Every casting director hears it: “Populate my world but make it believable.”
That’s the edict handed down by the powers that be as these thesp-evaluating experts tackle the tricky jigsaw puzzle of finding the perfect mix of actors to fill seats and create something convincing and memorable onscreen.
This year, those believable worlds include a master thief who surreptitiously steals the secrets of the mind through dreams; a U.S. marshall investigating the disappearance of a murderess from a hospital for the criminally insane; a war-time king tortured by his stuttering; an accomplished bank robber from the grisly streets of Charlestown; and boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward and his fight for the welterweight boxing title.
In “The King’s Speech” world of British aristocracy, the royals are an institution. “A lot of Brits feel a real sense of ownership over them,” says casting director Nina Gold. “They have strong images of them.”
Finding actors to play such beloved historical figures as George VI and his Queen Elizabeth in Tom Hooper’s pic proved formidable.
“We’re also obsessed with class in England, so you need to have somebody who can play that,” Gold observes. “And Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter were perfect. The Queen Mother was everyone’s favorite royal, so I had to cast someone that people really would like in that part. Colin is probably about 10 years older than the Duke of York was at that moment. And he doesn’t really look like any member of the royal family. But he’s such a fantastic actor that those things don’t matter.”
Boston is the setting for David Russell’s “The Fighter,” the true-life story of boxer Mickey Ward and his world. “It was a challenge finding extras and people for small parts who could act with missing teeth,” says casting director Sheila Jaffe. “Nobody would have played the mother the way that Melissa Leo did. And Amy Adams was always high on everyone’s list. She got to play a tougher side. Amy is not the first person you think of to play a tough Boston girl. I also had to find people who could do a good Boston accent. Nothing is as bad as a bad Boston accent. It can really take you out of the film.”
Getting the Boston accent right was also vital for Ben Affleck’s “The Town.” “The accent had to seem authentic, because Ben is from Boston and if he doesn’t get it right, he can’t go home again,” jokes casting director Lora Kennedy.
The film’s great surprise was “Gossip Girl’s” Blake Lively who plays a drug dealer.
“Who knew?” says Kennedy. “All the agents were like, ‘Blake Lively?’ And I’m, ‘Just wait! Shut up and wait!’ And now they see what I saw.”
A concern was that Lively is in her early 20s and the casting director and the director had seen the character much older. “But when we got the reading, Blake just blew us away. She was just it.”
With “Inception,” Christopher Nolan was looking to do a “fresh take on an action movie,” says casting director John Papsidera. “As far as subject matter, going into peoples’ dreams was cutting edge. So we wanted guys just a little left of center.”
Casting Ellen Page was crucial to completing Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb. “There were certainly more bubble-gummy choices,” Papsidera points out. “But I needed somebody who was believable as a sidekick to this crew of guys, and Ellen was a little brain next to Leo. I did not want an actress that evoked romance. Had it been someone that was more va-va-voom, led more with her sexuality, it would have been a distraction.”
For Ellen Lewis, casting director of “Shutter Island,” the credibility hurdle involved finding actors who could convince in dual roles in the film’s tricky story line. “You had to first believe that Ben Kingsley, who plays Doctor Cawley, was not a good guy, but then you have to believe he was a compassionate man,” says Lewis. “Also, Mark Ruffalo was very delicate casting because he had to play the U.S. marshall and then, in the end, be believable as the doctor.”