Austria still needs to stamp its identity on supporting roles in international film and TV productions. One Brit in town has a mission to help things along
My relocation from London to Vienna in 2012 was a no-brainer. The tools of my trade were no more than a phone and an internet connection; I simply asked my office to patch calls through on my UK cellphone so I was reachable anywhere in the world.
I am an actors’ agent, still theoretically headquartered in London where the bulk of my business takes place. But what would living in Vienna open up for me? I admit, it took a while, as London kept me busy enough and Vienna provided a pleasant respite from the relentless energy of Britain’s capital to which I still return several times a year.
Let’s keep it simple, I thought: London for business and Vienna – with its renowned reputation for a top quality of life – for R&R.
Social animal that I am, and knowing full well that the film and television industry tends to blur business and social boundaries, it didn’t take long before I was signing up Vienna-based talent through my London agency. With so many roles in international productions cast in London, this would be good for everyone, right? My agency already represented a few actors in Berlin, so it seemed a natural step to take on a few more in Vienna.
As a new boy in town I got to sign up some great actors here – Katharina Stemberger, Jeff Ricketts, David Wurawa, Susanne Gschwendtner and Peter Windhofer – but for English-speaking roles. I’ve also recently taken on British actor Ben Cross (of Chariots of Fire fame) formerly of Vienna and now living in Sofia, Bulgaria. Though I spoke little German at first, Vienna offered me the chance to wear more than one hat – something I’ve always enjoyed.
Then, towards the end of 2014, I took a call from Fashion TV in Vienna that was looking for an international cast for their first feature film, Exodus to Shanghai. Calling through my London office, little did they know I was just a few blocks away, across from Karlsplatz.
The heart of the continent
They brought me on board and flew me to Vilnius, Lithuania to look at locations (a 90-minute flight) before finally filming in Bucharest, Romania (a 75-minute flight). This was when I realized that Vienna was less than two hours away from anywhere in Europe – a perfect location for my pan-European plans.
New projects are now coming my way, including a feature film project with the Viennese producer Norbert Blecha, filming in Austria, France and China – as well as a German-language arthouse movie due to film in the Austrian Alps next year. I’m even assisting in the development of a new TV series that plans to shoot in Vienna – and probably in English.
With the world of casting opening up to me, this became my thing. In the UK, casting is now very much an online process with 50 to 100 casting breakdowns coming our way daily, mainly via Spotlight, the casting service that has dominated the industry since 1927. Even TV commercials for Austrian household brands like Billa come our way via the London office.
But here in Vienna, it’s a smaller world: Everyone knows everyone, and the agent community here – with whom I have still not fully engaged – is very much tied to the theatrical scene, and producers work mostly with known talent. But with film and TV changing dramatically, driven by the content-hungry online platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, this is a watershed moment for casting directors in mainland Europe.
Despite the growth of English-language productions in Austria, however, I shall continue to strive to get Austrian actors cast in Austrian roles – that is, not German actors. My Austrian partner (the reason I’m here) is always on hand to help me identify German actors in Austrian roles, especially in major U.S. studio movies.
My ultimately fruitless attempt to help place Austrian talent in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, partly cast in London, has only made me more determined. Another recent disappointment was the casting of German actors as key Austrian characters in Woman in Gold.
There are exceptions – for example with Germany’s Daniel Brühl’s brilliant and authentic portrayal of Niki Lauda in Rush, and Vienna-born Christoph Waltz as a rare example of an Austrian actor playing German characters.
But there is still more that can be done. Austria needs to convince more international casting directors that there is a different accent and a different sensibility in this country. The “German is German” mentality need not prevail.