Casting 101 at East West drama

Steve Knapman, co-producer on East West 101, tells TV Tonight television dramas need to look beyond traditional casting methods to find the next wave of Australian actors.

ew1If you take a look at East West 101 on SBS next week you will be witness to two significant directions amongst its cast.

One is the extraordinary number of actors with multicultural backgrounds.

The other is the emergence of new faces.

Both are deliberate decisions by Steve Knapman and Kris Wyld, producers of the 7 part crime drama for SBS.

Having already worked on the edgy Wildside for the ABC, their approach to making drama, and in particular to casting, sets them apart from many of their peers. A number of roles are played by first-time actors with little or no experience.

As Knapman tells TV Tonight, it is a challenge he relishes for the sake of the final product.

“It’s about your intellectual approach to the whole issue of drama and how educated you are in it,” he says. “We cast about 190 speaking parts on Season 2. It only sounds like 7 hours but it’s a lot of parts. We did about 16 on Series 1. So straight up you’ve got nearly 400 actors who cut their teeth on this show.

“On Wildside it was about 1000 who really cut their teeth for the first time, and they’ve gone on to have careers. So really, it’s just a question of having the right mindset. I’ve spent my life trying to understand how to make drama and it doesn’t worry us.”

Knapman maintains that new performers can succeed if they are given an environment in which they can relax, complemented by a bit of guidance. He says other television shows need to look beyond traditional casting approaches, noting  the industry boasts a wealth of multicultural actors with ample performance skills.

“There’s a huge pool of really interesting people out there. I can’t believe you couldn’t answer any of those casting issues on any of those soaps. We know they’re there.”

In creating a second season of the SBS drama, Knapman / Wyld work very closely with casting director Christine King who looks to emerging and first-time performers for some of the show’s supporting cast.

“Chris King does takes a huge amount of credit for East West. It would be very difficult to do it as well without her. Definitely.”

Returning in principal roles are Don Hany, Aaron Fa’aoso, Susie Porter and Daniella Farinacci. Joining them are Gyton Grantley and Gerald Lepkowski. Directing is the acclaimed Peter Andrikidis.

Once again the drama follows a Muslim cop torn between his culture, religion and his role as a detective in the Major Crime Unit. In the second series, a joint task force is formed between the squad and an intelligence agency after a car bomb goes off that many believe is the work of Islamic extremists.

Knapman says episodes have self contained crimes but nods to the full seven hours for the real drama.

“It expects the audience to pay attention. It’s a bit like you’re watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or Edge of Darkness or those sort of shows we’ve seen in the past from England where you couldn’t really miss anything,” he says.

But the show will face off against tough competition. SBS has slated it for an 8:30pm Tuesday night slot, against Packed to the Rafters and NCIS.

“It’s never great when two Aussie shows go up against each other, but I don’t know if people who watch Packed to the Rafters would be that much our audience anyway. It’s a nice, light, escapist show really. Ours is a bit more demanding,” he says.

SBS was so keen to launch the series strongly, it made the extraordinary move not to launch against the Hey Hey reunions, originally slated for a Tuesday.

“We’re just pleased that we’re in primetime in the ratings period. It was nice to go out during the summer break, around Christmas,” he admits. “But the fact we are where we are at all is a testament to the confidence that SBS have in the show. The two week delay I didn’t mind because I’d like to see more advertising and presence of the show to try and get non-SBS viewers across. So I thought it could work for us to give people enough time to know that it’s on.

“When you make shows as an independent producer you’re finally in the hands of network programmers. We have a good relationship with (SBS Programmer) Matt Campbell. I’m philosophical about his decisions.

“Programmers always say independent producers think they’re good Programmers!”

East West 101 premieres 8:30pm Tuesday on SBS ONE.

4 Responses

  1. What a fantastic launch episdode for series 2. Intense, complex storytelling and finally some real faces on the screen! It was shockingly real.

    Absolutely gripping and brilliant acting all round. Bloody fantastic, well done SBS.

  2. I agree. Great to see some unknown or at least lesser known faces filling the roles, instead of the usual Erik Thompson/Rebecca Gibney type suspects being cast all the time. It allows you to focus on the drama and relies hopefully more on the quality of the story telling, not star power which often gets in the way, in my opinion.

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