mulhall took the gig and them forced herself to remain in Florida for a few weeks of “aggressive relaxation.” She returned to Providence with an epiphany; she realized that her own attitude had been undermining her. In the past when actors hemmed and hawed over IF they were available or WHEN they MIGHT be available, she would accommodate their diverse schedules despite the inconvenience. She would anxiously wait for last minute answers from extras. Her enlightened self, when hearing the hesitancy of actors who weren’t willing to audition during a scheduled block of time or were leaving her hanging about their availability, simply suggested to them that they pass on this one. Rather than passing, actors immediately got the message and became serious about appropriately timed, realistic responses. When she ran her business with professional expectations, actors stepped up to the plate and matched her professionalism.
Change is an obvious theme in Mulhall’s life. That ability to adapt and a willingness to shift gears is evident in her approach to her casting company. Though casting film extras has provided a large part of LDI’s work, early on the company’s work developed into the casting of independents (Loosies and The Mulberry Tree, i.e.), features (Dan In Real Life, Hachiko, i.e.). and TV series (I’m Paige Armstrong, Waterfront, i.e.). Mulhall has high praise for Carolyn Pickman whom she said was generous in welcoming her and supporting her efforts as a Casting Director. LDI and CP Casting worked in tandem on the TV series, Brotherhood and when the more experienced Pickman was occupied with other work in the later seasons, she willingly turned over the principal casting to Mulhall, who’d been responsible for background actors on the series.
Always eager for a challenge, Mulhall enjoys casting principals, but also finds creativity in the casting of extras as well, particularly in casting background for smaller scenes. She is very careful about the types of faces she places in front of a director for each setting. She tunes into the vibe of the film, the era, the feeling the director might be looking for. She is always trying to help create the right ambience through the actors she selects. She asks herself questions like “Would these people be in the same bar?” Always seeking to feel real purpose and to find new challenges, Mulhall is constantly looking for ways to expand and diversify the kinds of casting she does. In recent years she has partnered with Duncan Putney, specifically, in the casting and location hunting for historic reenactments. Though she never wanted to teach, early on she realized that she needed to “polish the product” and help actors be camera ready, which in turn, through their growing skills, added excitement to her casting.
Mulhall believes that to be a good casting director, she needs to be enthusiastic about the actors she chooses. One way actors can help Mulhall have the enthusiasm she wants to have representing them, she says, is to “be prepared.” She feels that New England actors sometimes don’t realize that producers and directors that come into town don’t have to cast locally. Actors here are up against talent from New York and LA where people go to auditions on a daily basis and therefore have more experience in presenting themselves. To compete, New England actors have to go into an audition prepared, and not talking about how they had no time to look at the material (as obviously has happened often enough for Mulhall to mention it). She also suggests that since it is less common for actors to work steadily here, that they work on a project with fellow actors, take classes or do anything that will keep them “on their game.” Mulhall is a personable casting person, but she does draw the line when actors call asking why they weren’t called for a job. “We have a certain criteria for each role we cast, and that’s what we follow.” Also, regarding phone calls, Mulhall suggests that once you audition, “let it go,” rather than calling to find out how she felt you did or if you were cast. If you are, you’ll know about it.
The “business” is not everything to Annie Mulhall. When business slipped for a bit a few years back, Mulhall didn’t sit around lamenting a slow period; instead she started a non-profit organization for a cause she cares strongly about. Though her father, Al Mulhall had passed away, Al’s Moving Minds was inspired by and started because of him. The organization she created and has successfully continued through fundraising efforts and her own hard work, provides stimulating recreational outings for elders with dementia, while providing respite for their caretakers. A moveable feast, the group might be in the Roger Williams Zoo one summer day, or in a museum another. (Another of Mulhall’s past lives was being certified as a Recreation Therapist and working at a nursing home.)
It makes sense that Al Mulhall’s daughter chooses to spend her time trying to make others’ lives better. Both her parents were activists for community causes ever since she can remember. Among other services to the community, Al Mulhall was President of his Neighborhood Association and Annie and her sister and brother were active in volunteerism at an early age for the Ladd School, a day care for mentally challenged children.
Mulhall is clear that her work is not her life and that New England isn’t Hollywood. Perhaps it’s the very reason Rhode Island remains a perfect match for her. No matter how many other lives she tried on or locations she lived in, she says, “I always knew I would come back here.” The way she sees it, she is extremely blessed to be able to live by the ocean close to where she grew up, near her mom, her sisters and her nieces and nephews, to still have childhood friends nearby, and to have such a “groovy, cool” job. Yet one feels that if some new inspiration comes to her, everything could change. LDI Casting, or Let Do It Casting, in an apt name for a gal who is always open for that next, meaningful step.
Related Article: In the Casting Chair: Carolyn Pickman
For more information on Annie Mulhall and LDI Casting, please visit www.ldicasting.net/.