Ros Hubbard will cast just about anything you care to ask, Jim Davies
When asked to recall the strangest piece of casting she’s undertaken,
Ros Hubbard doesn’t hesitate. ‘It has to be a French underwear
commercial from a few years ago,’ she says. ‘We were asked to cast a
penis and two testicles, which involved finding a pair of dwarfs and a
Hubbard has been in the casting business for more than 20 years. With
her husband, John, a former agency creative director, she runs Hubbard
Casting from a bustling first-floor office in Soho.
Their eight-strong team includes their son, Daniel, and there is also a
smaller outpost in her home town of Dublin. If there was such a thing as
a typical week, she estimates they’d be working on three feature films,
one television project and up to ten commercials. ‘We’re the busiest
casting agency in the world,’ she claims. ‘And that includes Hollywood.’
In advertising, the singular art of casting is finally receiving the
recognition it deserves. This year, for the first time, the British
Television Advertising Craft Awards pays homage to ‘backroom’ skills,
including editing, costume, stunts and model-making. Casting is up there
with the best of them, and rightly so. ‘Agency people have a firmer
grasp of how important it is,’ Hubbard says. ‘It’s high on the list of
priorities. Creatives realise it can make or break a commercial.’ Of
course, Hubbard, the self-styled queen of casting, has pride of place on
the inaugural judging panel.
Lively and opinionated, she started out in a modelling agency in Dublin
and, after a spell at J. Walter Thompson in New York, returned to
Ireland to launch her own business, called Set Ups. It looked after
American and English production companies coming into Dublin, helping
out with crews, logistics and, increasingly, casting. She met husband
John, moved to England, did PR for the British Menswear Guild and
started a family.
One Christmas, John, then the creative director of the Creative Agency,
was trying to put together a quick turnaround Woman’s Own commercial.
All the casting agencies had shut for the holidays, so in desperation he
turned to Ros. ‘The director, Mick Messenger, continued using me, and
word soon got around,’ she says.
By the 80s, she was a name to be reckoned with and consolidated her
success by casting the first four Levi’s 501s ads for Bartle Bogle
Hegarty. So this is the woman we have to thank for Nick Kamen - not to
mention the resurgence of boxer shorts. But what did Kamen have that the
other young bucks were lacking?
‘Sheer sexuality. A kind of animal magnetism. All the girls, and the
boys for that matter, seemed to be drawn to him.’
A current winner Hubbard had a hand in is Peter Richardson’s Nissan
Almera ad, the spot-on spoof of the 70s cop series, the Professionals.
Hubbard’s feature film credits are impressive, too, with Alan Parker’s
the Commitments probably the pick of the bunch, because it famously
involved an ‘open casting’ - that is, finding a troupe of ‘real’ people
rather than professional actors. Her growing list of movie projects has
included disparate fare such as Heavenly Creatures, Far and Away and
James and the Giant Peach. Most recently, she’s been helping out her old
mucker, Alan Parker, on Evita, though she will take no responsibility
for discovering Madonna.
TV work has included Father Ted, Bugs and Sharpe. ‘The film work opens a
lot of doors with agents and actors,’ Hubbard says. ‘But you find most
of the fresh, exciting faces in commercials.’
So what qualities do you need to succeed in the casting business? ‘You
can’t be taught the gift,’ she says. ‘God gives you that. But you need a
good memory. Even if you can’t remember their names you need to remember
something about them. You also need an open mind - even if you hate an
actor, you bring them in because they are right for the part.’
Does that mean you need to bite your tongue a lot? ‘I try, but I never
succeed,’ Hubbard laughs.