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Casting directors: Search and employ

Actor experts put together all the performer pieces

Find “cute”! Find “dark”! Find “chemistry”! Find “unknown”! And, oh yes, find me a Pygmy! And of course, they gotta be able to carry a film.

That’s the kind of phone call casting directors live for.

For Ronna Kress, working on “Australia,” the biggest challenge was finding that cute Aboriginal boy. “Baz (Luhrmann) was looking for a young boy, and not just an Aboriginal boy but a half-caste,” says Kress, who worked closely with casting director Nikki Barrett. A yearlong process began with an initial search of 1,000 children, all from Aboriginal areas, and none of them actors.

“Baz went to various communities,” Kress says. “There was always this little boy, Brandon Walters, who everybody kept coming back to. Baz filmed him so Brandon could get the experience of what it was like to be on a movie set. This was a really huge piece of the puzzle, and a big risk to have a completely green kid at the center of your film.”

Casting director Aisha Coley says she would normally be hesitant about using so many different performers from the music world together in a film, in this case, “The Secret Life of Bees.”

Somebody funny and menacing. They thought of Jack Nicholson. Humor was at the forefront,” Papsidera says. And that’s not what Chris Nolan envisioned. “In his mind, the Joker was much closer to Malcolm McDowell’s character in “A Clockwork Orange” than it was to Nicholson’s character. Many actors were intimidated, afraid to be compared to Nicholson. Nolan’s Joker had to have darkness as well as the intellect to work the puns. “You also needed somebody with a certain amount of physical prowess,” Papsidera says. “Heath Ledger was always at the forefront of our minds. We thought he could really get this character.”

The character of Oti Ngunda in David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was written into the script as a Pygmy from Africa. “Casting him was a concern,” Laray Mayfield says. “I had to find a very small guy who was African.” And an actor. Mayfield went online, checked out the agencies in Africa. “They sent me submissions — pictures, and statistics on how tall they were, what size they were. I probably received audition tapes from 25-30 actors. Then we found our beloved little Rampi, who came over and read in person for us.”

Less difficult was casting all the old characters. Mayfield told Fincher, “Honey, there is one place where you find elderly Southern people, and that is the South.” Mayfield set off to New Orleans, where she cast upward of 70 roles.

The two lovers in “The Visitor” had to be attractive. One was African. One was Arab. And they had to be able to speak three languages convincingly. They also had to be able to carry a movie. Says Kerry Barden: “I found Danai (Jekesai Gurira) in a one-woman show at New York University and Haaz (Sleiman) through auditions in Los Angeles. I was really pleased with the pool of talent that I found, especially the Arab actors. Two of them said, ‘It’s so nice to come in and not be playing the terrorist.’ ”

Finding the young Indian slum kids was the most complex aspect of casting “Slumdog Millionaire.” “The script was originally in English, but when we got to India, it was obvious that the 7-year-old kids did not speak English,” Danny Boyle says. “My Indian casting director, Loveleen Tandan, said I had to translate the script into Hindi. ‘You’ll be amazed,’ she said. ‘The world will change in front of your eyes.’ ”

The first portion of the script was translated into Hindi for the 7-year-olds, and that section of the film is run with subtitles.

“Loveleen was right,” Boyle says. “As soon as I translated the script, I started getting real slum kids to audition and didn’t have to see the educated English-speaking kids who were not quite right. Slum kids live by their wits, and that’s partly what the film’s about. You’re not just casting actors. You’re finding out from the kids which kind of film you’re going to make as well.” `

The characters in “W.” are most definitely not fictional characters. “The challenge was to present them in a way that felt authentic, and yet fresh,” says Sarah Finn. When the casting director first mentioned Josh Brolin to play Bush, it wasn’t a slam-dunk. “Josh was initially reluctant to play the role,” she recalls. “It was a risky undertaking for an actor, but Josh had so many qualities.” It was important for Finn to find the right actors that were going to understand the tone of the piece. “They had to play somewhere in the gray zone between a drama and a comedy,” adds Finn.

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