Louis DiGiaimo, 'Godfather' and 'Exorcist' Casting Director, Dies at 77

He gave Brad Pitt a big break on 'Thelma & Louise,' cast four best picture Oscar winners and won an Emmy for 'Homicide: Life on the Street.'

Louis DiGiaimo, the veteran casting director who worked on such classics as The French Connection, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Rain Man and Thelma & Louise — where he pushed for Brad Pitt to play the charming hitchhiker — has died. He was 77.

DiGiaimo, who worked on four Oscar best picture winners during his four-decade career, died Dec. 19 in Oakland, N.J., after suffering a stroke seven months ago, his family announced.

DiGiaimo was Emmy nominated three straight years for his work on NBC’s gritty drama Homicide: Life on the Street, winning in 1998, and he produced (and served as casting director) on Mike Newell’s Donnie Brasco (1997).

In addition to best picture winner Rain Man (1988), DiGiaimo teamed with helmer Barry Levinson on The Natural (1984), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Tin Men (1987), Avalon (1990), Jimmy Hollywood (1994) and Sleepers (1996).

He cast another best picture, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000), after collaborating with the director on 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), White Squall (1996), G.I. Jane (1997), Hannibal (2001) and, of course, Thelma & Louise (1991).

Billy Baldwin was all set to play J.D. in Thelma & Louise, but when he dropped out after he got the lead in Backdraft, DiGiaimo liked Pitt as his replacement. (George Clooney also was a finalist among the more than 300 actors who had been considered for the role.)

“The character of J.D. was the kind of part that doesn’t come by often,” DiGiaimo recalled in Karen Kondazian’s book, The Actor’s Encyclopedia of Casting Directors. “It was such a showy part that, if played well, it would make the actor a star.

“Ridley liked Brad but thought he was too young. I thought Brad was what we needed. He was an actor who could set sparks off. We brought him back in to read with Geena Davis and the magic worked. He got the part.”

DiGiaimo worked on back-to-back Oscar best picture winners in William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972), and he went on to pair with Friedkin on The Exorcist (1973), The Brink’s Job (1978), Cruising (1980), The Guardian (1990) and Blue Chips (1994).

DiGiaimo cast the only feature Johnny Depp directed — The Brave (1997) — as well as The First Deadly Sin (1980), Porky’s Revenge (1985), 52 Pick-Up (1986), Year of the Gun (1991), Trauma (1993), Sidney Lumet’s Gloria (1999) and 16 Blocks (2006).

Born in Paterson, N.J., DiGiaimo attended Fairleigh Dickinson University and was an accountant before joining a commercial advertising firm. When he heard Martin Ritt was making the Kirk Douglas crime film The Brotherhood (1968), he photographed some non-actors on the local docks he thought could be right for the movie, and the director hired him, launching his career.

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