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Top Casting Directors for Films of 2007

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In selecting the Top Casting Directors for the Films of 2007, Ross Reports took into account both critically-acclaimed and popular films. We considered casts, genres, and challenges that each film presented. Although we made mention of select films, the following casting directors have been chosen for films released in 2007. The list includes both individuals and partners, film casting directors of dramas, comedies, adventures, studio releases, science fiction and everything in between. Wherever possible, we have included some of their thoughts on the casting process, experience with the films they've worked on, the challenges in casting various roles, and what they look for when auditioning actors.

Deborah Aquila

Mary Tricia Wood (Los Angeles)

Critical Pick: The Mist

Select Past Projects: House of Sand and Fog, The Shawshank Redemption,

Runaway Jury, Taking Lives

Upcoming Projects: Twilight, The Time Traveler's Wife

Deborah Aquila and Mary Tricia Wood continue to do outstanding work. Recognized for their ability to bring characters to life, the two first appeared in Ross Reports Top 20 list in 2003. At the time they were honored for their work on House of Sand and Fog, for which they were nominated for an Artios award. In 2006, they were nominated again, with Jennifer L. Smith, for the independent film The Dead Girl. Last year, Deborah, Tricia, Jennifer, and Julie Tucker and Lori Wyman all shared a Best Dramatic Pilot Casting Artios nomination the premiere episode of Showtime's Dexter.

Deborah, who was interviewed in 2004, got her start in the business as an actor at NYU and studied with Stella Adler. After going to grad school for theatre and film, she eventually landed in advertising production casting commercials. She left when her acting teacher referred her to casting director Bonnie Timmerman, who became her mentor.

For her, preparation is the key to a successful audition: "It's preparation and making sure that you've read the script and done your homework. Even if you think it's a small role and you think it's inconsequential, I don't. My best advice to actors is to read the entire script."

Editor's Note: Deborah Aquila and Mary Tricia Wood could not be reached for an interview. Information for this story was gathered from Ross Reports and IMDB.com.

Deirdre Bowen and Nina Gold (U.K.)

Critical Pick: Eastern Promises

Ed. Note: Nina Gold is a London-based casting director whose credits include Beowulf (with Ronna Kress), The Good Night, Mr. Bean's Vacation (with Juliette Menager), Amazing Grace, Vera Drake, and Topsy-Turvy. According to IMDb.com, she has eight films scheduled for release in 2008.

Previous Credits: A History of Violence, Silent Hill, Shoot 'Em Up, Tideland, The Red Violin

Coming Attractions: Blindness, Outlander

RR: How did you get started in casting?

Deirdre Bowen: I was an apprentice. I began working as a casting assistant at the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) in 1974. The CBC is the equivalent, really, of the BBC in England, in that we actually did hands-on casting. The whole entity has changed now, but at that time it was sort of a center for Canadian production. I was very fortunate. I was taken on as an apprentice, so I was a casting assistant for about three years, and then I became a casting director there for about three years. In 1980 I joined another casting director named Clare Walker, we set up a company, and I've been casting features since then.

RR: What was the company you started?

DB: It was called Walker-Bowen, Inc., so it was just both our names. She gave up the business — or went on an extended hiatus for a couple years — in '83, and I just kept on. And that's when I began working with David Cronenberg. My first film with him was Videodrome. David has his creative family whom he has worked with on nearly all of his films: Carol Spier, who was his production designer on Eastern Promises; Ronald Sanders, his editor; a lot of the supporting cast; the set decorators; and Howard Shore, who writes the scores.

Most people get started in casting by having an interest in acting, an interest in film and theater, etc., but the actual skills are learned assisting somebody else.

RR: What are the most enjoyable aspects of casting?

DB: Probably collaborating with the producers, directors. That's when it really works well. And in the course of that, what happens is the discovery of new talent or giving performers the opportunities to reinvent themselves. It's particularly ego gratifying when people go, "Oh. I had no idea that they could do that!" A good example of that would be when I was casting Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. Colm Feore was a star of stage, and he'd done a couple of films that hadn't worked as well. Then suddenly, in this particular film, it was the perfect match of performer with director (Francois Girard). Also, Colm sort of became Glenn Gould. To this day he looks back on that film as his breakthrough film when suddenly the rest of the world went, "Wow. Your talent really works in the cinema, doesn't it?" And he hasn't looked back.

And then there's always that thing, too, of when you search and search and search and you have to find new, young talent. That's always when you find the fresh new faces. I was casting Tideland with Terry Gilliam, and there's a little girl at the center of it; we saw so many kids, but we finally found Jodelle Ferland, who had quite a resume for somebody who was 10-years-old! It was just a delight to find her and to watch her rise to the challenge of this part. It was very, very gratifying.

RR: What are some of the challenges of casting?

DB: Well, in a weird way it's that what is the most gratifying is also the most anxious-making, which is trying to give the director what he wants. The most challenging and difficult thing is trying to figure out exactly what the director's vision is. There's always that enormous anxiety at the beginning of, "Did I read the script right? Did I have the right idea here?"

And then its also presenting performers who excite the director because, you know, we're all spoiled by seeing wonderful films in the cinema where we just assume that there is this gold standard of good acting, but there's not. I mean, tastes vary enormously. One director will really like a certain kind of acting, and the next director will turn and say, "Well, they can't act." My job is to satisfy their needs and taste, and so it's trying to figure out what that is. Where it becomes really sticky is when the creative team — the decision-making team — are all making a different movie. The distributors they think that they're buying an edgy horror film and the director thinks he's making a soft romantic movie. Yes, we start with a script, but obviously everybody has a different idea about it. Where that becomes real, where it suddenly has flesh in the form of the actors put in front of you, is in the casting process. Sometimes, when we're having a problem reaching a consensus on someone, usually that's when the light bulb goes on. And I go, "But just hang on. Both of you have a different idea of what this scene should be. Could we get back?" Then I can find the right actor.

It's also that the most difficult thing in the world is to say yes. It's real easy to say no. It's very difficult to get people to commit. In the creative process, once you commit to a performer then suddenly that's your first step on making this film, and it's a very anxious-making moment. The difficulty can be in dealing with the distributors, or it can be the producers, it can be the director, etc., but there are all kinds of anxieties that go into getting a decision made. Sometimes getting over that hurdle can be quite a challenge.

RR: And that first person, or first couple of people, you cast will set the tone...

DB: Absolutely. Absolutely.

RR: ...for the rest of the cast — especially if you're casting a spouse or a child, correct?

DB: True. But it goes beyond even the leads. Some people just have a tough time saying yes.

RR: Does the film industry in Canada overlook, or undervalue, the importance of casting directors as part of the creative process?

