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“Was My Tape Fake?”: The Question Panicked British Actors Are Asking Casting Directors About Audition Invites — And Why It Matters

EXCLUSIVE: “Quite a can of worms,” observed a British casting director of a scandal that, until February, was unknown to his profession. The 30-year industry veteran was talking about the practice of agents sending clients fake invitations to record self-tape auditions.

Deadline first exposed the issue in an investigation on Bodhi Talent, a boutique agency based in Manchester. Founder Archie Purnell was accused of copying legitimate self-tape invites and pasting them in emails to clients who had not been called to audition. One actor rumbled the ruse when an audition landed in her inbox 30 minutes after the deadline for submissions had passed.

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Twisting open the Bodhi-shaped Russian doll revealed similar concerns about a larger agency: International Artists Management (IAM). The London-based company claims to have 400 clients on its books and is run by Luc Chaudhary, a reported millionaire once engaged to Silent Witness star Emilia Fox.

IAM went further than Bodhi in misrepresenting audition requests. The agency forwarded clients emails in which casting directors purportedly declared their wish to see actors for auditions. In reality, the casting directors had made no such request. They did not write the words in the forwarded emails.

Outlander actor Mark Barrett was the first to blow the whistle on IAM’s practice in an emotional interview with Deadline. The auditions provided a ray of hope in his life during the dark days of his father’s decline due to Huntington’s disease. He later found that his hope was misplaced and countless days of work recording the auditions was for nothing. Some tapes disappeared into a digital black hole after IAM failed to pass them on to casting, despite saying it had done so.

Mark Barrett
Mark Barrett

This was not a story about a single client. Since publication, Vix Anderson-Cross, a former IAM insider, has gone on record to declare that the agency was sending out misrepresented tapes to actors on an “industrial scale.”

Other clients have also spoken out. Bianca Sowerby, a Coronation Street actress, says she was “devastated” to learn that she had been filming illegitimate tapes when pregnant. “This must be horrible news for you to hear and I am sorry to have to deliver it,” she was told by one BAFTA-winning casting director.

Barrett and Sowerby politely and diligently asked casting directors: was my tape fake? The same question is now being posed by suspicious actors repped by other agents. Contacting casting directors in this way is unorthodox. It transgresses unwritten rules about how information is shared between the triangle of a casting director, agent, and actor. But in posing such a simple question, the actors were in pursuit of a more significant truth: can I trust my agent?

IAM argued they could. Through Carter-Ruck, one of London’s best-known media law firms, the agency explained that it was attempting to secure maximum exposure for actors by presenting them with opportunities to open locked doors without a key. Put simply, IAM said the strategy was in its clients’ best interests.

Others have taken a different view. Equity general secretary Paul Fleming asked: if IAM was acting with noble intentions, why not be open with clients about its process? Had Barrett known he was recording unsolicited tapes, he would not feel aggrieved at what had taken place. There would be no story.

The Personal Managers’ Association (PMA), the professional body for top UK agencies including UTA-owned Curtis Brown and Independent Talent, booted IAM out of its club within hours of the story breaking. Its statement referenced the cornerstones of “honesty and integrity” that bind actors with their reps.

The Casting Directors Association (CDA) put it like this: “Actors should never be misled into thinking they have been requested to tape by a casting director. To do so destroys the chain of trust between casting director, agent and actor which is the core of our industry.”

So why do it? Bodhi was accused of sending fake audition invites to keep unsettled clients happy by giving them the false impression that it was generating leads. Former clients spoke of auditions magically appearing in their inboxes after raising concerns about a lack of work.

Luc Chaudhary, founder of International Artists Management.
Luc Chaudhary, founder of International Artists Management.

IAM faced similar allegations, but has been at pains to point out its good intentions and that it has not benefited financially from the practice. Sources say Chaudhary has been on a charm offensive with clients in recent days, inviting people for champagne lunches, as well as explaining IAM’s position and plans to update its processes.

Some IAM sympathizers have conflated phantom audition invites with unsolicited tapes, which for good or ill, are just a part of the business. They can occasionally lead to actors booking a role and some casting directors quietly welcome such advances for serendipitous reasons.

This may go some way to explaining the reticence among certain casting directors to condemn fake audition invites. The CDA’s full-throated statement to one side, some casting directors have ghosted Deadline’s requests for comment. One veteran pleaded not to be named in an article, despite publicly tweeting straightforward advice to actors about how to avoid falling into the fake-tape trap.

The Casting Directors Guild (CDG) has declined to comment on the whole affair, despite being responsible for drawing up 2021 industry guidelines about self-tape auditions alongside Equity and the PMA. In an email to the CDG, Deadline said the guild’s silence could be interpreted as it being relaxed about the words of its members being twisted to mislead actors. The organization did not reply.

One casting director, who wished to remain anonymous, says the profession is a precarious business. Most “CDs” are freelancers vying for film and TV contracts, he says. The source adds that casting professionals also want access to as wide a pool of talent as possible, meaning it is not in their interests to call out agents.

The CDG’s position suggests that current self-tape guidelines are not about to be changed to protect actors. Equity chief Fleming adds that the guidelines were drawn up on the assumption that agents uphold best practice and it would be “absurd” to include rules about not defrauding or lying to actors.

Still, some casting directors have made suggestions on tightening processes, including sending audition invites on PDFs, with a clear way for actors to verify the authenticity of the request. Spotlight, the directory that has commodified the casting process in Europe, is said to be looking at tightening procedures to weed out phantom audition requests.

Alexa Morden
Alexa Morden

Alexa Morden, an actress who runs The 98% podcast, which has become an influential voice for below-the-line performers, says guidelines must be updated for the benefit of all those in the casting chain. “I have gone from never in my 10+ year career even considering an agent could lie about an actor being asked to audition, to being told of multiple agents and agencies exhibiting this behaviour. It’s distressing,” she says.

Morden pointed to North American casting platforms, which house audition notices, requests, and self-tape uploads, bringing transparency to the process. “The pandemic made self tapes the go-to audition practice and there are many pros. But the cons have damaging and dangerous ripple effects that need to be acknowledged and prevented,” she adds.

While actors have not suffered financial losses in recording unrequested tapes, they tell Deadline of feeling emotionally robbed. Each tape represented a shot at work or a big break. Actors had to learn lines, accents, and embody characters for the auditions. Sometimes, they received scripts that should have been confidential. For it all to be for nothing feels galling, the actors say. The sacred bond of trust with their agents was tarnished.

The can of worms is open. Those affected hope it will be enough to end the fake tape scandal as quickly as it started.

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