Mindy Marin believes that a career in show business was in her genes. Her grandfather was a talent agent—representing such actors as John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and Kirk Douglas—and, though he died before she was born, Marin grew up in L.A. surrounded by his legacy. By age 5, she says, she knew she wanted to work in the industry.
She remembers sitting in her classes at UCLA, where she was an English major in the late '70s, watching the clock, eager to get out and join the work force. Not knowing exactly where the film business was, she imagined that it was at the beginning of the Sunset Strip.
Says Marin, "After school one day, I parked my car and started walking on Sunset Strip, the very beginning. I banged on doors, and, at the second door I banged on, I pitched my wares to a girl whom I will forever be grateful to. She thought it was amusing that a then 17-year-old would just knock on a door, but she heard me loud and clear."
That door happened to belong to Brad Marks (now of Brad Marks International), whose independent production company was involved with CBS specials at the time. He hired Marin as a gofer-receptionist. Three months later, when he let his talent coordinator go, she marched into his office and announced that she could fill the job.
That first shot with Marks led Marin, in 1978, to a casting assistant position at Paramount TV, where she worked on Taxi. "It was just the heyday," she says of her two years at Paramount. "Every show in the world was there at that time: Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Best of the West, Mork & Mindy, Bosom Buddies. It was incredible, and it was just the education I was looking for."
Marin then spent four years at Warner Bros., where she worked her way up to manager of talent for the television division, and she had opportunities to cast, on her own, Alice, The Yellow Rose, and the pilot for Head of the Class.
She formed her own company, Casting Artists, Inc., in 1991, and she has since cast a long and diverse list of films, including: L.A. Story, Clear and Present Danger, If These Walls Could Talk, Face/Off, 15 Minutes, The Sum of All Fears, Open Range, Alfie, Path to War (for which she received Emmy and Artios nominations), and the upcoming films Revolver (directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie), Lord of War (written and directed by Andrew Niccol), Bee Season (directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, and based on Myla Goldberg's bestselling novel), The Alibi, which Marin is co-producing, and My Friend Flicka (dir. Michael Mayer). Marin is very excited about the currently shooting The Family Stone, the third incarnation of a script by writer-director "to watch" Thomas Bezucha, starring Diane Keaton, Luke Wilson, Dermot Mulroney, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Claire Danes; and Thank You for Smoking (which Marin casts and co-produces), Jason Reitman's adaptation of Christopher Buckley's novel, starring Aaron Eckhart as Big Tobacco's chief spokesman.
Though she has no desire to leave casting behind, after 25 years in the business, Marin moves "with great hope" into producing. In addition to her recent credits, she was associate producer on 2 Days in the Valley, executive producer on Night at the Golden Eagle, and associate producer on The Deep End, for which she earned an Artios nomination for casting.
Having a life: Out of her Santa Monica headquarters, Bluewater Ranch, Marin runs her casting office, as well as her production company (Bluewater Ranch Entertainment) and nascent publishing division. Loath to limit herself when it comes to creative endeavors or life experiences, she knows that the variety in her life keeps her bringing fresh and challenging ideas to the film business.
We speak on a day when media attention is fixed on Hollywood. "Take a day like today, when it's the Oscars," says Marin. "Have we not been bombarded with press on every channel, in every magazine, in every newspaper for this big day? Those of us who live here can hardly escape it, and those of us who don't live here can hardly escape it. So there's an interest on the world stage for what we do, but I think it's so important to recognize that this is not the only stage."
A passionate lover of books, Marin took time away from her casting-producing career to write her first, The Secret to Tender Pie (Ballantine), based on grandmothers' recipes across America. She says writing the book and promoting it in a 10-city tour that took her far from the industry was incredibly fulfilling, and it informed the work she returned to.
"I think that it's very important in life to pursue things that create dimension around you," she says. "For me, casting—and only casting people really know this—casting is such a difficult business. It's so time-intensive, so unrelenting in its pressures, so under-appreciated. It may seem glamorous, but it's anything but....Years can go by, and you look up and realize that you've just been on such a burner that you haven't taken time out to enjoy other pursuits. I am insuring that I do, just as I would put forth to any actor out there how important it is to have dimension in your life, because it fuels how you pursue this job of acting."
Far and near: A great reward of casting for Marin is that it affords her opportunities to explore other cultures, as when a search for Navajos to cast in John Woo's Windtalkers led her on a road trip to the Four Corners, where candidates—who had tracked her search on the Internet—turned out by the hundreds.
"You just never know where that discovery is going to come from," she says. "You never know where your search is going to take you, or who you'll meet along the way. I think that's what makes casting so captivating for me after all these years. There's still such an unpredictability about it that it continues to engage me."
Of course most actors won't find themselves the objects of lengthy searches and must instead aim their own searches at casting directors. Asked how the working-class actor makes himself or herself visible to her for smaller roles, Marin offers, "Tenacity. The handwritten letter, the nice reminder, the tape with something recent on it, being in a play that's well received: that unrelenting focus. It's about the responsibility you have to yourself as a performer to stay in touch with the people who do what I do and to make sure that we're updated.... And don't imagine that your agent is doing everything that you want them to do. You hope that, but there are always things you can do in pursuit of your goals. There are always people you can write; there is always something you could be learning about your craft; there's always life to be lived. It isn't about waiting for somebody else to make your life work. It's about putting your best foot forward and making your own life work."
Advice in the room: For Marin, success in the casting room is about what goes on outside it. "Be prepared," she says. "I don't want to hear, if the script is available, that you've come in to meet the director and you haven't read the script. That is not acting at its best. Acting is about being prepared and using all of the resources you can to fuel that moment in the room. And if you look good, we look good as casting people. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't think for a moment that I don't want you to win in that room. Don't look at me as anything other than an ally, because we're all in this together.
"Walk in a room and be comfortable with the material, too," she continues. "It's just essential to walk in and be comfortable with the words you're saying and to make them as much your own as you can. That's key.... Know about the filmmakers when you walk in the room. If time permits, see one of their films. If this is their first film, know what got them here."
Finally, Marin offers, "Don't blow in with a world full of you. Have life in your life. Bring that into the room. Nothing to me is more stultifying than someone who can just drone on forever about acting and the business—and wake me up when it's over. Tell me about your travels. Tell me about your family. Tell me about a book you've read. Tell me about your animals. Tell me about your boyfriend. Tell me about something that is humanly engaging, because that is what I'm going to remember, a conversation that is about something. I think it's important that actors know that they can pull from everything this world has to offer. Read. Write. Hike. Fly. Do things. Because that is going to enrich you as a human being, and it's certainly going to make you more interesting to the people whose lives you intersect with out there." BSW