DB: Oh, I think so. It's also because the job varies from film to film. There are certain films I look at, and I think yeah, I did a good job, but I don't consider it my movie, I don't have my stamp on it. There are some films where you're almost like a traffic cop: You're just bringing in faces, and then the decision is made outside of you. But there are other films that I could absolutely say that I'm a major player in the film.

If the film doesn't work, usually then the casting director's held responsible for it, but if the film really, really does work, it's amazing the number of people that say, "Oh, yes. I thought of that person. Isn't that great?" And maybe it's very much a collaborative job, where the suggestion will come from the oddest places. Someone will say, "Well, has anybody thought of so-and-so?" and the casting director is the person that goes, "Aha! Great idea!" and runs with it and makes it work. But in certain cases it's the producer who runs with it, and there are a number of directors who feel that they can do it themselves — and they like to do it themselves. There are a couple of famous directors I've heard of who just literally want to see the world. They ponder it and ponder it, then they pull it together in their heads. The casting director is simply there to just make those initial introductions. So it's naturally frustrating with stuff like that because we all of us want credit. But it's much better now that it was. I mean, now we're getting billing!

RR: How do you go about selecting the projects that you work on?

DB: First and foremost there's loyalty to people like David Cronenberg (director, Eastern Promises) and Niv Fichman (producer, Blindness, Thirty Two Films..., The Red Violin). If they ring me up, obviously I'm going to read the script. The other thing, of course, is one's own availability. I'm a focus person; I hate having to multi-task, so I really like, as much as possible, to work on one thing at a time. There are casting shops out there with multiple casting directors and they all work together, but that's just not how I work.

I mostly do independent films, so where it becomes a challenge sometimes is when a smaller movie comes along where the financing is uncertain. There are always two or three films that I really like to support and work on, but at the same time I want to make sure that before we approach the agents, etc., that it's a real movie.

I'm fortunate in that I have pretty steady work, so mostly it has to do with loyalty, availability, and then if it's a film that I think that I'd like to go and see. There's also the fact that I know which movies I do best and which I don't think I do as well. I was approached to do a film about young dancers in the ghetto, and I just said to them I didn't think I was the right person for that film. So they hired a woman who knows all about dancers and she did an amazing job. I was very flattered that they would approach me, but it was not the right film for me to do.

RR: What kinds of films do you feel are your specialty?

DB: Dramas, I think, with perhaps a little twist. I do like slightly unusual stories. I love thrillers; I love it when you have to figure out clever ways to tell your story. And I like political films.

RR: When you're watching a film that's been cast by somebody else, what, if anything, do you specifically look for?

DB: I really love subtle acting, and strong, interesting faces that draw me in. If I'm to judge a casting director's work, I'm not looking necessarily at the leads, because casting of leads is so much a group thing. It has to do with availability, affordability, all kinds of different relationships, and even the director doesn't necessarily get that strong of a say. It's always an amazement that anything gets cast because there are so many elements that go into casting those roles.

The biggest challenge for a casting director is the tiny parts — to cast them really well. It's that attention to detail where so many people give up. And it will show in a film! I like a film where there's careful work from the largest parts to the smallest, and it shows.

RR: What was your overall experience in casting Eastern Promises, which obviously presented several challenges?

DB: Yes, indeed! It was quite different than the other films that David and I have done. I really think of it as a partnership, and in his case in particular it's so because he doesn't personally audition people. I go out with my little camera and come trotting back and show it to him, so he's not in the room. And he doesn't actually look at tons and tons of the people, but just because this is a relationship that's developed over a long period of time, I know his basic taste. We share the same taste in actors. The challenge, of course, with him is to make sure that I'm on the right track with the story he wants to tell. Occasionally he'll say, "I think we're going to have to look some more because I was really looking for this." Or the other thing is that the casting process is the first rehearsal as well. He'll hear the lines and suddenly go, "You know, I think this scene needs to be adjusted here," or, "We need this other element." So we'll look for a different kind of person.

But that's sort of the general way. Obviously there were very specific challenges in Eastern Promises. Normally David likes to work with really experienced people because he likes to create on the set. He likes people that meet him halfway; smart people who are sophisticated about their craft. But when your first challenge is people who need to speak English and Russian (or we were also looking for Turks and Chechens), then that demanded that we look into talent pools that had less opportunity to work consistently in feature films. So that was challenging. And then the big challenge, of course, was that it was filmed entirely in England, so therefore we were meeting a whole new talent pool and couldn't use the people that we often like to work with for the smaller roles.

RR: Is that where Nina Gold came in?

DB: Yes, absolutely. That's why we needed somebody in England. I knew Nina, and I was delighted when she was available because I've always admired her work and the kinds of films she's done. She does all of Mike Leigh's casting, and those are faces that David likes, so I knew she would be a good fit.

Essentially what happened is that I spent a month and a half in London, and together we met people, prescreened them, recorded auditions, and then sent the tapes back to David. He would get on the phone and say, "I like this person," "I don't like that person," "I want to try this." And that's basically how we cast the film (apart from the leading roles).

RR: Was Viggo Mortensen pre-attached? Or any of the other leads?

DB: Viggo was not pre-attached, no. I did my due diligence, which was to create the list of possibilities and to see who was available, etc., but David wanted him from the beginning. We just were hoping and praying that it was going work with his schedule. It was availability we were concerned with more than anything. Because of other commitments he had, Viggo's big concern was would he have enough preparation time? We were so fortunate it all worked out in the end. And with Naomi Watts we were very lucky as well.

RR: Was there any pressure from the studio to equip the film with a certain number of A-list actors?

DB: It's always understood with a film of that size that you need at least two names. Where it becomes a challenge in finding the names is when a film doesn't lend itself to it, i.e., when it's a coming-of-age film with 16, 17, 18 year-olds, and you're expected to get an A-list person, and so you're really a hostage to fortune in that film. But obviously, in this case, that wasn't an issue. And David's at a point, too, where people want to work with him, so there were a lot of people approaching us who were interested.

RR: How did you and Nina go about finding these pools of Russian-speaking actors? Is there a large Russian community in London?

DB: No, it's small, but it is there. The first thing you do is a breakdown and you ask the agents to go look amongst their performers to find who speaks Russian. I think with some of the agents it was a surprise to find out which of their actors spoke Russian. The boy at the very beginning, Josef Altin, who's a lovely actor and a recent graduate from theater school, his agent didn't sign him on because he spoke Turkish! It just happened that he came from a Turkish background so that was one of those lucky breaks. I presume Michael Sarne's agent knew that he spoke Russian, but he's a director and a writer, and he does acting. I guess he's done his Eastern European films, but he was fluent in Russian and it just was a great help. (Ed. Note: Michael Sarne played Valery, one of the Russian Mafia lords.)

