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The Top 20 Casting Directors for the Films of 2005 -- Part One

The Top 20 Casting Directors for the Films of 2005 -- Part One

In selecting the Top 20 Casting Directors for the Films of 2005, Ross Reports took into effect both critically-acclaimed and popular films. We considered casts, genres, and challenges that each film presented. Although we made mention of select past films, the following casting directors are honored for films released in 2005. The list includes both individuals and partners, film casting directors of dramas, comedies, adventures, studio releases, independents and everything else in between. Wherever possible, we have included some of their thoughts on the casting profession, experience with the films they've worked on, and what their thoughts are in casting different types of roles.



2005 Critical Picks: Walk the Line, Wedding Crashers

Select Past Films: Election, Identity, American Wedding, About Schmidt, The Sweetest Thing, Girl Interrupted, Scream 2 and 3

(Editor's Note: Sarah Katzman was not available to be interviewed, so we spoke exclusively with Lisa Beach.)

Was anybody attached to Walk the Line when you and Sarah came onto the project?

Reese and Joaquin had been attached for a long time, but we basically started about a year later than we thought we were going to because Reese got pregnant with her second child. But ultimately, when they wanted to cast the rest of the piece, Cathy Konrad and (director/co-writer) Jim Mangold, with whom we have worked on numerous pictures, called us and said "Are you available?" And we said, "We sure are!."

When you started casting, were you confined by the breakdown descriptions? Or were you allowed any latitude in your choices?

Basically, our constraints were that we were dealing with real life people at the age of twenty-five: Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Sam Phillips etc. All these guys were twenty-five years old in the 50's, and were with Johnny Cash at Sun Studios. So, because they were all real people, the actors playing them actually had to bear some resemblance to them. You couldn't completely fudge who you were going to cast. For example, for the Tennessee Trio, who were Johnny's back-up players (actually, it was a duo — Johnny Cash made it a trio), I remember on our wall there were pictures of the real guys, Luther and Marshall. Therefore we needed a rounder-faced guy to be the stand-up bass player, and then the other one had to be much longer-faced and tall and skinny. We needed to find musicians who could act. That was one of our priorities. So when we did put the breakdown out, it was "Must be able play the guitar, must have musical ability." And we got stacks and stacks and stacks of pictures, which we went through first for resemblance, and then we whittled it down with musical auditions, and finally acting auditions. We even had T-Bone Burnett in our musical auditions, which was very thrilling for us because he is such a legend in the music world. So, it was Cathy, Jim, T-Bone, Sarah, and I in a room with all these terrific twenty-five to thirty-year old guys who were singing and playing their hearts out, hoping to get a shot to be in Walk the Line.

Casting this was really, really fun. The day that Shooter Jennings (Waylon Jennings' son) came in was like an out-of-body experience. He sang a song that is now on the soundtrack, and that had every one of us in the room moved to tears. It was just so haunting to see Shooter playing his father, and he looks exactly like his father at that age. And Waylon Payne, who is just this wonderful, incredibly talented musician came in and auditioned for Jerry Lee. He channeled Jerry Lee. And when Tyler Hilton turns around and says, "Hey, can someone get me a cheeseburger?" you think, "Oh my God, it's Elvis Presley!" So I feel like we were totally blessed in our ability to find these kids. Sarah and I are so, so proud of this cast. And then the location casting that Shirley Crumley did in Memphis, and Atlanta, going all over the South and finding those amazing faces to play Maybelle Carter and the kids! I think it's a seamless piece of casting from both the LA people that we brought in, and the people Shirley brought us. I think we did great work. I will toot our own horn on that one.

How did you and Sarah work with Shirley? How did you determine who was casting what roles?

Shirley was the third casting director. She just happened to live in the city where they were shooting this movie, so they would have the same kind of sessions there that they would have with us. Shirley would bring them in just the way we brought them in. We would get the tapes, and we would see the people they were hiring, and it was always very exciting to say, "Oh God, what a great face!" It felt like To Kill a Mockingbird casting, with all those amazing faces from the South and the incredibly talented people who come from Memphis and Nashville, Atlanta and all over.

It was great working with Shirley, and obviously, we'd love to work with her again at some point.

In terms of who cast what roles, it was largely determined by budgetary constraints. I think it's no secret that this movie was done on what a major studio would consider a shoestring budget. Fox (the studio) and Jim and Cathy knew, for example, that we would want to bring Elvis, Roy Orbison, the Tennessee Trio, and Vivian Cash from LA. We also cast the roles of Mrs. Cash (Shelby Lynne), and Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) out of LA. We were allotted up to ten characters here that they would then be willing to fly to Memphis and house for the summer. We did ten to twelve of the characters, who were essentially the co-stars of this movie. Shirley did all of the day player parts and the hard part of her job was making the actors from her neck of the woods mesh so seamlessly with ours.

