Roundtable: Why Do These Casting Directors Get No Respect?

Five women who put the stars in a slew of this year's hot awards-season projects open up about actors' auditions and why Oscar won't acknowledge them.

What is the biggest fight you've had casting someone?

DICERTO: I never want an actor to think that they had to be fought for -- ever. Does that make sense? I am more protective of them than anyone else.

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TAYLOR: When I was casting Julia in the late 1970s, Jane Fonda was already attached to the film, and she was at her most political. I thought Vanessa Redgrave would be great for the second lead role, and she happened to be in New York doing a play. The director, Fred Zinnemann, had never met her. He said, "Look, I've got Jane Fonda on my hands. And now Vanessa Redgrave says she's going to run for Parliament? (Laughter.) I can't handle both of them." He was really adamant. But I thought it was such a waste. Vanessa was right there in New York! So I went to the producer, Richard Roth, to see how he could make this meeting work. Fred found out I did that and was furious with me. But Vanessa came in, charmed Fred beyond belief and got the part. Those things happen. But you really can't ever say to the director …

EUSTON: "You're crazy." (Laughs.)

Casting today, especially in film, increasingly is about who is bankable overseas. For Dallas Buyers Club, even with Matthew McConaughey attached, the producers needed an actor who could generate box office abroad, and they got that in Jennifer Garner. How early do these concerns creep into your process?

DICERTO: It's definitely a challenge in independent filmmaking. You're casting for a budget as opposed to casting for the film. That's the craziest thing: These buyers actually break down the value of an actor …

LEWIS: By territory.

DICERTO: Yes. You get your list back with the dollar amounts: "This person is worth $300,000, this person is $500,000, or this person's a million dollars." Then you have to think about, "OK, who in column B will fit in …"

EUSTON: It's shocking to me that a movie with Matthew McConaughey can't be greenlighted without extra help. Casting directors don't value actors that way.

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LEWIS: Yet. We have to think about it.

DICERTO: We want the movie to get made, so unless you get an actor with some value, it's not going to be released.

TAYLOR: (Motioning to Rosenthal) Laura has so many folders on her desk of movies that she's waiting to see if they get off the ground. (Laughter.)

ROSENTHAL: Oh, yeah.

DICERTO: I remember starting out (to Rosenthal) in your office and seeing all those different folders. Then years later I'd see a movie and think, "I remember that folder!" It took eight years to get that movie jump-started because you needed an actor to bring value to it.

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ROSENTHAL: But whether you're doing a huge film that a studio can throw money at, or something that's intimate, it's the same game. Who's your audience? What's the value of the actors? Even the director understands the process isn't so precious anymore. Or it never was.

Laura, one film you had particular difficulty casting was The Kids Are All Right. Was it because the two lead roles were gay women?

ROSENTHAL: Yes. But women's roles are hard no matter what; actors are always easier to attach money to. Also, it was women "over a certain age."

LEWIS: But were there several different people attached while you were trying to get it going?

ROSENTHAL: Yeah, we couldn't get it together. Then the director, Lisa Cholodenko, had a baby, and we never had enough money. But that's the case working on a huge film, too. I'm for getting actors for nothing, but it's a drag.

TAYLOR: Another thing people don't know about our profession is that we, A) Yes, have to cast within a budget, but B) We also have to negotiate all the agreements.

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