There were parts we were having a problem with, but we were lucky to find a Turkish acting troupe so we met people through that. And then gradually people began to come forward. But there was one person, Mina E. Mina, who played Ekrum's (Josef Altin) uncle, Azim, whom we actually brought in from Canada. This was somebody that we knew well, and we were having a problem with that part because it of the age.

RR: What advice would you give to actors who want to audition for you?

DB: It depends on what movie I'm doing. Obviously agents approach me. It's always best to work through agents. I tend not to do general auditions. I do my auditioning specific to the film in hand.

RR: What's up next for you?

DB: I'm working on a wonderful film right now called The Bang Bang Club; it's a Canada/South Africa co-production, so we are primarily looking for performers who are Canadian-based or South African. We can have one, maybe two, people from the States, so those people are going to be performers who have some recognition factor.

Then there's a wonderful young director called Brad Peyton, and he has a magical film called Troll, although the title may end up being changed. It's just one of these whimsical heart-touching stories that I hope gets off the ground. That would be really nice.

And, of course, I'm hoping that David will have another film to work on by the end of 2008!

Dianne Crittenden and Karen Rea (Los Angeles)

Critical Pick: Captivity

Select Past Projects: Dianne: Thirteen Days, The Thin Red Line, Murphy's Romance, Star Wars

Karen: Alien Nation, Sleeping with the Enemy, Death Becomes Her

Upcoming Projects: Dianne: Initiation

Though this is their first collaborative effort, Dianne and Karen have individually racked up impressive feature film credits, casting some of Hollywood's most memorable films.

Dianne has cast such cinema classics as Star Wars (1999) with Mark Hamill; Murphy's Romance (1985) with Sally Field and James Garner; Green Card (1990) with Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell; The Thin Red Line with Kirk Acevedo and Penelope Allen;and Thirteen Days (2000) with Shawn Driscoll and Kevin Costner.

Karen Rea currently casts the long-running daytime drama The Young and The Restless. Previously, she cast the USA Network series The Net, based on the hit movie, The WB's Young Americans, CBS' The District starring Craig T. Nelson, and UPN's Level 9. Past films include Stripes (1981) with Bill Murray, Ghost Busters (1984) with Dan Ackroyd and Wild Orchid (1990) for director Zalman King.

Editor's Note: Dianne Crittenden and Karen Rea were not available for an interview. Information for this story was gathered from IMDB.com.

Susie Figgis

Critical Pick: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street*

Select Past Projects: Love in the Time of Cholera, Breakfast on Pluto, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sleepy Hollow

Upcoming Projects: The Young Victoria, Blindness (with Deirdre Bowen), Untitled Mike Figgis Film

Susie Figgis is being recognized for her fine work in casting the long-awaited big screen adaptation of the 1979 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by Hugh Wheeler). The Sweeney film was directed by Tim Burton, with whom Figgis has worked twice before. She cast both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sleepy Hollow — both of which, like Sweeney, starred Burton golden boy Johnny Depp.

According to her IMDb.com bio, Figgis was born in Kenya and went to boarding school in England. Her involvement in theatre lead her into casting, and over the years she has become one of the most respected and sought after casting directors in the UK.

In 2000, Ross Reports named Susie Figgis one of the Top 20 Film Casting Directors for her work on the 1999 films The End of the Affair and Sleepy Hollow. In a brief interview in that issue, she explained that she became a casting director by, "Luck. It's the only thing I'm good at. My big break was when Richard Attenborough asked me to do Gandhi. I mean, I had done some casting work, but I had been an assistant mainly. It was rather brave that he took me on."

Figgis also noted in that interview that she looks for "specialty and wit" when considering the work of another casting director, and that she was drawn to films that were "slightly strange, unusual, with that sort of quirky viewpoint to life."

One has only to take a look at her impressive resume, which covers more than 25 years, to see the truth of that statement. After Handy in 1982, Figgis went on to cast such films as The Company of Wolves, The Killing Fields (with Marion Dougherty, Pat Golden and Juliette Taylor), Cry Freedom, The Crying Game, Chaplin (with Mike Fenton and Valorie Massalas), Rob Roy, Michael Collins, The Butcher Boy, The Avengers, The Full Monty, and Ella Enchanted.

And then there's Sweeney Todd. If Figgis is attracted by projects that are "slightly strange, unusual, with that sort of quirky viewpoint to life," then it's no wonder she took on the blatantly bloody musical about a vengeful barber (Depp) who slits the throats of unsuspecting gentlemen who are, thereafter, ground up and baked into savory meat pies by his neighbor and opportunistic cohort in crime, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter).

Last fall, Variety ran a story about the challenges facing casting directors in putting together great ensembles for their films ("Big Casts Make for Major Challenges," 29 November 2007). Figgis was amongst the casting directors interviewed by Zachary Pincus-Roth, who wrote of her and her work on Sweeney Todd:

"Susie Figgis, a Tim Burton veteran, says this pic was one of her toughest. 'I'd know how to cast a Tim Burton movie and I know how to cast a musical,' she said. 'But the two are not an easy marriage. You're trying to find this quirky world of Tim Burton, but you need to find people who can sing.' And they all had to be okayed by Stephen Sondheim. Another challenge, Figgis says, is that Burton wanted the teenagers to actually look like teenagers. 'He wanted 16 and 17, which is younger than drama school kids. I discovered singing corners of Europe that I didn't know existed. I discovered youth opera societies in North Ireland,' which is how she found Jayne Wisener to play the young female lead, Johanna."

Easy or not, Figgis' invaluable contribution helped to make Fleet Street — and the denizens thereof — come to life. Sweeney Todd has received great critical acclaim, won Golden Globes, and earned three Academy Award nominations — including a Best Actor nod for Johnny Depp.

* Information for this article was compiled from IMDb.com, Variety and Ross Reports.

Jina Jay: Atonement

Critical Pick: Atonement

Select Past Projects: The Last King Of Scotland, The Darjeeling Ltd, Munich, Pride & Prejudice, Kingdom of Heaven, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Shaun of the Dead, The Others, Billy Elliot

Upcoming Projects: In Bruges, The Reader, The Lovely Bones, Body of Lies

RR: How did you get started in casting?

Jina Jay: Enormous patronage from Patsy Pollock, whom I trained with for 5 years; also John Boorman and Mike Figgis. From a place of great generosity and brilliance they nurtured me and taught me to articulate my instinct, which was the only quality I initially brought to the table!

RR: What are the most enjoyable aspects of casting for you?

JJ: Knowing a role has been offered to the right actor, whether that be the lead or the spear-carrier.

RR: What are the most challenging aspects of casting for you?

