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DGA noms gather at symposium

Anthony Minghella at first struggled with the idea of Kristin Scott Thomas in “The English Patient.” Mike Leigh shunned improvisation when rehearsing with the ensemble for “Secrets & Lies.” Scott Hicks faced the politics of casting Geoffrey Rush in “Shine.” And with shooting started, Cameron Crowe had to find a new kid for “Jerry Maguire.”

The four DGA nominees for feature director discussed everything from the theories of casting to the selection of film stock at a Saturday symposium. Joel Coen, who directed “Fargo,” was absent while helming his latest feature, “The Big Lebowski.”

Minghella, who won the DGA award Saturday night, championed the choice of Thomas for “Patient,” resisting calls for a bigger-name star. But at first she wasn’t who he had in mind when adapting the script.

“The odd thing about her is she was so far from what I had in mind,” he said. But after meeting her and talking about the role, Minghella’s outlook on the role changed. “When I went back to the script, her noise was in the back of my mind,” he said.

Hicks faced the same struggle in casting Rush — a noted stage and screen actor in Australia — for “Shine.” He recalled even having someone commenting to him: Rush “is 40, he’s made no films. What sort of failure is this guy?”

“There were sort of attempts to shuffle Geoffrey out and put their own people in,” Hicks said.

Leigh, however, told of working with as much autonomy as possible. The cast, in fact, knew little of what the film was about until rehearsals. Leigh described the process as “writing through rehearsal and structuring through rehearsal and it winds up being finished.” Although he met with each actor individually, and they in turn do their character, he resisted group improv as an element of rehearsal.

“The ones with real taste shut up because they are too embarrassed,” he said. “The ones who don’t upstage everyone else.”

After Tom Hanks passed on the lead for “Jerry Maguire,” Crowe set his sights on Tom Cruise. Many told him that Cruise wouldn’t play such a character, or come in and read for the part. He did.

“He said ‘Let me read (the script) out loud and see what you think,’ ” Crowe recalled. But Crowe ran into difficulties in casting the original young kid, Ray Boyd. “It wasn’t working,” Crowe said. “He didn’t want to be there.”

But fortunes changed with 5-year-old Jonathan Lipnicki. “He was on fire. He knew his lines. And he said ‘I’ve wanted to be an actor all my life.’ ”

On Thursday, four nominees for TV longform — Betty Thomas (“The Late Shift”), Uli Edel (“Rasputin”), Anjelica Huston (“Bastard Out of Carolina”) and Robert Harmon (“Gotti”) — also talked of their craft. The fifth nominee, John Frankenheimer, was directing a new biopic of George Wallace.

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