Matthew Morgan is a casting director and owner of Morgan Casting, which has offices in Canton as well as New Orleans and Ontario, Canada. A native of Canton, he has over 20 years’ experience casting for feature films, TV series and commercials. He has worked on several notable Mississippi-based films, including “The Card Counter,” “Ma” and “As I Lay Dying.”
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I was born in McComb and grew up in Canton. I went to school all over: Mississippi State University, University of New Orleans, École Supérieure de Commerce in Grenoble, France and Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada.
At what moment did you discover an interest in working in Film/ TV?
My first movie experience was in 1996. I was working on the set of Joel Schumacher’s “A Time to Kill” in my hometown of Canton. Originally, my dream was to be an actor and to be on the big screen. But I soon realized that I liked being behind the scenes more than in front of the camera.
So, I guess you could say that I did make it onto the big screen, but just in a different capacity. I still love finding my name in the credits of many feature films I have cast. Albeit my true joy and fulfillment comes from helping others realize their dreams. That’s what keeps me going in this industry.
At what point did you realize you could take steps to pursue your dream from Mississippi?
I had been casting for over a decade in Canada before I realized that I could do what I love back in my home state. While in Toronto, I received a phone call from a New York-based producer, Caroline Aragon. She asked me to come down and cast for James Franco’s adaptation of the William Faulkner novel, “As I Lay Dying.” As fate would have it, the movie was filming in my hometown of Canton. I had come full circle, returning to work in the one place I was so ready to leave in my early 20s. I guess you could say that life works in wonderful and mysterious ways.
What type of training have you had and where?
Technically, I studied International Business and Foreign Languages. I have degrees in French, Spanish and International Management, having studied in the U.S., France, Canada and Spain over the years. Upon graduating from Mississippi State University, I accepted a great job with FedEx to work in their corporate offices in Ontario, Canada. Soon I started to get the itch to do something else – to follow my dreams to be a performer. As luck would have it, a top casting director in Toronto offered me a job as her assistant and trained me, eventually naming me a casting director with her company, Jigsaw Casting. After a few years, I opened up my own business, Morgan Casting, in Toronto. And after ten years I found myself opening more offices in Canton and New Orleans.
What was your first Film/TV job?
The first major motion picture I cast in the U.S. was “As I Lay Dying,” directed by James Franco. Many projects came before this, mostly commercial and advertising jobs. Some short films and a few independent features in Canada as well. I built my business initially on casting “real people” and eventually transitioned to casting actors. At this time, I still love diversifying myself as a casting director, casting many genres of work from print to TV to music videos and live events. I bring all those real people “street casting” skills to each actor heavy project on which I work, with a goal of outsourcing the very best person for the part, whether one is represented or not. I love taking chances on people yet to be seen, for that’s how you discover new talent!
Are you working on any current/recent projects?
In 2021 I worked on four projects in Natchez! The History Channel’s “Great Escapes with Morgan Freeman” series, plus a feature film titled “Rumble Through the Dark.” As well, I cast two holiday films in the “Little Easy”: “Every Time a Bell Rings” and “Christmas in the Quarter.” Of note, I also cast for “Paradise Highway,” starring Morgan Freeman and Juliette Binoche, which filmed in both Jackson and the Mississippi Delta. To kick off 2022, I am about to dive in to casting a feature film shooting in my hometown of Canton, “The Minute You Wake Up Dead.”
What has been the most surprising thing about working in the film industry?
I never realized how fast things move when I first started. I underestimated how quickly a two-hour film can take to physically shoot. Oftentimes, a few weeks and it’s a wrap. I am also surprised to see the films–often times loaded with huge Hollywood actors–that never make it to the big screen. It’s still a bit of a mystery to me. I just do my best work, take pride and hope for the best, working hard to build great relationships with loyal, repeat clients.
Who has been an influence on your career and why?
