How 'Zero Dark Thirty' Was Cast

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Photo Source: Columbia Pictures

When casting director Gail Stevens auditioned actors for “Zero Dark Thirty,” she says she couldn’t let them read from the movie’s script. She couldn’t even tell them what they were auditioning for. “The script was very, very, very sensitive, and hardly anyone read it,” Stevens says. “We would get people in to read, [and] we would read from other scripts—films that had scenes that could have been used in that kind of area.”

Sensitive, indeed: Directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty” chronicles the U.S. Navy SEALs’ top-secret mission to find Osama bin Laden. Because of the confidentiality of the subject matter, Stevens can’t reveal the final cast list until the film opens Dec. 19. Though it’s unclear which actors will be playing which characters, we know that Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, Chris Pratt, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, and Nash Edgerton will be members of the cast.

Stevens can, however, talk about her general casting process. She said she searched across Europe and the Middle East for people with the “authentic backgrounds” that the film required. “[I tried] to find people who could bring authenticity, credibility, and believable performances to this story,” she says. “You’re covering 10 years of an extraordinarily important period of world history. But, you know, they all had to be brilliant actors as well.”

Stevens said she was given access to the identities of the real military personnel involved in the mission so that she could cast the film as authentically as possible. “I did know some of the identities, and I could use those to help me with my search,” she says. “With authenticity, some people need to be a physical resemblance as well, obviously, and also with ethnic background. So I did have those references, yes, to help me with the search.”

Of course, one of the most daunting tasks was casting Osama bin Laden. “We thought at the beginning, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s like, the hardest thing ever,’ ” Stevens says. “With [the actor who was cast], we came and we put him on tape and photographed him. There weren’t many people who would be right for that; we were searching for authenticity with all the people. Until it’s released, I can’t give people’s names, but we were really pleased with the person we found.”

Casting Directors: Mark Bennett, Richard Hicks, and Gail Stevens
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, Chris Pratt, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Nash Edgerton
The Pitch: The story of the U.S. Navy SEALs’ 10-year mission to track down and apprehend Osama bin Laden.