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Changing lives, one role at a time

Brian Friedman on WWNO

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Dustin Hoffman in the role of Benjamin Braddock in 1967’s iconic film The Graduate. But Director Mike Nichols considered others, including a young Robert Redford.

Nichols doubted whether the dashing Redford could play the sexually inexperienced college grad. The story goes that when Redford protested, Nichols asked if he’d ever struck out with a girl. When Redford responded, “What do you mean?” Nichols answered,”That’s precisely my point.”

On the flip side, casting the lovely, yet not known for her scholarship Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist in the 1999 James Bond flick The World Is Not Enough is still considered, well, questionable.

The point is, casting is crucial in the filmmaking process. So who are the people who make it happen, and how does the process get started?

James Bearb, founder and CEO of Hollywood South Casting Agency

James Bearb, founder and CEO of Hollywood South Casting Agency

“They’ll send over a script, and you read it and draw on people that you know that you think would be good for these certain characters,” said James Bearb, founder and CEO of Hollywood South Casting, based here in New Orleans. “Usually the director has something in mind that they want … and we just try to provide them with this many options of that as possible.”

Despite the recent explosion of film production in New Orleans, most films still bring in their above-the-line talent — their stars — from Hollywood.

“Being a local casting director, you really only hire the local talent,” said Bearb.

What they want from companies like Hollywood South are actors for the supporting roles — generally local talent — to fill out the cast. So in a film like 12 Years A Slave, stars like Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender are already in the picture; it’s up to people like James to find someone to play the owner of the candy shop.

Once an initial list of actors is put together, it’s time for the audition process. And for a casting director, this is where things can get, well, dramatic.

“I have seen it all,” said Bearb. “One time, I was in an audition and somebody fell out and had to go to the hospital. They had to leave in an ambulance. He got so into his performance, so hyped up, he fell over, and, I guess, had a mild seizure or something, but the ambulance came and picked him up.”

“I just had a man break down and cry last Saturday at a casting call,” said Mary LaChapelle, an associate at Hollywood South. After three failed attempts at his lines, he “broke down and started crying and just had to leave. This was a 50 year old man, possibly.”

After the auditions — which, in fairness, rarely involve emergency medical attention — there is still often more than one good candidate for the role.

“Then what they’ll do is they’ll piece different characters together and they’ll see how they all blend and then, ultimately, they find the best mesh of characters,” Bearb said.

“You can pick someone who might seem great for the role,” said LaChappelle, “but if they don’t vibe the way they’re supposed to in the script, then it’s useless.”

Like much of the film industry, Bearb says that casting is undergoing rapid change, with a clear focus on the web. “There’s so much more going on on the internet with casting than ever before. More people have been able to be discovered because of the internet. More people can find access to the information that, just ten years ago, was not available.”

Whereas Hollywood South once operated from a brick and mortar shop, there isn’t really a need anymore. Usually the production has enough room in the offices they rent to hold auditions.

“So there’s no real point in having an office,” said Bearb. “I’ve cast things in Louisiana, I’ve cast projects in Louisiana while I was in L.A., and I’ve cast projects in L.A. while I’ve been in Louisiana … it really doesn’t matter where you are; if you have access to a phone, a computer, the Internet, you can pretty much do casting anywhere.”

As the industry changes, one thing remains constant for Bearb and that’s the enjoyment he gets from finding someone their first role.

“That’s always exciting,” said Bearb, “whenever you see it through other peoples’ eyes, it’s always enlightening. When you see that you’ve actually made someone so happy, just for getting them an extra role, but changing peoples’ perspective and changing people’s lives is the coolest things about it.”


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