How CD Shayna Markowitz Put Together the ‘Maestro’ Ensemble

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Photo Source: Jason Mcdonald/Netflix

New York–based casting director Shayna Markowitz cut her teeth in the industry by learning from her mentor—and now, dear friend—Debra Zane. The two worked together on huge franchises like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games,” and on Gary Ross’ “Ocean’s Eight” (2018). On her own, Markowitz has cast cult-favorite Netflix series “Dash & Lily” (2020) and Todd Phillips’ “Joker” (2019), for which she won a BAFTA Film Award. Here, the CD talks about collaborating with Bradley Cooper on “Maestro,” the actor-filmmaker’s portrait of American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) and his wife, Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan).

How did you get tapped to cast “Maestro”? 

I had worked on “Joker.” Bradley was a producer on [the film,] and [Todd] and Bradley had a production company together; so I was on Bradley’s radar. He is a delight. He is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He’s an actor, [and there’s] nothing better than a filmmaker who’s an actor, because he really understands actors and understands performance and the unique skill that is auditioning. To be able to have that shorthand [with him] was really wonderful. 

How does the casting process differ for a project about real people?

When something’s rooted in reality, you start from the facts: How did someone look, and how did [they] sound? When you’re casting someone who is real, it’s all about the essence of the person, rather than [an actor] looking exactly like them. So we start from there, and then it grows. 

Say you’re casting [Bernstein and Montealegre’s daughter] Jamie Bernstein [played by Maya Hawke]…. Everybody knows what she looks like now and what she looked like [back] then. But then you want to make sure that she feels like [she could be] Bradley and Carey’s child, and then you’re building her siblings. So you start with the person, but then you start relating to the other characters that you’re casting to make sure it feels truthful to the story. 


There are so many great actors in the film who play smaller roles, like Matt Bomer as Bernstein’s lover David Oppenheim. How was he cast?

It was very important that we had an actor who had the same gravitas as Bradley, because you had to believe that these men were in love…. We had to find someone who had just as much charisma and charm and was handsome, but had the chops and the soulfulness that Matt brought to the role. 

Does he look exactly like [the real] David? I don’t know. But there’s enough of a resemblance and an essence that he brought…to that character. It was very important that he matched Bradley’s energy. 

What advice would you give actors coming in to audition?

First and foremost, actors should remember that casting directors are on [their] side. We want you to do well. If you do a good job, it makes our job easier—because you get the part, and then we cast. We don’t want to waste our time, either. So hopefully that puts actors at ease. 

Be prepared. Do your research. Especially for a project like “Maestro,” there’s so much information out there. A lot of times, [actors] don’t get the script, [but] there’s a lot you can do to educate yourself: Who are the players? Who are the producers? 

And then, obviously, prepare the material, but come in open so that if your idea of the character is wildly different from the notes that the casting director is giving you, you’re able to play.

This story originally appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of Backstage Magazine.