Monica Corcoran Harel is an AwardsLine contributor.
A great film can feel a lot like a fantastic dinner party. Actors mingle and clash in the best possible lighting, and conversation is fraught with wit and emotion. The director usually gets the bulk of the credit. But before he or she can play the consummate host, someone must carefully select the right guests, send out the invites, and keep track of the RSVPs.
That would be the casting director, of course. It’s a job that can’t garner an Oscar, but its mighty importance is always felt behind the scenes. In his wildly amusing book If the Other Guy Isn’t Jack Nicholson, I’ve Got the Part, Ron Base writes of the near-casting decisions that would have changed film history. Imagine The Graduate starring wry Charles Grodin, for instance. Or a gum-cracking, mustachioed Burt Reynolds playing the paunchy, debauched astronaut in Terms of Endearment.
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This season, a bounty of films showcases the brilliance of casting directors who hit their marks. Case in point: Jamie Foxx as a freed slave seeking revenge in Quentin Tarantino’s socially controversial Django Unchained, Hugo Weaving playing roles outside of his gender and ethnicity — also a controversial turn — in Cloud Atlas and an assemblage of Academy Award nominees and victors in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.
Putting together a roster of stars is just a fraction of the work, though. In the case of Lawless, the project languished in uncertainty for almost three years and various actors were forced to jettison the film for other roles during the limbo. Originally, in 2009, the Prohibition era-Goodfellas had Shia LaBeouf, Ryan Gosling, James Franco, Amy Adams, and Scarlett Johansson in the cast. Three years later, when the film premiered in Cannes, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hardy, and Mia Wasikowska sauntered down the red carpet. Incidentally, LaBeouf never abandoned the cast and fought to attract talent.