Now, obviously you didn't have any of these constraints with Wedding Crashers.

We had so much fun with Walk the Line because you felt just so creatively jazzed by this cast that you were putting together for this terrific drama about the life of Johnny Cash. And then, when we did Wedding Crashers, Sarah and I have never laughed so hard in our lives during the casting process! David Dobkin (Director) and Andrew Panay and Peter Abrams (Producers), were a joy to work with and made every day a joy to come to work.

I was playing Vince Vaughn's role in the auditions, and some of the girls just went "balls out" in an effort to seduce "Vince Vaughn." ...! When Isla Fisher came in, she sat in my lap, she crawled all over me, she tried to take my shirt off, and we all just laughed and laughed and laughed! I ended up many times on my back, as it were, during the audition process !!!!. Sarah would be laughing so hard that the camera was shaking, and David Dobkin and the producers were in hysterics. We just had a great time! While auditioning for Kathleen, the part that Jane Seymour ended up getting, I would very respectfully put my hands just in front of their breasts, with no intention whatsoever of actually doing what Owen ended up doing on screen. Most of them would just grab my hands and say, "Feel them, feel them, feel them!" So I swear to God, I can think of at least seven women (Ms. Seymour not among them, by the way) off the top of my head who, while they were going "all out" to get this terrific part, I was thinking the whole time, "I don't even think James Bond got this much action!!!".

So, in any case, we just laughed and laughed and laughed. It was really fun. And working with David is so amazing; he's just really gifted. We had a ball.

So, given that you didn't have the constraints that you did with Walk the Line, with dealing with real people, did that give you any more leeway in terms of casting?

Our only real constraint in Wedding Crashers were that you knew you were looking for a bunch of WASPs who were funny, who didn't know they were funny. And that's a fairly finite number of people.

We had all kinds of leeway with casting, but it was just a question of whether it worked or not for the ultimate goal of the filmmaker.

Was anyone attached to Wedding Crashers when you and Sarah came on board?

Owen and Vince were attached to Wedding Crashers. The rest was up to us.

And how much of a role did the studios play in the casting for these two films? Were they pushing for name performers outside of those who were already attached?

No, because they already had their names. And so, because they already had their names, we had a lot of creative freedom to go where we wanted to. But yes, obviously they were very involved in who ultimately was going to be cast because everybody has their opinion about casting and there are a lot of reasons why people are cast. Still, they were very, very permissive in letting us go where we wanted to go, and for the most part both Fox and New Line said yes to all of our choices. It was a really wonderful process working with both those studios. They couldn't have been more generous as far as letting the filmmakers achieve their creative goal.

Who ended up being the most difficult characters to cast in these films?

In Walk the Line, it was Marshall, the stand-up bassist. Not many people actually play stand-up bass, so it was hard to find the right guy who could act, who had the look, and who could actually play the upright bass. There were a few guys who would drag their upright bass into our office to audition, but we'd think, "You could never look like that guy. Ever." Larry Bagby could fiddle with it — no pun intended! — but during the two months of rehearsal they had, he really learned to play the upright bass.

In Wedding Crashers, the hardest one was Jane Seymour's role. Jane had to come in three times to audition. David knew exactly what he wanted, and he wanted to make sure that what he got was perfect. And what he did get was perfect. So that was a very difficult role 'cause as I said, we saw a lot of women. I mean, many, many, many, many, many women in their fifties and early sixties who could play this part, but Jane Seymour captured it all.

Did you have any local casting on Wedding Crashers?

We did have a local casting director on Wedding Crashers, but she only did about four parts. We did the rest. It was in Washington DC, and they were only shooting there for a few days. So basically, everybody was imported from here. And we looked at everybody, down to the football playing family members. And David is just as specific about his one-line parts as he is about his lead actors. You know, in some ways it's a challenge, and in some ways it's really refreshing. But it's not something they don't care about. You really need to care about every single character, and they have to be a perfect fit. Which is the definition of "artios" in Greek. (Editor's Note: The Casting Society of America presents the Artios Awards, the casting equivalent of the Academy Awards.)

What became your favorite memories of making these two films?

