'Star Wars,' 'Game of Thrones' Casting Director on Finding Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Emilia Clarke

Nina Gold - H 2016
Credit: BAFTA

Nina Gold will receive a special BAFTA award at Sunday's TV craft awards, the first time a casting director will receive the honor.

For the first time in its history, BAFTA will on Sunday use its annual Television Craft Awards to present a special honor to a casting director.

Anyone inspecting Nina Gold's list of credentials will understand why.

Over a career spanning almost two decades, the Brit has worked on more than 100 film and TV productions including Game of Thrones, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, The King's Speech, Paddington and the biggest film of the decade, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, on the way helping unearth some of the most exciting talent working today.

Underlining her skills, Gold cast the BBC's acclaimed Wolf Hall, which has been nominated for six awards at the craft awards and four at next month's BAFTA TV awards, including one for Mark Rylance.

Ahead of her receiving the BAFTA's special award, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Gold about finding Rey and Finn, the ongoing British diversity debate and having every agent around desperate for her number.

The list of films and TV shows you’ve worked on seems like a roll call of every major production to have been made in the U.K. over the past few years.

Ha, not quite! But I have been very busy. I need a holiday.

You must have agents desperate to introduce you to their clients.

Yeah, that’s an occupational hazard.

You’ve had quite a focus on putting new faces in major roles. How do you go about that and avoid using the same tried and tested names?

That’s the really fun bit. But the broadcasters have to first let you do it.

Is that a battle?

Sometimes they can really have an appetite for it. In Star Wars, for instance, for [Daisy Ridley and John Boyega], we certainly didn’t want people who had been in other franchises. I guess they had enough star power with Harrison Ford and the whole thing anyway. There really was this appetite for finding the most exciting person, and if they were brand new, that was only a good thing.

It must be great to see that everyone now loves both Daisy and John and they’ve instantly become household names.

I know, it’s wild!

How did you go about finding them? Were you involved from the start?

I had cast John before, when he was 18, in Attack the Block. Finding him then took months and months meeting teenagers, not even necessarily professional actors, but young kids who wanted to act and from all sorts of drama groups and other weird and wonderful ways of finding them. John actually had a job, a part in a play at London’s Tricycle Theater, and I saw him in that and it started from there. Daisy was working in a bar, but also acting. We did see gazillions of people for both roles. But her agent sent her in, and she was really good. She straight away struck a chord and seemed to have the right feel from the first moment, which is unusual.

Both seem set for life now. Obviously they're both signed up for the the next two Star Wars installments, but there’s now talk of Daisy going off to the Tomb Raider reboot.

I hadn’t heard that! But yes, the world is their oyster.

A major blockbuster having a female and a black lead is something you don’t often see. Was that something that you helped push?

It’s unheard of! But they had written a male and female character. Daisy’s was a great female character, which was good. But I think in the casting department, and very much [director] J.J. [Abrams] and [producer] Kathy Kennedy, they were incredibly aware that they didn’t want to make a film without a black character in one of the major parts — that would be a weird way to look at casting a film and a strange approach in 2014. While it was "Let's cast the most amazing, most right person for this part," nobody was saying, "He’s got to be black and she’s got to be white." It was a general awareness that we didn’t want to ignore the reality of the modern world — even though it’s not even the modern world, it’s a galaxy far, far away! But you know what I mean.

Are there any other names you’re particularly proud of having helped discover who have gone on to great things?

I think the young leads of Game of Thrones like Emilia [Clarke] and Kit [Harington] and Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner — and Richard Madden when he was in it. I think they’re all really wonderful. I think a lot of people in Game of Thrones in fact, those people had not really had a job before, or barely. Credit to them, rather than me, they took those parts and really developed and grew. The medium really gives them a chance to explore their character and develop their potential, and they did and they’ve really grown and shown us what they can do, which is pretty amazing.

On the diversity issue, there’s been a lot of debate recently over the issue that British TV is not as diverse as it should be, at least when you compare it to the U.S. What's your take on the matter?

Compared to America, we have a lot more period stuff, and that’s a lot more complicated for diverse casting. It would be making some sort of statement that might not be historically accurate, I guess. I guess that’s part of British TV’s excuse.

The likes of Idris Elba and David Harewood have both talked of a glass ceiling in the U.K. and suggested that they had to move to the U.S. to get major parts before they would be noticed for lead roles on British TV. Do you think this is slowly changing?

I think there’s definitely more of an appetite to actively make it change, and that has developed quite recently. People have started to sit up and think about it. I guess it’s the writing of the roles. And in America the whole of life is more diverse than it is here, isn’t it, apart from London.

Are you seeing more diverse faces to choose from and more opportunities for diverse talent?

Yes, it’s definitely starting to improve. Certainly with young actors. But I think over a certain age there definitely used to be no roles for older actors. There were very limited opportunities, so as a result there are not as many actors. But now, with the younger actors and actresses coming forward, there are more options. Obviously, what we’re always looking for in casting are options and choices.