They say that casting is 80% of directing, and I couldn’t agree more. For The Last Hit, we had to find two actors to tell a story with virtually no dialogue. Everything had to be told through their actions and expressions.
For the Hit Man character we had several actors audition, and because they were so different from one another, we would have had a much different movie depending on who we cast. Daniel Berkey made quite an impression when he read the role. I really liked his look. One look at him and we can see a character. He has a face that tells a story which is exactly what we needed for this role.
Casting the role of Anna was difficult. We needed someone who could be sympathetic without having a lot of time on screen. She has no dialogue whatsoever, so we needed someone who could communicate using only her physicality. Molly Grace Byrnes is not only beautiful, but she has a dance background and can express herself with movement. This also helped in the climatic scene when she had to fend off her attacker.
The Last Hit was made using just four rolls (100 feet) of 16mm film which gave us only 11 minutes of film stock. Because we had so little to work with, most of the setups were shot in one or two takes. We rehearsed each scene several times, set the performance, and then got the take. Because both Molly and Dan have theater training, they were able to use the rehearsal to perfect their performances.
Different actors have different ways of finding a character, so you’ll have to find what works for your cast. Talk to your actors about their backgrounds. Ask them about their experiences working with different directors. What did those directors say and do that helped or hurt them? All of these things will help you work with your actors to get the best performances.