I just watched a film called “Casting By”, about the legendary casting director Marion Dougherty and her influence on the next generation of casting directors, as well as the history of the art. It’s true that casting is a kind of art– without the right casting, a part is ruined, the story is derailed, and you can never have that chance again. The casting director is the person who culls the actors and brings the director the best choices for the role, after which the discussion begins and ultimately the director decides–but with much advice from the casting director, whose instinct the director relies on. Cindy Tolan is my long-term casting partner. She is probably my most intimate collaborator. My dread of miscasting is why I walk around with fear in my belly for months when I am trying to cast a film. Each day I try to fight off the senseless lists of actors who “mean something” in terms of their “numbers”. In other words, it is very hard to cast an actor or actress in a lead role who has not been in some kind of hit in Europe, because the investors want to know that even if your film flops here, it will make money over there. Naturally it makes sense that many people go to films because of the stars that are in them, but ultimately the predictions of success are just voodoo. Star vehicles can fail; unknown actors can rise to stardom overnight. That is in part what’s thrilling about casting.
To me the most important quality in an actor is something I perceive as transparency. The great actors are not imposing themselves on the viewer, they are not playing at anything. There is a kind of stillness in the best acting; the actor is allowing himself or herself to be infused by the spirit of the character. Even if the character’s rhthm is frenetic, there is some point of stillness deep inside, a clear pool of truth. To me, this quality is embodied in very few actors at any one moment in history.