JJ: Diplomacy regarding lead roles: Knowing you can reach the right decision about a role, but requiring enormous patience and resilience to do so — particularly when one is trying to unite a group of individuals who are all significant in the decision process. To be able to talk again and again about why an actor should be considered without being overbearing or alienating, and to do this truthfully each and every time. And finally, if the gods are on one's side, to chose the moment — albeit 5 or 6 months down the line — and to act decisively and with absolute clarity.

RR: Does the industry overlook, or undervalue, the importance of casting directors as part of the creative process?

JJ: Sometimes I have the opportunity to fight for actors, and without someone on the inside of the process such battles would be futile. I can help place an actor where I feel they truly belong, and if the collaboration between actor, director and material soars I feel triumphant. But those instances of screen greatness (large and small) ultimately belong to the director and the actor. That is what becomes truth.

On a personal level, I have been accorded much respect and kindness.

RR: How do you select the projects you work on?

JJ: I have been incredibly blessed to be asked to work on projects with some of greatest directors in world. In these instances the director is what brings me into contact with the material.

RR: What do you look for when watching a film cast by another CD?

JJ: I like to be surprised by an actor's performance. For some actors there is a journey. Sometimes I am not in a position to translate an actor's energy onto the screen at a specific point in their life, and yet I know further down the line that that same actor will deliver what is required for a role in a glorious way. To that end, casting directors contribute collectively to an actor's body of work.

RR: Atonement was based on a novel. Did the adaptation process create any particular casting challenges? (Example: did characters change, get added or cut, as you were casting? Or was the script finalized when you started?)

JJ: Casting three individual actresses to play one role was very challenging. We focused on the essence, spirit, and intellect of Briony's mind and soul, and applied this to all three Brionys. The fact that they ended up looking similar to each other is a coincidence (or perhaps subconsciously there was design!)

Finding 13-year-old Briony was also a huge challenge. Very often one is trying to find a child who, at that point in his/her life, captures the essence of the character. The stunning thing about Saoirse Ronan is that she is not at all like Briony, but she understood how to inhabit the soul of Briony. She did this with ferocious instinct, but she was also capable of 'playing' — of adjusting and evolving the performance through what she absorbed from her engagement with Joe. Most kids would find this level of involvement or layering too exhausting or distracting or repetitive. Saoirse had not even read the book and barely had time to read the screenplay in depth when we offered her the role. However, as if by osmosis, she distilled only the absolute essentials of the literary character and understood how to bring to life the screen Briony.

Saoirse has a palpable acting talent, the depth of which one normally only associates with grown-up actors. She was able to transform from her natural joyous self into odd, lonely, complicated, calculated, and fierce Briony. Her capacity to allow an audience to somehow go on the journey with the character (even though Briony is impossible to love) was staggering. She allowed us to feel for Briony, and although we judged her, we resisted condemning her — just!

RR: What was your overall experience in casting Atonement?

JJ: Fantastic!

RR: Was anyone pre-attached to the film when you came on board?

JJ: No, but Joe was very keen to collaborate again with Keira.

RR: Does it make your job easier or more difficult to come in on a film with a star(s) pre-attached?

JJ: As long as the star is both the best actor for the job and the director's first choice, then I am good.

RR: How do you go about finding new talent?

JJ: How long is a piece of string?!

RR: What projects are coming up next for you?

JJ: Alejandro Amenabar's Untitled 2008 Project.

Jane Jenkins

Janet Hirshenson

Michelle Lewitt

Critical Pick 2007: Transformers

Notable Past Credits: The Bucket List, A Beautiful Mind, Something's Gotta Give

Future Projects: The Surrogates, I Love You, Beth Cooper, Transformers 2

RR: Was anybody attached to Transformers when you came on the project?

Jane Jenkins: Nobody.

RR: How much of a role did the studio play in casting?

Jane: The studio is always involved in the process in that you're running people through them or by them. Since it was all about the Transformers, it was our job to find a group of actors that would support the Transformers. The studio also distributed Disturbia, so once Shia LaBeouf came in there was like no contest. We had seen several other kids and that was it. The rest of it was strictly casting and there weren't big bucks for the rest of the cast because it was an expensive movie in terms of the production of it.

RR: Did they push for A-list stars for certain roles?

Jane: No, they wanted to have a recognizable adult core. At that point Disturbia had not been released, and nobody knew what it was going to be, except that Shia was in it and he was very good. You always want to sort of support that with tried and true veteran actors, who can always take care of themselves and hold their own and bring something special to a part.

Janet Hirshenson: We didn't have the money for a lot of A-list stars. On the Jon Voight role, he was the star we got. On some of the other roles we wanted some visibility, but it really wasn't a star driven project, because the Transformers were the stars. It was actually a chance to really cast.

RR: What kind of a challenge did the movie pose for all of you as casting directors, considering that there hasn't been a Transformers movie before and the project was based on a toy line? Did you have to refer to the comic books that were created or even the animated series that was produced?

Jane: There was a secret script, and we've worked on similar movies. Years ago Jurassic Park was a film where the dinosaurs were the stars and then you tried to find a truly wonderful cast, but you weren't necessarily looking for blockbuster names. You can't afford both the blockbuster names and the equipment that it takes to make that kind of a movie.

Janet: It was sort of like any other movie. It was a project that people knew or were passionate about, but the characters we were doing were basically new characters. The Transformers were a whole other thing, so I wasn't really casting the Transformers. The challenge was to have actors that people would relate to amongst all the Transformers.

It was important that there was a human quality. The challenge was to get actors within the story that people would really relate to.

Michelle Lewitt: I had resources and access to the original cartoon series or the comic books. Michael actually had a way more contemporary sort of vision and he managed to get his writers to convey that in the script, so the script is really where we wanted to head. Even though I had watched a couple of episodes of the original series and did sort of educate myself on the original lure of Transformers, the script and Michael Bay was our biggest guide.

RR: Well, you certainly came up with an amazing cast.

Jane: Oh, thank you.

Michelle: We're very proud of it. What's nice about it is we really did old fashioned casting. Everyone with the exception of John Turturro and Jon Voight came in and read. We had people auditioning for every one of these supporting leads. These days that's unheard of with offers going out and that sort of thing. So, we really got to actually cast things, not just make lists. It was really exciting for us.

RR: How did you work with Michael Bay in terms of casting these roles?

Jane: He was very hands on. Janet and Michelle were much more involved in working on Transformers, than I was. I was in the middle of finishing up The Holiday for Nancy Meyers.

