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Interview

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'Network' Head
Photo Source: Lisa Carpenter / Guardian News Media Ltd 2008
At the Producers Guild of America Awards, Scott Rudin made history as the first producer to have two films nominated for the best picture award. Regardless of what happened that night, Rudin was already guaranteed to go home a winner; he had also been named the recipient of the 2011 David O. Selznick Achievement Award, which celebrates a producer's body of work. And an impressive body at that: He was nominated that evening for 'True Grit' and 'The Social Network,' his 73rd and 74th films as a producer, both of which have since earned several Oscar nominations, including for best picture.

Rudin's accomplishments are as legendary as his reputation; it's not hard to find stories about Rudin's temper and treatment of employees that run the gamut from terrifying to hilarious. But nobody questions his results. In a lengthy career that began as a teenager assisting theater producer Kermit Bloomgarden and working in casting offices, Rudin has been responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful plays and films of the last four decades. His résumé  includes Oscar winners 'No Country for Old Men' and 'There Will Be Blood' and blockbusters 'The First Wives Club' and 'The Firm.' Along the way, he has guided performers such as Helen Mirren and Nicole Kidman to Academy Awards and helped launch the careers of such actors as Andrew Garfield and Bryce Dallas Howard.

With 'True Grit' and 'The Social Network' still racking up accolades, Rudin took the time to speak with Back Stage about some of his more memorable casting coups—including the upcoming adaptation of 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' and how he found a 12-year-old boy on 'Jeopardy!' to star in 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.'




Back Stage: You began your career casting theater in New York; how did you break in?

Scott Rudin: I knew an agent named Biff Liff—his name was Samuel Liff, but we called him Biff—and his nephew was Vinnie Liff, of Johnson-Liff. I was their first assistant when they opened their offices, and we cast all the companies of 'Grease,' all the companies of 'The Wiz,' all the companies of 'Equus,' all the companies of 'Over Here.' When we started working together, they had just opened their offices, and it was like the three of us at a card table. I literally screwed the nameplate in the door when they opened. And when Vinnie died and they closed the company, they gave me the nameplate. It hangs in my house.

Back Stage: Did you always intend on getting into producing, or did you think your future was in casting?

Rudin: I loved doing casting because I love actors, and I am very conscious of what actors do. But I always wanted to be a producer. And it was a fantastic way of being in the room with the writer, the director, frequently the stars, and always the producers. It was a great way of kind of jumping the whole food chain.

Back Stage: Who were some of your favorite casting discoveries from those early years?

Rudin: Well, I remember, I got fired from a movie. I got fired from a movie that ended up being called 'Windows,' which Gordon Willis, the cinematographer, directed. I got fired because he refused to cast Meryl Streep, who at the time was at Yale. I told him I thought he was an idiot, and he fired me.

Back Stage: Well, he showed you.

Rudin: But you know I've worked on tons of shows and movies, and I loved the job. In some ways it's amazing training for being a producer, because it's kind of the same job. It really is. You read a script, you try and think through what is the best, most wide-ranging way of telling the story; who stylistically, character-logically, psychologically fits inside the world of what you're trying to do. A lot of it, when you're casting, is trying to get yourself in the head of a director. And that's very much like what I do now. I mean, when I worked on 'The Social Network,' my job is to try to bring myself to it, but also to understand what David Fincher wants, or what he's trying to do. So the whole sense of having to have your own point of view, but also fully embrace and kind of inhale the person who's making it, I learned in casting. It was great training.

Back Stage:
Was there any particular actor in 'The Social Network' that you really brought to the table?

Rudin: Andrew Garfield. I had seen Andrew in numerous plays in London. I saw him in a play by J.T. Rogers that he did in London ['The Overwhelming'], and I saw him in a play called 'Chatroom' that he did at the National Theatre. And I loved him. He's brilliant, and I got to know him because at one point I was going to make 'Kavalier & Clay' with Stephen Daldry, and we had cast him in that. We didn't get the movie made, but I followed how fantastically things were going for him. In fact, I thought originally he was maybe a contender for the role of Mark Zuckerberg before we had Jesse Eisenberg. He read for Mark, but he was much more right for Eduardo [Saverin]. And from the time [director] David Fincher and [casting director] Laray Mayfield saw Jesse, there really was nobody else for Mark.

