Uncommon Pursuits: Mia Cusumano
By Diana McClure
Uncommon Pursuits is a series about alumni whose careers took them off the beaten path.
According to freelance casting director Mia Cusumano, Fashion Merchandising Management, confidence equals currency inside an intimate, unadorned audition room. “All I want to do is make an actor feel safe,” she says. “If they trust you, they trust themselves.”
In a sparse environment, usually furnished with just a table and three chairs, Cusumano and her casting partner, Meghan Rafferty, also serve as acting coach and director. The three work together to bring the scene to life. A typical session has Rafferty behind the camera and Cusumano reading with the actor. The duo shape a take until tone and nuance are perfect, revealing the performer’s capacity to convey a visceral understanding of the role. Their most memorable audition was for the ABC series Body of Proof. Molly Price, known for her role as Faith Yokas in the NBC drama Third Watch, was trying out for the role of a mother whose son may have been responsible for her husband’s death. Even without props or a supporting cast, she portrayed the depth and protective fierceness of a mother’s love, embodying pain, angst, and hot fear. She nailed it in one take. “There was something so beautifully raw and broken in her that the two of us were left weeping,” Cusumano says. Price got the part. Cusumano got her start in the industry through an FIT internship at ABC. Several years later, the network hired her for a temporary assignment. The three-month gig turned into 15 months of learning the nuts and bolts of the trade. She works for production companies, directors, networks, and studios. She sources talent from a cache of files on past auditions and by posting online to Breakdown Services, a website where agents and managers are alerted to new projects. Paterson, the Phil Spector biopic, and The Leftovers top Cusumano’s list of high-profile projects. With films like these, directors and producers wrangle the stars (Adam Driver, Al Pacino and Helen Mirren, and Ann Dowd, respectively), based on lists of recommendations from the casting director, who then casts the remaining roles. With actors at any level, however, the audition process is immensely rewarding. “It’s wonderful, actually,” she says. “I see up-and-comers. I’m the one who gets the most raw performance from an actor.”