Our favorite memories of casting Wedding Crashers would be auditioning the roles of Gloria and Mrs. Cleary, just because of the countless laughs we had trying the get the right person. And as far as Walk the Line, I just loved the whole combination. I just loved the music, and being able to bring together the music with the right face, and seeing these incredible kids and the kind of talent they have...being able throw them back to the 50's and being able to make them work so well for Walk the Line.

What's your general casting process for feature films?

Well, it's pretty much the same for everybody, isn't it? You take the script and you release the roles on Breakdown, you go through the process of doing a lot of pre-reads and getting to know new actors, you bring in to the director the new actors who would be right and the other actors you already know. But ultimately, because casting is so collaborative, and everybody has a say — the directors, the producers, the studio — sometimes it's just a question of whose vote counts for how many more points than the other person's vote. Often, there are times when we feel the need to convince them, and to say, "This is the right person! This is the right person!" Basically, the casting process is one in which a lot of people get together and realize "this" is what's going to make a great cast. And you know, sometimes I think casting is instinctual; you either know it, or you don't know it. And I just remember feeling I could do this since I was five years old. I didn't want to be a fireman; I wanted to be casting director.

When films that you've worked on have been either nominated for, or won, such high-profile awards as the Golden Globes, or Emmys or Oscars, how does that affect your future casting jobs?

I get a lot of internal kudos insofar as phone calls from agents and from a lot of other casting directors — and that's always such an honor, to have another casting director acknowledge you for the work you do. But it doesn't necessarily mean that the phone suddenly rings off the hook, and that we are turning down work right and left. We so often work with the same directors, which is wonderful, and it is always great to get to work with new directors, too — and especially nice to know that it is our body of work that recommends us.

What's up next for you and Sarah?

The thing about casting is, I have no idea what's coming up next. One never knows in this business, but hope springs eternal. My dream is for the phone to ring every ten to twelve weeks so that we are always working, but still have a little time to enjoy all the other wonderful things that life has to offer. Sarah and I are blessed to have this career, and we can't imagine doing anything else. It is our Artios Life - a perfect fit.

Terri Roberts


2005 Critical Pick: Hostage

Select Past Films: Polar Express, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

Upcoming Film: Monster House

When you began casting Hostage were you looking for actors who fit the specifications of the script, Robert Crais' novel, on which the film is based, or were you open to different interpretations based on the energy and qualities of the actors you auditioned?

On Hostage, we were trying to service the director, Florent Emilio Siri's vision. He is French, and Hostage was his first movie filmed in the U.S. in the English language. He had a very aesthetic eye that really responds to actors faces and the look of the characters. We found he liked to look at headshots first. After we spent some time with him and learned what kind of style or look of an actor he was responding to, we went out to find actors that were in that style and that were good actors.

Is there a difference in the way you approach casting a feature film versus episodic TV?

In a feature film, most of the time, you're trying to serve the directors' creative vision, and you have the luxury of having a longer period of time in which to do that. In episodic [television], you're really serving the writer-producer, who's the showrunner, and the people at the network and the studio, and it's less the director. Because, in most cases, you have a different director every week, and oftentimes they rotate them, so the director is coming into an already established show.

How much of a role does the studio play in casting? Did Miramax favor any particular actors for the this film or where you given open range?

In that movie, I think Miramax only came aboard toward the end of the movie. They were only distributing it, I believe. There were other entities that weighed in as well. There was Bruce Willis, and his company, Cheyenne Enterprises. There was also Stratus Films, and the investors. But mostly it was servicing the director's vision.

Who was the most difficult character to cast in Hostage, and why?

The character of Mars Krupcheck, in my opinon, was the most difficult role to cast. In the script, the character was an obvious bad guy. He was the catalyst of the piece whose rather bizarre actions churned up the action in the film. The challenge was to find an actor that could come in and deliver that and also give you the other side and see the characters humanity, and not just peg him as an obvious bad guy. Ben Foster delivered on all levels. He was clearly the actor that achieved the balance. I was also very impressed with the look of the film. Florent Emilio Siri's production team did an absolutely fantastic job. The cinematography and the production design really elevated it into a beautiful movie. I also liked the way they played the house as a character. Visually, it was really nicely done.

What was your favorite memory from making Hostage?

I have to say my favorite memory was casting the three boys, Ben Foster, Jonathan Tucker and Marshall Allman. Actually I'll say all the kids, including Michelle Horn and Jimmy Bennett. We were very pleased with the actors that ended up getting the parts, as well as the performances that were up on the screen.

What are your next film projects?

Victoria and I are casting Resident Evil III.

