“Hairspray” producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron knew the movie needed to be different from what people saw on the Broadway stage. “There’s a level of campiness we felt wouldn’t work in the movie,” Zadan says.
To that end, casting directors David Rubin and Richard Hicks confronted the major hurdle of “tone” when it came to putting together the right ensemble. “Because of the intimate nature of film, we looked for real emotion and were interested in actors who could move the audience as well as entertain.” And, of course, every actor had to be able to sing and dance, too. “You need triple threats,” says Rubin. “That separates the men from the boys right there.”
The “Hairspray” nationwide casting search delivered newcomers Nikki Blonsky and Elijah Kelley, among others. “The Internet has affected the process. We set up a website, and people knew we were coming to their town,” says Hicks. “You could download eight bars of music. We got tapes from small towns in North Dakota.”