Janet: We would put people on tape, and Michael would look at them. For the bigger roles, he would say which people he wanted to meet. He wouldn't see a whole lot of actors, but he read people. For some of the smaller parts, he would just pick actors right off the videos. We would give him plenty of choices. He's really particular, and we would see lots and lots of people and sit down with him and go through the tapes, and he would say this person, that person. That's the way we pretty much cast - off the tapes.

Michelle: Because Michael is very clear about what he wants his vision to be, it wasn't that much of a challenge to deliver what he wanted. I think the biggest challenge was to deliver to the fans what they wanted. The Transformers was a lot of people's childhood - I mean truly, the fan base. We knew it was big, but I didn't realize how big it was and just keeping the fans happy, especially when the first draft of the script leaked. That, to me, was the biggest challenge - that and actually helping Michael's vision come to life.

RR: In terms of the principal roles, did you encounter any resistance from anyone about doing a Transformers movie?

Janet: Not that I recall. There may have been some, but there are always people that pass on projects.

Michelle: You know, it was completely the opposite. Everyone was so excited. I would get calls saying so-and-so, you know, recognizable names would do anything, and they just want a cameo role. They just want to do this, they want to do that. I don't think I got any resistance whatsoever from anyone. Megan Fox's agent called me up and said, "Michelle, I have your girl. And I said, "Okay." He said, "Seriously, if you don't like her you never have to take any of my calls again." I said, "Chuck, calm down, we don't have to get that extreme. It's fine; I'll see your girl." Megan walked in and we were like, "Hello." Production said to me "I need you to find me the hottest eighteen-year-old girl out there." And I said, "Okay, you got it." So, there you go.

RR: Who was the most difficult character to cast?

Michelle: What a great question. Each one had their own level of difficulty. I'm going to have to say the Glen Whitmann role - played by Anthony Anderson, because there was such a wide variety of actors to pull from, and such latitude in where we wanted to go. The character couldn't have been African-American. They could have been white. They could have been young. They could have been older. They could have been fat. They could have been skinny. We really had to decide what kind of funny we want in this role, and I think Anthony was a great addition to the cast.

Janet: I don't know if it was difficult, put certainly the most important part was Sam Witwicky, the lead boy played by Shia LaBeouf. That part really had to sort of carry the movie. It's not that it was the most important role, but certainly the centerpiece of the feature. We knew of Shia and saw a lot of people, but Shia really is fabulous. So, it wasn't that it was the hardest part, but rather the key part.

RR: What was your favorite memory from making this film?

Jane: When you find a new young actress like Megan Fox who becomes a sort of the new hot thing. Also with Shia, who is clearly destined to make an impact on the business. It's very satisfying to participate in the development of an actors career that way and to be involved with a huge, big successful project. There's going to be a second Transformers film and we're going to be involved in it.

Janet: My favorite is sort of going to the premiere - seeing the finished film and experiencing it for the first time.

Michelle: Honestly, I guess every time Michael would say, "Yes!" when we got a person from Shia to Megan, because we had these kids audition more than one time. When the final decision was made and the pieces started coming together. That, as the cohesive moment was the moment that we realized that we were bringing the project to life. That's the most exciting and to see someone like Michael Bay, who's known for being extremely particular in what he wants, and having a person like that with a strong vision. It's just very exciting.

RR: What are the three of you working on next?

Jane: I'm currently working on also a big science fiction movie called The Surrogates, which is based on a graphic novel with Bruce Willis is set to star in. So far that's the only piece of concrete casting.

Janet: Michelle and I are working on a film for Chris Columbus called I Love You Beth Cooper, which is going to be a fairly modestly budgeted teenage coming of age kind of movie.

Michelle: And from what I understand, we're also going to be doing the second Transformers movie. That's what I heard. We had a couple of calls from Ian Bryce, our wonderful, wonderful, producer, and that seems to be the case. I haven't seen a draft of Transformers 2 yet, but some of the characters will be returning and I hope to do that again.

Ronna Kress

Critical Pick: Beowulf

Select Past Projects: Moulin Rouge, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; The Fast and the Furious

Upcoming Projects: Justice League, Dark Sky, Australia, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, G-Force

RR: Was anybody attached to Beowulf when you came on the project?

Ronna Kress: No.

RR: How much of a role did the studio play in casting?

RK: When I started casting the film, it was financed by Steve Bing. So there wasn't a studio making decisions. It was Robert Zemeckis and the producers.

RR: Did they push for A-list stars for certain roles?

RK: Initially our plan was to cast talented British actors from the theatre. We worked with Nina Gold, a casting director in London, and put hundreds of people on tape. Simultaneously we were also discussing high-profile actors. Once we cast Ray Winstone the process sort of snowballed, Bob (Zemeckis) said, "let's see if we can get Anthony Hopkins," and we did. "Let's see if we can get John Malkovich," and we did. Some of the actors Bob had a relationship with from other films, like Robin Wright Penn, and Alison Lohman and that also helped the process of putting the cast together. With Angelina Jolie, that was a Hail Mary pass. We said "let's see if we can get her," and she came and met with us and loved the project and signed on immediately. The pieces then started to fall into place in a really fantastic way. Motion capture is a very different way of making a film, more like doing a play. You film in a room with a number of cameras around the stage, filming from every angle. You wear specially designed suits with dots, so there's no costumes or hair or makeup. You only film for about two months, so for the actors it's not a long commitment of their time. For the actors, it's all about the performance and that seems to be what attracted everyone to the film.

RR: What kind of a challenge did that pose for you as a casting director, considering that there hasn't been a Beowulf movie before and the project was based on an English heroic epic poem? Did you find yourself referring back to it the origins and doing an extensive amount of research?

RK: The focus was finding great actors, who were comfortable with the text. We were very thorough in our search. We looked in Scandinavia, the UK and Australia. I worked on the film for six months.

RR: Well, you certainly put together an amazing cast.

RK: As it came together and we were all so pleased and said "Wow," that's fantastic! We had a whole ensemble of actors. It's a very unusual way to work, but they would go to the set everyday and it was almost like a theatrical troupe. One day there would be a wench, one day there would be a servant. It afforded even the ensemble an opportunity to play a number of different roles.

RR: How did you collaborate with Robert Zemeckis in casting the roles?

RK: He's got great taste and he was very clear about what he wanted. First, we auditioned actors in England, Scandinavia, the US and Australia. Then, as we were reviewing the material we started asking ourselves, "what if we could get..., then the process shifted to getting those people. Then the pieces fell into place, but that was after months and months of looking at material on actors from all over the world.

RR: Did you work with any regional casting directors?

RK: Nina Gold and Sasha Robertson in

London.

RR: In terms of the principal roles, was there anyone that really was persistent in getting cast? It was a really an incredible project to be associated with?