Bruce B. Morris


2005 Critical Pick: King Kong

Select Past Films: CastAway, The Polar Express, Contact, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Upcoming Films: Monster House, Resident Evil - Extinction

How do you cast a new film based on a legendary character - one that was first

introduced in a 1933 motion picture, and then again in a 1976 remake? I'm assuming there is a lot of research involved.

It first depends on [Peter Jackson] the directors' vision — if he wants to lean toward the actual characters. Kyle Chandler, for example, was a choice of Peter's because he wanted that old movie star feel. We were told we didn't have to look at the old movie and go after that, because Peter felt the film should have it's own identity. Otherwise people start making comparisons to the old movie, like you're trying to recreate it exactly. Peter gave us freedom, and we also knew the guidelines, based on seeing the original film. We chose to cast the project from scratch, rather than base our casting on the original film, but I did look at the original movie to become familiar with the characters.

When you began casting King Kong, were you looking for actors who fit the specifications of script, the two previous films or were you open to different interpretations? Did your perception of the roles change at all based on the energy and qualities of the actors you auditioned?

Well, Jack Black being cast was Peter's creativity. From the get-go, Peter was interested in him, like he was with Sean Bean in Lord of the Rings for Boromir. He [Peter] had it in his mind that Jack Black would be a very off-beat way of going, and knew the levels that he had in him in order to deliver.

When films you've cast in the past, including the Lord of the Rings films and CastAway are nominated for, or win, prestigious awards (i.e., the Golden Globe, AFI, Oscar), does that make you even more in-demand for casting jobs?

People are more impressed when talking to you, and I think people check in on you more because you're starting to be associated with bigger and better projects. It adds another level, which is nice.

What is your general casting process for feature films? How does it differ from casting regular series television?

The approach is you get more time for your research. You get more time to get to know actors in other films, and the agencies [that represent them]. Everyone's striving to put their actors in feature films.. Television works very, very fast. It's who's available, who knows the style. Get'em in, get'em out, and then there's who is the network interested in. Also, it's not necessarily always about the acting, but being a commodity. You get some comedian that has a hit show on Disney or a network, and then all of a sudden they're sticking them in projects to see if they work in the movies. We have Monster House coming out. The studio loved the idea of putting Kevin James and Nick Cannon in it as two policemen. It worked fabulously. So that was the feature thing, and in TV, when you have the Pamela Anderson or The Rock, you have a did well for Schwarzenegger and Stallone.

How much of a role does the studio play in casting? Did Universal favor any particular actors for the leads?

This is what happens, and I'm going to take us back a little bit. When we worked with Universal on The Frighteners, they wanted to be involved with the casting a lot. They only had a project called Heavenly Creatures, and it wasn't readily known. Peter, as a director and an artist was really secure with his vision, so he really held fast to what he wanted, and he got it. When we went into The Lord of the Rings, and the studio was very much interested in putting a name in there, we went to Nicholas Cage for Boromir. Thank God he saw he didn't fit in and passed, which is how we got Sean Bean, and then they wanted another name, so then we went with Liv Tyler. With the rest of the characters, they allowed it to be Peter's vision, and they supported him on that, because they knew the stories and these characters were so important.

Who was the most difficult character to cast in King Kong, and why?

Nothing was really difficult. By the time we were doing King Kong, so many people knew how fabulous Peter was, that it didn't matter what the money was going to be. They wanted to be a part of it. People were coming in and going on tape like crazy. Peter just made his choices from all the actors put on tape. If there was somebody we thought was terrific, I would highlight the name on the tape log. We never got to see the script. We were working off sides that were written for the audition only, We [also] never got to see character descriptions. So you had to defer to the director, and that's what happens with a lot of these big, movie scripts. The same with the Albert Brooks movie, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. We never saw the script. The actors did not see the script unless they got cast. Albert wrote out audition scenes for the actors to read.

What was your favorite memory from making King Kong?

The amount of people that came in and just kept complimenting Peter Jackson and [screenwriters] Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. They were just in awe of them, and everyone knew King Kong was going to be special. We are very proud to have worked on the film — this being our third movie with Peter Jackson, and knowing what a fabulous group of people they are. Everything you see, and everything you think they are — they are... and more. They are that genuine, wonderful and creative filmmakers.

What are your next film projects?

Monster House is another motion capture film that will be coming out near Halloween 06.. Gil Kenan directed, with Bob Zemeckis executive producing for Sony. We are now working on Resident EvilExtinction starring Milla Jovovich, and a little independent film for Fox called The Last Sin Eater being directed by Michael Landon Jr.

— Bruce B. Morris

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