Back Stage: You were familiar with Jesse's work, were you not?

Rudin: Yes, I worked with him in a tiny part in 'The Village,' so I've known him for a long time. Also, I helped my friend Noah Baumbach on 'The Squid and the Whale,' although I didn't produce it. So I've known about Jesse for years and years. He did a test, putting himself on tape, and got the part off of that.

Back Stage: Andrew wasn't well-known in America when you cast him, and you also cast Armie Hammer in the pivotal roles of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss. Do you sometimes find it's better to cast unknowns in roles?

Rudin: I think it's fantastic if you're doing something like this movie. It's the chance to pull together one of those sort of classic ensembles, like 'American Graffiti' or 'Carnal Knowledge' or 'The Last Picture Show,' where you sort of get a feel that you will look at it in 20 years and say, 'All these amazing people were in one movie!' Also, they come with no baggage, and no one has any preconception about them. And one of the things you get with stars is preconceptions. And your job is to make the preconceptions work for you. But if you want people to come in and feel that it's a blank slate and have their own response to it? Nothing better.

Back Stage: Did some of those preconceptions come into play when casting Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, who is essentially an Internet rock star?

Rudin: I think David felt that he wanted someone who knew what it was like to change the temperature when they walk into a room. He said, 'You know, Sean Parker is a star to these boys,' and he felt like Justin Timberlake coming into the movie at that point sort of halfway through would be this jolt of stardom at that point. And what was great was Justin allowed himself to be put through a very exacting process of many auditions and readings and tapings and tests. David really put him through it.

Back Stage: You cast Rooney Mara, a virtual unknown, in the coveted title role in 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.' Was that the kind of part that needed to be an unknown?

Rudin: David's idea was that what works in 'Dragon Tattoo' is you put all your own perceptions of this girl onto whoever plays it. So his whole idea, always, was to have somebody who was essentially new to the audience. I remember years ago, I was working for Fox, and someone had this idea to make a Barbie movie. So I got deputized to go to Mattel and have this conversation with Mattel about doing this movie, and they said to me, 'Oh, there could never be a Barbie movie because every little girl thinks she's Barbie. And the minute someone plays Barbie, then it's only that one person playing Barbie.' It was a fascinating thing, because it was my sort of first experience of 'brandness,' you know? But in a way, I think David's desire was to have someone that we just didn't have any history with. And brilliant people tested for it. I mean, a lot of stars tested for it, and were fantastic, but there was something about Rooney. She was so exciting in it, and so fresh, and completely unpredictable. The fact that we just don't know her that well made it, gave it a kind of kinetic energy that I think probably wouldn't have happened with somebody else.

Back Stage: At the same time, as a producer, were you at all worried you needed a star to carry the film?

Rudin: No, because I think the books are the star. I mean, there are 60 million books in print, between all the iterations of the trilogy. And I think everybody has their own idea of who Lisbeth Salander is. It's great that everybody can come in and have a point of view about this brand-new person. And David loved her on 'Social Network.' From the time we started working on 'Dragon Tattoo,' I think David always really wanted Rooney to play it. In deference to the scale of the decision, he went through a very long process and worked with many people and many days of shooting film tests. Tests with sets, tests with costumes, hair, makeup, the whole deal. And I look back at it now and I think, 'Why did we do all of that if it was always going to be Rooney?'

Back Stage: I was looking over your list of movies and I realized that with films like 'The Queen,' 'Notes on a Scandal,' and 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' you have these great leading roles for women …

Rudin: Always.

Back Stage: Is that something that you purposely set out to do?