My parents have influenced me so much. They have contrasting styles of approaching problems and dealing with situations. I have learned so much from them both. I get my casting eye and gut instincts definitely from my mother. She calls it “just like I do” and has the best instincts when it comes to judging talent, singers, actors, etc. I often accompanied her to many a talent show, pageant, state fair competition and play when I was younger.
My dad has taught me patience and how to best deal calmly with situations at hand. He’s instilled in me the ability to think long term versus short term. Life is really just one big session, and with each failure we gain a wealth of knowledge. With each accomplishment we raise our own personal bar.
How does being a Mississippian help you stand out in our industry?
That is probably a question you should ask those around me. I simply do my best to be a great ambassador for the state. We have a panoply of incredible performers that come out of the Magnolia State. So many famous actors, authors, singers, musicians and athletes who have touched millions of people. Elvis, Oprah, Faith Hill, John Grisham, Sela Ward, Muddy Waters, Walter Payton and the list goes on and on. With Mississippi often being portrayed in a negative light by those who don’t know her well, I am proud to represent my state and show the world that Mississippi is strong and made up of smart and talented people who make a difference in this world and who embrace everyone with open arms.
If you could create a scene built around one location in Mississippi, where would that be and why?
Red Bluff. It’s an incredible location in our state that may blow some people away. It’s like our own “little Grand Canyon” location in Marion County. Oh, I’m sure I could cook up some incredible story that takes place in Red Bluff.
Favorite moment on set or with a project?
I think my favorite casting experience was with “Blue Bayou” director and writer, Justin Chon. We did several live casting sessions together in New Orleans. Justin made me feel so valued and as if I were a true collaborator in his creative process. Our many, live sessions together bring back such special memories, and on a project that had some of the most difficult casting requirements of any job in my career.
What would you say to convince/encourage a producer to bring their project to Mississippi?
I would tell them to have faith in us! I have worked on many films in the state and with many producers who have truly loved the experience. So much that they have come back again and again. Some returned three or four times! The communities in Mississippi are very hospitable and will go above and beyond to help. Things are more affordable in Mississippi than in other places in the U.S. We have a gorgeous state jammed packed with some super-diverse locations. Moreover, from a talent perspective, we have a brilliant pool of local actors who have surprised so many directors with their natural talents and genuine gifts. We have a talented crew base as well. Plus, you’ll definitely have some good eatin’ while you are stationed in the Magnolia State.
What do you do when you’re not working on a film set (other jobs, hobbies, etc.)?
I love to travel. I love to read foreign language books and sharpen my skills as I grow older. I also love vinyl records. I am always on the hunt for a great LP and love finding vinyl in each city I visit as a souvenir of my experiences there.
What are your hopes for the film industry in Misissippi?
I hope that the film industry continues to flourish, as it’s such a wonderful form of PR for our state. So many “foreigners” come down to Mississippi and fall in love with her, with her people, her food, her speech and her beauty. Faulkner said it best. “To understand the world, you must first understand Mississippi.” I’m not sure if that’s meant as a compliment or not, ha! But it’s a quote I do love. It is rich and deep in meaning in so many ways. We are quite different here. We do march to the beat of our own drum; but our hearts are big, and we are a gracious people.
What’s your advice for someone looking to break into the film business?
Go out for every opportunity possible. Always audition. With each audition, you get better and better. What you think just was the worst audition ever, probably was your worst. And it can only get better from there.
Work hard and remember to keep yourself motivated. Actors work in a very tough industry with so much rejection. Oftentimes, it’s not you at all. It’s some other crazy circumstance as to why you were not selected: the role was cut, the ethnicity changed, they truly needed a redhead, the role went to the investor’s son, etc. My best advice is to be the best version of you, to continue to learn and grow, and to try to remember to have fun along the way. Have faith that if it’s meant to be, it will be and shall happen. Finally, always believe in yourself. If you don’t believe you are the perfect person for the job, then how are you going to convince me?