VINTON–It would be hard to settle on one descriptor for Jerold Franks. Most of his adult life has been spent as “Casting Director Jerry Franks,” but he has also been teacher, counselor, theatrical agent, philanthropist, fundraiser, artistic director, script typist, and more.
Currently he is “author” Jerry Franks. His book is entitled “So You Wanna Be an Actor…Act Like One!” It is subtitled “Advice and Wisdom for Actors Tackling the Business of Show.”
He says aspiring actors of all ages are his target audience, but especially child actors and their parents. He hopes that the book will “diminish anxieties which up and coming actors might feel,” and save seasoned, child, or new actors from unnecessary stress.
His purpose is “not to tantalize anyone into becoming an actor but to help them visualize the realities of acting and what hardships they might face,” in becoming a professional. He says that acting is “one of toughest professions to enter, succeed and sustain.”
“I love actors and always have,” said Franks. “Actors are indeed a rare breed. A good actor has been groomed or has been blessed with a vivid imagination, taking risks in bringing a character to life.”
Franks has the credentials to back up the advice in his book. He has been responsible for over 80 different productions in his career, assigning roles to thousands and thousands of actors. His first solo casting work was for the Emmy Award-winning television series “Barney Miller.”
Franks held the position of Executive in charge of Talent and Casting at both Columbia Pictures Television and 20th Century Fox Studios. He also served as Artistic Director for the Long Beach Civic Light Opera. Through the years, Franks worked for virtually every network and studio in Hollywood and New York. He says that while he has always loved actors, he didn’t have the talent to act himself.
As for his book, he writes the way he talks, with passion and exuberance, with abundant anecdotes from his own life, and with great humor. But he is also dead serious about his topic.
The advice he gives to actors is the same advice he gives to any individual trying to achieve success in any profession–study, work hard, be professional, and have integrity. “Hard work always pays off in some form or the other.”
Franks says that acting is a business, just like any other career. Talent is necessary but without a solid work ethic the “gift” that an actor possesses might not count for much.
“There is no magic, no panacea, and no mystery to the business,” said Franks. “The profession of acting is just that—a profession.”
“Study, talent, tenacity, patience, and the ability to learn and to get your ego out of the way, some luck, or Karma, and a great deal of hard work are all needed for success,” he points out.
Study is a word he uses repeatedly throughout the book—if you want to succeed as an actor study actors, study TV, study film, take small roles—especially roles in theater and daytime dramas which offer extraordinary training. Soap operas give actors the chance to learn and perform a new play every day and to create larger-than-life emotions while gaining exposure to a vast audience.
In his writing, Franks shares stories about celebrities he has known—and not just superficially—and some he advised.
He met George Clooney when Clooney was starting out and seemingly doomed to hex every pilot he was involved with into oblivion until “ER” came along.
When Franks met Leonardo DiCaprio, who was still going on casting calls with his father, he recognized him immediately as one of the “anointed” ones who would go on to become a star.
He tells parents of aspiring actors, to make sure the dream is the child’s, not theirs, and that acting is hard on the child and family, with many pressures.
When his twin sister wanted his nephew to become an actor; he told her she was “crazy.” The child took roles as an extra and then had a one-liner on a show, hated it, and went on to become computer whiz.
“Don’t live vicariously through your child,” said Franks. “Is it what you want for your child or what you want for yourself?”
He always insists that those who want to become professional actors get a college degree or training in something they enjoy.
He advised John F. Kennedy, Jr., who wanted to become an actor, to have a backup plan—which delighted Jacqueline Onassis who wanted her son to study law. Friend Mark Harmon of NCIS is an example of a man with another career option—he isn’t just pretending to build boats on the show, he is an accomplished carpenter.
Franks says an actor should keep a photo headshot, a videotape, and a resume on hand at all times. Much of today’s auditioning and casting is done via the Internet, unlike past days spent sitting in casting directors’ offices.
Franks describes himself as a “very lucky man”. He grew up in a small town in New Jersey and then moved to California where he earned his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. in psychology from California State University. When he left his studies in psychology to go into “show biz,” his parents were not happy with his choice at first but became totally supportive in time. That’s another reality Franks warns aspiring actors to prepare to face—discouragement and disapproval from their families.
He also reminds actors that you can earn a living as an actor without being a “star.”
He warns actors not to fall victim to shysters ready to take advantage of them and their money—to protect themselves against entertainment industry scams.
Franks’ life has had many twists and turns. During one of the early Special Olympics at UCLA, Franks met Ethel Kennedy, which ultimately led to friendships with Presidents Ford, Reagan, Carter, and Clinton. He also served as a speechwriter for all four Presidents and their First Ladies.
He came to Roanoke on a visit to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 and decided to make it home. Decades ago he and his wife helped a close friend relocate to the area and thought this would be the perfect place to retire.
For the past ten years or so in quasi-retirement, he has been working as a substitute teacher in the Roanoke County Schools at Cave Spring and William Byrd—and often with special education classes. He does occasional casting work, preferably with faith-based films.
While Franks views his life as blessed, he has also endured tremendous heartbreak with the deaths of his wife and only son in an automobile accident in 1975 at the hands of a drunk and drugged teenager. Last year he lost his beloved brother to illness.
Proceeds from sales of his book through the end of the year are going to Alison Parker scholarship funds. He has known slain WDBJ reporter Parker and her fiancé Chris Hurst, as friends and neighbors.
Franks’ book is available online at www.askthecastingdirector.com and from Amazon.com. He also conducts seminars and workshops on how to become a working actor.