Rudin: I love stories about women, and I think stories about women are generally pretty underrepresented. Also, part of it is, I tend to frequently select material I'm interested in because there's someone I want to work with on it. So, in the case of 'Doubt,' for example, I had done the play and I didn't feel a profound need to do it again, except the opportunity to see Meryl play it was too exciting not to do it. Another huge part of why I did it was I wanted to work with Viola Davis.

Back Stage: That's interesting, because Adrienne Lennox originated the role on Broadway and won a Tony.

Rudin: Yes, and she was great. But I felt like in the case of Adrienne, in a funny way, it was unfair to Meryl to ask her to play that with someone who had already played it before. But I have loved Viola for 15 years and always thought she's sort of the great American actress. I think she's an astonishing actress. I did 'Seven Guitars' with her, which won her her first Tony Award. And last year we did 'Fences,' which she also won a Tony for.

And with 'Doubt,' I just thought to myself, 'This is a great opportunity for Viola.' And that was a big, big motivator in doing the movie for me. Like when I did 'Nobody's Fool' it was because I read the book and thought, 'This is an amazing part for Paul Newman. Paul Newman is the reason to do this.' When I did 'First Wives Club,' I thought, 'Bette Midler can be in better movies than she's in.' And to deliver her in a movie where she's warm and naturalistic and funny and a mom and someone who's discounted, I had to do it. I frequently look at material as a vehicle for an actor I want to work with. I think it comes in a way from having worked in casting for so many years.

Back Stage: You've also had a hand in films that discovered great young talent, like Hailee Steinfeld in 'True Grit.'

Rudin: Everybody came in for that part, everybody. But no one had the language like she did; no one had the ability to sort of literally get to the end of a sentence the way she did. The language is so ornate and difficult and stylized, and she just had it so naturally. Plus, she could ride. We were two weeks out from starting the movie, we were looking at the possibility of not making it, because you can't make the movie without having somebody brilliant in that part. She saved us. And then I find out at the end of the movie, I've known her father my entire life. They grew up like around the corner from me in a town in Long Island. And Hailee's grandmother was my Hebrew school corporal mother. No joke. I've literally known this family since I was 5 years old.

Back Stage: You also cast 12-year-old Thomas Horn, who's never acted before, in the lead role opposite Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock in the film 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.' I understand you saw him on 'Jeopardy!'

Rudin: Yeah, I'm obsessed with 'Jeopardy!' I always have been. We were working on the script; we were at the very beginning of the process. There was no casting director, but I remember saying to the director, 'I think this kid should play this part.' And now he's about to. He just turned 13; he starts in two weeks. It's unbelievable. It's the greatest thing ever. We went through thousands of kids, and he got it.

Back Stage: What are some other unusual ways you've found talent?

Rudin: Well, years ago I cast the Phil Kaufman movie 'The Wanderers' and found kids at karate clubs and pool halls. But I'm not a big proponent of real people in movies. I sort of feel it's disrespectful to people who are actually actors. I really love what actors do too much to feel like it's something anybody can do. But I see an enormous amount of people, and I'm generally pretty up on who's who. When I did 'Clueless,' I saw Paul Rudd in an unsold pilot. Josh Charles was going to play the part, and he dropped out to do another movie. So I saw Paul in this pilot, and I said to Amy Heckerling, 'I think this guy is really funny and stylish and smart. He can play the brightness of this kid.' And he got the part.

Back Stage: Is there anyone you're looking at right now and thinking you want to work with, want to find a project for?

Rudin: I love Jennifer Lawrence. I thought she was really great in 'Winter's Bone.' And I think Emma Stone is really talented, and it would be great to find the great grown-up movie to put her in, you know?

Back Stage:
Again, you're picking women!

Rudin: I know! But I'd love to find a good movie to do with Jesse Eisenberg, where he gets into something that's very different from what he does in 'Social Network.' I'll tell you the person I'm dying to do a movie with: I so love Matt Damon in 'True Grit.' I thought he was so thrilling in it, that it made me feel like I could spend two years working on a movie for Matt Damon. He has everything. He works to 100 percent of his capacity all the time; he's ardent, he's funny, he's romantic, he's foolish.