RK: I think what happened was the minute we secured Ray, than, as I mentioned, we went to Anthony. Then, from there it was just who can we get. Angelina was the last actress to sign on, and it literally happened so easily. You sort of wonder if that will ever happen that way again.

RR: Who was the most difficult character to cast?

RK: Beowulf, definitely. Well, I think using Ray is a perfect example. I mean, he's a character actor in his 50's, playing a 28-year-old leading man. He was certainly not the age he portrayed in the film, but I think it worked effectively - much better than when we were reading younger actors.

RR: What was your favorite memory from making this film?

Ronna Kress: I just found the process of working with Bob so fantastic. He's really smart and so creative, and has such interesting ideas. This is so clearly a different and innovative way of making a film. I've never cast a film like this. It took us six months, so it was a long process, very thoughtful and very thorough. Then I went away and two years later the film was released. It was an extraordinary experience to have worked on this film.

RR: What's up next for you?

RK: I just finished casting Justice League, which is on hold for now, but will hopefully start filming in the summer. I'm currently casting Dark Sky for Stephen Sommers and Lorenzo Di Bonaventura at Paramount. Baz Luhrmann's film, Australia and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor are coming out this year, and then, next year, G-Force, which is a live action/animated film for Jerry Bruckheimer.

Amanda Mackey

Cathy Sandrich Gelfond

Critical Pick: Reservation Road*

Select Past Projects: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (with Robin D. Cook), August Rush (with Melissa Chusid), The Kingdom, The Good Shepard (with Sig De Miguel), Smokin' Aces, Hoot, United 93 (with Sig De Miguel, Daniel Hubbard and John Hubbard)

Upcoming Project:The Proposal

Amanda Mackey and Cathy Sandrich Gelfond are being recognized here for their outstanding work on the emotional drama, Reservation Road, written and directed by Terry George. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, and Mira Sorvino, the twist-of-fate dual storyline involves two families whose lives are forever changed when their cars are involved in a hit-and-run accident on Reservation Road. One of the drivers panics and leaves; in the other car, a traumatized family must deal with the agony of sudden, tragic death.

Mackey and Gelfond have twice before been included in Ross Reports' annual Top 20 Film Casting Directors listings. Their first mention was in 2000, when they were recognized for their work casting writer/director Mike Figgis' multiple storyline drama, Timecode. The second was in 2003 for the romantic dramady, The Cooler (also cast with Wendy Weidman and frequent collaborator Sig De Miguel), directed by Wayne Kramer and co-written by Kramer and Frank Hannah.

Currently these busy women have three projects that are soon to be released. Both Fighting and South of the Border (with Carla Hool) are in post-production and are scheduled for release in 2008; Green Zone (with Daniel Hubbard) is now filming and is due out in 2009. Earlier notable credits include Racing Strips, Laws of Attraction (with John Hubbard), Cold Creek Manor (with Robin D. Cook), Star Trek: Nemesis (with Junie Lowry-Johnson), Collateral Damage, Inspector Gadget, U.S. Marshals, Murder at 1600, When a Man Loves a Woman, The Fugitive, Patriot Games, and The Hunt for Red October.

When Ross Reports spoke with Mackey and Gelfond back in 2000, they explained how they each got into casting, and how they met and began working together. Mackey was an agent in New York, and when she left that agency, the casting directors she had worked with began hiring her. When she relocated to Los Angeles in the late 1980s, she started looking for someone to work with her. Gelfond was a former actress in search of a job and found one with Mackey. She thought they would be working together on one film, but they completely clicked and have been casting partners ever since.

When asked about the most enjoyable, and most challenging aspects of casting, Gelfond replied, "When you see someone give the most remarkable reading. There's a joke that Amanda and I are always crying. When you're deeply moved, it's thrilling."

Added Mackey, "Also, when an actor opens his mouth and creates reality in an empty space. The movies are so much about money, photography, set and costumes; but at the end of the day, some good words and a good actor in a room can bring all the emotions that these other things would later be called upon to try and elicit from the audience. We can find it in a room just with one person."

During auditions for The Cooler, they found that kind of emotion from Maria Bello. Bello was cast as a waitress named Natalie who falls in love with a professional loser named Bernie (William H. Macy), a man who can pass on his losing touch by contact as simple as touching a person's shirt. He is employed by a Las Vegas casino to wander the game floors cooling off winning streaks.

Gelfond named Bello's reading as her favorite memory from casting The Cooler. And Mackey recalled that, "Maria auditioned twice, once in New York with Sig and I, and once in LA (with Cathy and Wendy). I would have to say again that, Maria came in and just knocked our socks off in a tiny, little room. And she did it twice. She was breathtaking."

Casting Timecode, on the other hand, was breathtaking in an entirely different way. Gelfond remembered that, "It was one of these hit-the-ground-running things. And there was no script. Mike Figgis is a genius. He literally had general ideas written out as a musical score, and the assignment was to find the most interesting actors."

According to Mackey, "He said, 'Don't worry about the part, ladies. Just bring me actors you actually love and who are willing to be experimental.' And of course, we had to say, 'Come in. You have no idea what part you're trying out for. You will not read anything. You will not read a script before you say that yes, you'll do it. And there's no money, and can you start in about 10 days?' It was so different from anything we'd done before, but Mike is just so amazing and marvelous and inspiring."

And so is the work of three-time honorees Amanda Mackey and Cathy Sandrich Gelfond.

Laray Mayfield (Los Angeles)

Critical Pick: Zodiac

Select Past Projects: Fight Club, Panic Room, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Upcoming Projects: The Incredible Hulk, The Killing Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

RR: How did you get started in casting?

Laray Mayfield: I was working with (Zodiac director) David Fincher as his assistant. I met David the day I came to Los Angeles, 22 years ago. I moved here from Nashville. I came out to work in production but I knew nothing about it, so I went to work, met David, and within a year or so I was the first assistant he ever had. Over the course of the first few years that I worked with him, the casting process was just something I naturally gravitated toward. I cast a couple of small jobs to see how it went, and that was that.

RR: Was David directing at the time that you met him?

LM: Yeah, music videos. That's what we were doing back then. First thing I ever cast was a Jody Watley video. So I've been casting for a long time — I met David 22 years ago, so I probably cast my first thing three years after that, so, maybe 19 years, 20 years almost. But I take sabbaticals from time to time. I moved to New Mexico for a few years, or take off to Tennessee for extended periods of time. I'm a bit of a gypsy.

RR: What is the most challenging aspect of casting?

LM: Well, it's different on every movie. The more unusual a character is then the harder they are to define. But it's the same process every time you cast — or a very similar process, you know? What the story calls for, as far as characters, is what determines how difficult it's going be. For example, children are difficult to cast. I cast a tremendous amount of elderly actors for Benjamin Button, which was — well, I will not say that that was difficult at all. It was fantastic, but it was a big job! Sometimes you'll have something that seems like it should be easy to cast, but all the other actors that you've cast around that character determine how you need to fill in who is missing. So sometimes for me, that is how it becomes difficult to cast certain roles.

