How 'The Counselor' Ended Up with an All-star Cast

Photo Source: Kerry Brown

The thriller “The Counselor” follows a lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who finds himself in over his head after getting involved in a dangerous drug deal. Novelist Cormac McCarthy wrote the unconventional screenplay; Ridley Scott directed the film. “Ridley was very respectful of Cormac and wanted to make sure that his vision and Cormac’s vision were properly merged,” says producer Nick Wechsler. “It is the first produced screenplay from this very esteemed writer, and we have a grand master as a director, so there were a lot of people who wanted to be in this movie.”

Although the film stars Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, and Brad Pitt, casting director Avy Kaufman came on to the project before anyone was attached and started the casting process from scratch. “[It] was not easy, but [it was] fun looking for these ‘character types,’ ” Kaufman says of the very specific, criminally minded types being cast. Wechsler says they ended up with a cast of actors a lot more famous than anticipated. “The one concern we might have had as producers is we didn’t want to overwhelm the movie with so many recognizable names,” he says. But Wechsler says Scott blended the high-caliber cast and “restrained the effect of the stardom and made them just actually be actors as opposed to celebrities in these roles.”

The casting of Fassbender and Pitt fell in place quickly. “Ridley said, ‘What do we think about Fassbender as the role of the Counselor? He’s amazing. I really had an incredible experience working with him [on “Prometheus”]; he can do anything.’ And everybody was a fan of Michael’s. He’s one of the great newish actors who is really making a mark right now,” says Wechsler. Knowing that Pitt was a fan of McCarthy, they approached him about what role he might be interested in. Pitt was drawn to Westray, the handsome middleman with a cowboy style who tries to warn the Counselor of the dangers he’s getting himself into.

While reading the script, Kaufman says she immediately thought of Bardem for the role of the Counselor’s cohort in the deal, and she pushed for him throughout the casting process. “Ridley had a really close relationship with both Penélope and Javier and wanted them both in the movie,” says Wechsler. The role of Reiner, a nightclub owner, was not originally written for a Spanish actor. “That was a little bit more of a hurdle for some of us to get our heads around, but Javier can do anything,” says Wechsler. The role of the Counselor’s fiancée, Laura, was also not written as a Spanish person, but, says Wechsler, “[Cruz portrayed] her innocence and vulnerability and the purity of her character in a world of people making bad moral decisions…. When you’re just a naturally gifted actor you can pull the essence of a character off without distracting the person by how you look or where you’re from.”

Perhaps the most challenging role to cast was Malkina, Reiner’s sexy and predatory, sociopathic girlfriend. “At first we thought we’d want to surprise an audience with somebody that they didn’t know that well,” says Wechsler. When the studio suggested Diaz, Scott met with her and was impressed. “Everybody knows that [Diaz is] completely great at what she does, but she hadn’t done this,” says Wechsler. The casting of Malkina took the most discussion before Diaz won the role.

Casting Directors: Avy Kaufman, Nina Gold
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Cormac McCarthy
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt
The Pitch: A respected lawyer find himself in hot water after getting involved in drug trafficking.