Back Stage:
How quickly do you know when someone reads a part if they're right for it?

Rudin: It varies. With Hailee, I remember when she came and tested for it, thinking, 'Oh, she can play this part; it's going to change her life.' When I did 'The Queen,' I did a reading, and I remember Helen Mirren opened her mouth and I thought, 'There is not going to be a better performance this year than that.' I've had a handful of those—Nicole Kidman in 'The Hours' was one of the greatest experiences I ever had. Nicole was having a hair-and-makeup test, and the costume designer, Ann Roth, called me and said, 'Nicole would like to talk to you. Can you swing by?' So I went in, and I go to the stage, and there's this woman sitting by herself in a trench coat, and I start talking to this woman, and I had no idea it was Nicole for 10 minutes, because it was the first time they tried the nose. The nose and the makeup and the eyebrows were all in place, and it was one of those things that was so heart-stopping. And I remember vividly the first day we shot the train station scene in 'The Hours.' I went to Stephen Daldry and said, 'We need to make this longer; people are going to want more from this.'

Back Stage: That's a movie filled with great female performances.

Rudin: Yes. You know how Julianne Moore's character returns at the end of the movie much older? We had shot it originally with a different actress, Betsy Blair, who's since died. Julianne came in and wanted to play it herself and was very upset that we hadn't given her the chance to come in. So we spent six months working on the makeup and the hair and doing all that so that she'd have her best shot at it. Stephen Daldry and I had worked on this approach where we had 25 setups in a six-page scene between her and Meryl. And she came in and played the first take of it. And I remember going to Stephen Daldry, 'Oh, my God. Two angles this way, two angles that way, we're done. It doesn't need any 25 setups. That's all it needs. No moving around, no pushing, no anything; just two sides. Because they could carry it. They were so brilliant, the sheer force of their talent just obliterated any need for any other. It didn't need any cinematic help, it just needed the acting.

Back Stage: I was looking over your list of movies and I realized that with films like "The Queen," "Notes on a Scandal," and "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," you have these great leading roles for women …

Rudin:
Always.

Back Stage:
Is that something that you purposely set out to do?

Rudin: I love stories about women, and I think stories about women are generally pretty underrepresented. Also, part of it is, I tend to frequently select material I'm interested in because there's someone I want to work with on it. So, in the case of "Doubt," for example, I had done the play and I didn't feel a profound need to do it again, except the opportunity to see Meryl play it was too exciting not to do it. Another huge part of why I did it was I wanted to work with Viola Davis.

Back Stage:
That's interesting, because Adrienne Lennox originated the role on Broadway and won a Tony.

Rudin: Yes, and she was great. But I felt like in the case of Adrienne, in a funny way, it was unfair to Meryl to ask her to play that with someone who had already played it before. But I have loved Viola for 15 years and always thought she's sort of the great American actress. I think she's an astonishing actress. I did "Seven Guitars" with her, which won her her first Tony Award. And last year we did "Fences," which she also won a Tony for.
And with "Doubt," I just thought to myself, "This is a great opportunity for Viola." And that was a big, big motivator in doing the movie for me. Like when I did "Nobody's Fool" it was because I read the book and thought, "This is an amazing part for Paul Newman. Paul Newman is the reason to do this." When I did "First Wives Club," I thought, "Bette Midler can be in better movies than she's in." And to deliver her in a movie where she's warm and naturalistic and funny and a mom and someone who's discounted, I had to do it. I frequently look at material as a vehicle for an actor I want to work with. I think it comes in a way from having worked in casting for so many years.

Back Stage: You've also had a hand in films that discovered great young talent, like Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit."

Rudin: Everybody came in for that part, everybody. But no one had the language like she did; no one had the ability to sort of literally get to the end of a sentence the way she did. The language is so ornate and difficult and stylized, and she just had it so naturally. Plus, she could ride. We were two weeks out from starting the movie, we were looking at the possibility of not making it, because you can't make the movie without having somebody brilliant in that part. She saved us. And then I find out at the end of the movie, I've known her father my entire life. They grew up like around the corner from me in a town in Long Island. And Hailee's grandmother was my Hebrew school corporal mother. No joke. I've literally known this family since I was 5 years old.