RR: What are the most enjoyable aspects of casting?

LM: Well, I absolutely love what I do so it's always enjoyable for me. Even when it's difficult or stressful I think that I'm one of the luckiest people in the world to get to do what I love and also work with people that I love. So I think the tradeoff for that is that once in a while I have to have a bad day. It wouldn't be fair if it was all fantastic! I love actors, so the thing for me is just being able to spend the time to find amazing actors who bring these incredible characters to life. That's really fun. When somebody comes into your office and you realize, "Oh, my gosh...that's the person! That's the character! That's not an actor," then that actor has transcended themselves and created the character. And that's really special because it's very intimate. It's you and the actor, and often you get to see that transformation happen for the first time.

RR: Do you feel that the film industry overlooks, or undervalues, the importance of casting directors as part of the creative process?

LM: You probably couldn't ask a worse person that question because I'm just not somebody who motivates from that place in my life. I don't even think about how they look at me, because in my little world I am treated incredibly well, and with a lot of respect and a lot of regard. And I also know that it's a very collaborative effort. I think if you do great work, and the directors you work with are happy, actors love you and trust you, agents and managers love you and trust you, then you have everything you need as far as support.

I'm happy in my little spot in the world. I'm a very competitive person, but I only compete with myself. I'm only interested in if I can do a better job — not in doing a better job than somebody else. And I have tremendous regard for other casting directors. I don't like the fact that some casting directors take on so many movies at one time and have an office staff of 10 or 12 people who are actually doing the jobs, but that's an ethical thing for me. So I'm different in that way than other people. I love my little niche; I'm very protective of it, and I am very grateful for it. Very grateful. I just don't look at anything like I'm not getting my due. I've got more than I ever dreamed I'd have in life.

RR: When you're watching a film that's been cast by somebody else, what, if anything, do you specifically look for?

LM: I look for things that are what I consider to be inspired: Casting an actor in a role that maybe you normally wouldn't see that person cast in, for example. Or casting somebody that you haven't seen in a long time. Or putting together a beautiful ensemble, like the movies in the '70s. But when I walk into a world I just don't want to find somebody who doesn't belong there, you know? There are some talented casting directors who inspire me each time they work on a project.

RR: How do you go about selecting the projects you work on?

LM: I'm very selective. And I'm very fortunate that I do get things sent to me. What I look for first, of course, is the director. That's always a big draw for me — and it doesn't have to be a huge director, either. It's just the sensibilities of the director are the first thing. Also, the producers. I love great producers because they keep everything together for us. I also look to see if it's a story that I think is important to tell on some level, or inspiring or motivating. And then the big thing for me is if I can say, "Will this attract the caliber of actors that I aspire to work with? Am I going to be able to populate this world with people that will make me proud of what I've done?"

RR: And did you find that on Zodiac?

LM: I always find that on everything David sends to me, but on Zodiac I found that very much to be true. I had a bit of a history with the Zodiac project. I worked on a movie in Phoenix years ago with (Zodiac producer) Brad Fischer, but that movie fell apart. Brad knew my work because he was fan of David's. So as Brad was developing Zodiac, I was sort of in the loop with what was going on. Once David got it and started working with Jamie (screenwriter James Vanderbilt) and Brad, it became the movie that we all see now — it just became even better.

I thought it was a great story. I love the obsession, and how relentless these guys all were. The characters are fantastic, the time period... You know, it was a horrible thing that was going on, but for me, the thing that was so interesting about it on certain levels was how much trouble they had back then solving a case because of the lack of technology. Even now, with as much as we have, it really hasn't gotten a whole lot better.

RR: Was anybody pre-attached to the film?

LM: No. When David got the project there were no actors attached.

RR: Was there anyone in particular that you were seriously hoping to get?

LM: Every single person that we were hoping to get we were fortunate enough to get.

Every single person that you see in this movie is a person that we were absolutely overjoyed to have in the movie. And it all worked out. There were a couple of times where we had groups of actors working that we had had scheduling issues and things like that that come up, and I would go to the set just to see them all and think, "Oh, gosh. We got them all here at the same time! I just needed to see them all in a room together!"

Because we shot over such a long period of time, sometimes actors would come in and work for two weeks and then they'd go away and then come back. And some of the actors had other jobs going on, so you would try to accommodate their schedules — you just always want to do that. But you do spend some sleepless nights walking around wringing your hands worrying if it will all fall into place! I have sort of a one-track mind, and when I really get something in my mind, I can't see beyond that. I get really attached. But sometimes things change and schedules don't work out, and so you work with other people, and that's always fantastic, too. But this was a case where we were very, very fortunate. We got to have everybody we hoped for.

RR: Given that this was a film based on actual events, and real people, and horrible, horrible crimes — as well as two books — did that present any unique casting challenges for you?

LM: Yeah, it did. It presented a lot of challenges because we were portraying real people, especially with the detectives and the cartoonist. Many of these people David actually knows (and I got to meet a lot of them), so you want to portray them as close as possible to reality. That was a big issue. Also, dealing with such sensitive issues as these young people being killed or being attacked by this guy, you want to handle that with the most tenderness and care and respect that you can for the family members, so we kept things very private. No matter what age you are, with or without children, I think you can imagine what a devastation it would to have your child murdered. It's a very easy thing to be sensitive about. What you have to say sometimes to people is, "You know what? Don't make a joke. Don't make light of this. We don't want to talk about this because there are family members out there still whose lives will never be okay because this happened."

RR: Did any of the families see the film?

LM: Yeah. A lot of the people saw the film, and they loved it. They were never isolated. Everyone who was alive, who had been involved in the story, and who wanted to be involved in the film, was welcome and encouraged to be involved.

RR: Were any of the detectives involved?

LM: Yeah. Mark Ruffalo spent a lot of time with Dave Toschi. And I know that some of the guys, like Donal Logue (Captain Ken Narlow), James Le Gros (Officer George Bawart), and Elias Koteas (Sgt. Jack Mulanax), had contact with their real life characters, too. Robert Graysmith was all over the place. He was everywhere. And he was hilarious! He wrote a book about the making of the movie. (Ed. Note: Robert Graysmith was the cartoonist obsessed with the case who eventually penned the two books upon which the film was largely based. He was played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the movie.)

RR: Did you have to find any new talent for this film?

LM: Yeah. Lots of those children, and then of course a lot of the kids who played the victims. I mean, they've all worked, but a lot of them you hadn't seen before and you certainly hadn't seen them in impressionable roles yet.

