One-on-One with Jeff Olan, Casting Director
Casting Director JEFF OLAN has immersed himself in the entertainment industry for the last few decades. His company, Jeff Olan Casting is one of the leading independent casting agencies in the business. After graduating from the original Second City in Chicago, he spent two years as a night time disc jockey in his home state of Indiana. After relocating to Los Angeles he became a popular on-air radio personality here on K-EARTH 101 FM. He moved on to acting in soaps including ‘Days of our Lives’ and ‘Capitol’, hit TV shows such as ‘The Facts of Life’ and films including Best of the Best 2 and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Olan created, co-produced and wrote the syndicated TV show ‘Caught in the Act’ then produced the feature film Holy Hollywood starring Mickey Rooney. His interests swayed toward behind-the-scenes Hollywood and after working his way up the ladder he was finally able to have his own successful casting firm of which he currently runs with his staff. Olan is also working on putting together a new radio show with KROQ’s Poor Man and Jeff Davis (the voice of WLS in Chicago), and in the midst of writing a book from his unique prospective about the entertainment industry that will be released next year.
He was kind enough to sit down with The Tolucan Times at his casting offices in Sherman Oaks for this interview.
What was it like working with Johnny Depp?
Nightmare on Elm Street was my first acting job; I played a cop. I worked with him and John Saxon; I drove the police car up and down Hollywood Boulevard at speeds that were unbelievable – they didn’t use stunt people at that time. Johnny was just a kid, such a nice guy the way you see him now, very soft-spoken. I had no idea he would be such a big star.
Sitting at Johnny Carson’s desk on the last day of ‘The Tonight Show’ was a highlight for you.
I had a role on ‘Days‘, which was shot at NBC Burbank where ‘The Tonight Show’ was. A fellow actor knew the prop guy for the show so we got to go to the set. The desk, chair and couch were covered with white sheets; the studio was empty. I was asked if I wanted to sit at Carson’s desk, the sheet was lifted and I sat down. Carson did that last show from his stool so I may have been the last person to sit in his seat! Now it is at The Smithsonian.
How did you get into casting?
I started out on sets when I first moved out here in 1982 to be an actor from Indiana. I was doing some extra work and I went to my casting director at the time, Sally Pearl, who did West Side Story and the King Kong remake, and asked her if I could start working in her office. She hired me as an on-set casting coordinator for films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I made a lot of connections and after a number of years I partnered with another of her employees. We decided to open up our own company, Rainbow Casting. We did Pulp Fiction and From Dusk Til Dawn; we worked with Quentin Tarantino quite a bit. We also did ‘My So Called Live’ with Claire Danes. After making Holy Hollywood [my partner] decided he didn’t really want to do casting anymore. 12 years ago I started Jeff Olan Casting.
What is the difference between when you opened JOC over a decade ago to now?
Up to 2009 it had really flourished, but there are no tax incentives offering productions to shoot here so it’s kind of slow right now. There is a bill on Governor Brown’s desk that I believe is a huge tax incentive bill to keep production in California. 2013 was one of the slowest years in the entertainment industry for Hollywood. Many people in the business are just moving elsewhere because there is no reason to stay here in L.A. Canada and other states here in the U.S. are giving those big tax breaks.
You had a major role in the film Strictly Background.
That documentary was made up of ten background extras trying to make it as actors. The producers of the film came to me to get more information. They set up their cameras in my office, let me talk for three hours and the next thing I knew they informed me that I’m a co-star in the movie; the voice of reason. It won several awards at various film festivals.
You’re quoted as saying, ‘If you want to make it you have to dedicate two hours a day to your craft.’ What does that entail?
Having a great attitude is first and foremost; reading books, studying people, going to the movies and watching actors, learning a monologue, a dialogue with a friend, spicing up your wardrobe and watching people interact at places like malls. Really good actors research their role; look at Jared Leto and what he did in Dallas Buyers Club. Take two hours a day learning vs. going to the beach or sleeping all day or talking on the phone about drama. It needs to be part of your daily regimen, six days a week.
What is JOC doing now?
We have been very blessed because of the relationships I have built over the years. I have people calling for not only background, but for day player and even principle actors. ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ is going into its 11th season; we’re doing a couple TV pilots and just got Dumb and Dumber To with the original franchise including Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Kathleen Turner is in it too. We are working with Jason Blum and Blumhouse Productions which is doing a lot of independent films. I am really optimistic that Hollywood is going to have a fantastic summer.
How can production companies get ahold of you for casting?
(818) 285 5460 and visit jeffolancasting.com.
(818) 377 4475 or they can visit our website to find out when our open calls are. We take union and non-union. I meet everyone in person because I need to place good, professional people on set. That is why production companies come back to us time and time again.