Back Stage: You also cast 12-year-old Thomas Horn, who's never acted before, in the lead role opposite Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock in the film "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." I understand you saw him on "Jeopardy!"

Rudin: Yeah, I'm obsessed with "Jeopardy!" I always have been. We were working on the script; we were at the very beginning of the process. There was no casting director, but I remember saying to the director, "I think this kid should play this part." And now he's about to. He just turned 13; he starts in two weeks. It's unbelievable. It's the greatest thing ever. We went through thousands of kids, and he got it.

Back Stage: What are some other unusual ways you've found talent?

Rudin: Well, years ago I cast the Phil Kaufman movie "The Wanderers" and found kids at karate clubs and pool halls. But I'm not a big proponent of real people in movies. I sort of feel it's disrespectful to people who are actually actors. I really love what actors do too much to feel like it's something anybody can do. But I see an enormous amount of people, and I'm generally pretty up on who's who. When I did "Clueless," I saw Paul Rudd in an unsold pilot. Josh Charles was going to play the part, and he dropped out to do another movie. So I saw Paul in this pilot, and I said to Amy Heckerling, "I think this guy is really funny and stylish and smart. He can play the brightness of this kid." And he got the part.

Back Stage: Is there anyone you're looking at right now and thinking you want to work with, want to find a project for?

Rudin:
I love Jennifer Lawrence. I thought she was really great in "Winter's Bone." And I think Emma Stone is really talented, and it would be great to find the great grown-up movie to put her in, you know?

Back Stage: Again, you're picking women!

Rudin: I know! But I'd love to find a good movie to do with Jesse Eisenberg, where he gets into something that's very different from what he does in "Social Network." I'll tell you the person I'm dying to do a movie with: I so love Matt Damon in "True Grit." I thought he was so thrilling in it, that it made me feel like I could spend two years working on a movie for Matt Damon. He has everything. He works to 100 percent of his capacity all the time; he's ardent, he's funny, he's romantic, he's foolish.

Back Stage: How quickly do you know when someone reads a part if they're right for it?

Rudin:
It varies. With Hailee, I remember when she came and tested for it, thinking, "Oh, she can play this part; it's going to change her life." When I did "The Queen," I did a reading, and I remember Helen Mirren opened her mouth and I thought, "There is not going to be a better performance this year than that." I've had a handful of those—Nicole Kidman in "The Hours" was one of the greatest experiences I ever had. Nicole was having a hair-and-makeup test, and the costume designer, Ann Roth, called me and said, "Nicole would like to talk to you. Can you swing by?" So I went in, and I go to the stage, and there's this woman sitting by herself in a trench coat, and I start talking to this woman, and I had no idea it was Nicole for 10 minutes, because it was the first time they tried the nose. The nose and the makeup and the eyebrows were all in place, and it was one of those things that was so heart-stopping. And I remember vividly the first day we shot the train station scene in "The Hours." I went to Stephen Daldry and said, "We need to make this longer; people are going to want more from this."

Back Stage: That's a movie filled with great female performances.

Rudin: Yes. You know how Julianne Moore's character returns at the end of the movie much older? We had shot it originally with a different actress, Betsy Blair, who's since died. Julianne came in and wanted to play it herself and was very upset that we hadn't given her the chance to come in. So we spent six months working on the makeup and the hair and doing all that so that she'd have her best shot at it. Stephen Daldry and I had worked on this approach where we had 25 setups in a six-page scene between her and Meryl. And she came in and played the first take of it. And I remember going to Stephen Daldry, "Oh, my God. Two angles this way, two angles that way, we're done. It doesn't need any 25 setups. That's all it needs. No moving around, no pushing, no anything; just two sides. Because they could carry it. They were so brilliant, the sheer force of their talent just obliterated any need for any other. It didn't need any cinematic help, it just needed the acting.

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