RR: How do you go about doing that, finding new talent?

LM: I do it through agents, through breakdown. You send out the breakdown and the agents submit actors to you. You look at lots of pictures, lots of resumes, lots of talent. I'm one of those kinds of people who cringes when I hear somebody say, "Oh, I discovered so-and-so." It's like, "Okay. I had the opportunity to cast Kristin Stewart in one of her first movies. I had the opportunity to cast Emile Hirsch in his first movie. Those kids had been working long before I ever laid eyes on them. They had agents/managers. They'd done some commercials. They'd done a little TV or something, but rarely does anyone discover somebody. Not at the stage that we're all working at.

In Benjamin Button, I had to cast a character from Africa. We found the perfect actor. He's a dancer, and works quite a lot in theatre, and he's represented by an agent. It wasn't like I went into Africa and just found a guy that could act, you know? I did it through agents all over Africa.

RR: What advice would you give to actors who want to audition for you?

LM: Well, the thing I tell all actors is that they need to be prepared when they come in. Be prepared, be comfortable, and leave it in the room when they go. Do your best job, put forth your best effort, and when you walk away, you leave it. As long as you do that, you've accomplished something positive. Whether or not you get that particular role, the chances are you're going to get another job or you're going to get another reading. But that's the problem I see, is that many actors worry too much.

RR: What's up next for you?

LM: Right now I'm working on a beautiful movie called Bend that David Arata wrote and is directing. He wrote Children of Men. I'm also working on a little comedy called

Barry Munday, which is fantastic. Chris D'Arienzo adapted it and is directing. And I'm developing two projects with Vincent D'Onofrio, which he will be directing. (I cast a short film for him a couple years ago that got into the Venice Film Festival.)

I am also reading new scripts, thankfully! I also have several of my own film/television projects I'm developing. I have a book that I optioned years ago that I'm am seriously developing right now, which is extremely exciting for me.

Francine Maisler

Critical Pick: Into the Wild

Select Past Projects: Spider-Man, As Good As It Gets, Finding Forrester,

A Knight's Tale

Upcoming Projects: 21, Milk, This Side of the Truth, Nine

Based in Los Angeles for some time now, casting director Francine Maisler first got into the entertainment industry in New York by working at Actor's Equity. From there she landed a job at a talent agency, then a gig with casting director Mary Colquhoun. Then it was on to NBC casting, followed by work with CD Lynn Kressel before finally striking out on her own.

Along the way, Maisler has cast both film and television and racked up some pretty impressive credits. For the small screen, she did the original casting for The Larry Saunders Shows (1993 Artios Award for Best Casting for TV, Pilot, shared with Meg Lieberman and Marc Hirschfeld) and The John Larroquette Show (1994 Artios nomination for Best Casting for TV, Pilot). She also received Artios nominations for a trio of TV miniseries — Trial: The Price of Passion (1992), Cruel Doubt (1992), and Buffalo Girls (1995) — and won for Cruel Doubt.

Her Artios Award-winning feature film work in the drama category includes The Usual Suspects (1995), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) and Finding Forrester (2000, shared with Bernard Telsey); she was also nominated for Out of Sight (1998) and 21 Grams (2003). In comedy, she has been nominated for As Good As It Gets (1997), Man on the Moon (1999), A Knight's Tale (2001), Spider-Man (2002, shared with Lynn Kressel), 21 Grams (2004), Meet the Fockers (2005) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2006).

In addition to casting, Maisler has also waded into producing waters. She served as a co-producer on the Adam Sandler comedy, Spanglish.

Maisler first appeared in the 2000 Ross Reports Top 20 Film Casting Directors issue for her outstanding work on the critically-acclaimed Andy Kaufman bio-pic, Man on the Moon. In that interview, she explained that, "I love reading scripts, getting to know the characters, and working with such talented people in making it all fit together." She was acknowledged again in 2002 for her work in Spider-Man.

Maisler had some sound advice for actors who might audition for her: "Do as much research as you can on the part, so that you're prepared when you come in."

Upcoming films Maisler is currently at work casting are Tree of Life starring Sean Penn and directed by Terrence Malick; The Road starring Viggo Mortensen and directed by John Hillcoat; This Side of the Truth starring Jennifer Garner and directed by Rick Gervais, who also stars; and Nine starring Javier Barden and directed by Rob Marshall.

Editor's Note: Francine Maisler was not available for an interview. Information for this story was gathered from Ross Reports and IMDB.com.

John Papsidera (Los Angeles)

Marcia Ross (Los Angeles)

Susan Shopmaker (New York)

Critical Pick: Enchanted

Select Past Projects:

Papsideria: Batman Begins, The Prestige, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Ross: The Princess Diaries, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, The Lookout

Shopmaker: Hedwig and the Angry Inch; Shortbus, Party Monster

Upcoming Projects:

Papsideria: The Informer, The Possibilty of Fireflies, After Life

Shopmaker: Santa Mesa, Henry May Long, The Lonely Maiden

John Papsidera made our Top 20 Casting Directors list in 2000, 2003 and 2005.

Like most casting directors, John Papsidera trained as an actor, and then went to graduate school at Circle in the Square in New York. He eventually decided that casting might be more fulfilling. He would still have contact with actors, and casting would answer his business impulses as well.

Papsidera won an Artios Award for three consecutive years: 2004, 2005 and 2006.

In 2004, he shared a win with Wendy O'Brien for the Carnivale pilot for HBO. In 2005, the two won again for another HBO project - the original TV movie Lackawanna Blues. In 2006, John and Wendy shared a win with Chicago casting director Claire Simon for the pilot episode of FOX's hit series Prison Break.

So how does he approach casting a project? "For me, a huge part of casting is really dramaturgy," he stated in a 2006 interview. "It's really an interpretation of a script. You read the script and then you start to work on how you can fulfill those qualities and those characters with actors."

Marcia Ross is currently Executive VP of Casting for the Buena Vista Motion Picture Group. She has been nominated for several Artios Awards for such films as The Princess Bride (2002) (with Donna Morong and Gail Goldber); The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005); and last year's The Lookout (with Robin D. Cook).

Susan Shopmaker made out Top 20 Casting Directors list in 2001 for Hedwig and The Angry Itch and has worked on other films including Party Monster, for directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barabto; Shortbus, another film from Hedwig star/director John Cameron Mitchell.

At the time she was interviewed, Shopemaker said what draws her to projects: "I look for a script and a director that I respond to. More importantly, I look for someone with a vision." She was also candid about the challenging aspects of casting: "It's about matching people to roles, having a concept about what a character is, and then finding the right person for it. I think that's the most exciting part is making a match that isn't typical."

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