Casting director Kahleen Crawford is frustrated by the lack of confidence in UK actors among some UK producers, she tells Patricia Dobson.
If working with Des Hamilton, whose most recent acting discovery was This Is England's much-praised Thomas Turgoose, taught Kahleen Crawford anything, it was to keep an open mind. 'I learnt not to do anything too conventionally,' says the Scottish casting director.
'I look all over, but I'm open to everything. Even if you go down the more conventional route, you can find new faces.'
That was exactly how she found Kierston Wareing, the star of Ken Loach's forthcoming film It's A Free World. Crawford, who branched out on her own in 2006 after five years of working with Hamilton on films including Greene Street and Hallam Foe, saw Wareing for a smaller part on the suggestion of her agent, Elaine Murphy.
But, Crawford recalls, 'the minute Kierston walked through the door, we knew we had our lead. It's always a risk with newcomers but Kierston had some training, has her head screwed on, she really wanted the part and there was a focus about her that Ken liked. It's a lot about instinct when it comes to newcomers.'
Loach is one of the few directors working today who forgoes big names in favour of the less well known, something casting directors rarely enjoy, even if they are working on low-budget films made outside the US studio system.
'There are different pressures with independent films,' says Crawford. 'If you don't get the cast, the financiers can pull their money.'
When it comes to nurturing a new generation of UK actors, Crawford is not always optimistic. 'Financiers (need to be more) willing to take a risk and not just go for the usual names or someone from the gossip magazines.
'But I can understand the pressure - you need to put bums on seats and at the moment James McAvoy does that.'
Crawford is also frustrated by the lack of confidence in British actors on the part of some producers, who ship in one or two big US names instead of going with talented British newcomers. 'We'll never be in a position to create stars if we keep taking the easy option,' she says.
Crawford's next projects are the second film in the 'Advance Party' trilogy (after Andrea Arnold's Red Road), Morag McKinnon's Brian, which will feature many of the Red Road cast; and Pocketwatch Films' project about the self-taught opera singer Helen Stanley.
'There are a lot of young characters so it's a great opportunity for young British actors,' she notes. 'We'll have to go for a bigger name for the lead but I hope we don't compromise too much. You want to avoid an unbalanced cast.'