Casting Director Discusses Her Role

Pat McCorkle has spent 25 years casting actors for movies, TV shows and theater productions. She tells Scott Simon about the pressures of the job, and how she gave three actors their big breaks: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Brendan Fraser.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Have you ever wondered whether "Casablanca" would have made a better film if, say, Robert Mitchum and Lucille Ball had been the leads, whether Shelley Winters would have made a better Edith Bunker, or if "The Producers" would have been a bigger hit on Broadway if it starred Robert Goulet and Savion Glover? Casting is often about finding actors who have box-office appeal, then placing them in prominent roles on television, in movies and on the stage, but if it were only that obvious, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts would star in everything. Enter the casting director, the person who's often responsible for keeping superstars on a short list for roles, but who also introduces new actors to audiences in virtually every project. Pat McCorkle has been casting movies, television and theater for 25 years and joins us from New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. PAT McCORKLE (Casting Director): Well, I'm--it's such a pleasure to be here.

SIMON: Now who's the casting director loyal to?

Ms. McCORKLE: Well, primarily the person that hires them, which is usually the producer, but what we try to do is fulfill the director's vision, and sometimes the director isn't quite sure how he's going to articulate that, and our job is to people his project with actors that are going to fulfill that need.

SIMON: Now these days it's common for a film not even--doesn't even go into production until fill-in-the-blank...

Ms. McCORKLE: Till it's green-lit by a movie star.

SIMON: Yeah, exactly.

Ms. McCORKLE: Right.

SIMON: And then--and so that's not a role you get to choose.

Ms. McCORKLE: That's not a role I get to choose. I get the project after that. That's usually the studio executives and the producers.

SIMON: You did the remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair."

Ms. McCORKLE: Yes.

SIMON: All right. The original was Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.

Ms. McCORKLE: Correct.

SIMON: Pierce Brosnan was the producer of that film?

Ms. McCORKLE: Yes. He brought the project to the table. He worked for MGM and he was their James Bond, and they said, `What else would you like to do?'

SIMON: Did it become your responsibility to find someone who would play the romantic lead in the film?

Ms. McCORKLE: Yeah. My job was to give them lists of people that I thought were--would be feasible with Pierce. John McTiernan did a brilliant job in directing that film, and it was very important to him that whoever played opposite him would be someone--a peer of his.

SIMON: So he didn't say, necessarily, `Get the hottest 25-, 26-year-old star you can find.'

Ms. McCORKLE: Actually, he said, `Don't get the get the hottest 25- and 26-year-old. I want someone a little more mature, so we have a mature relationship.'

SIMON: Do you hear that a lot?

Ms. McCORKLE: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Let's run a clip.

(Soundbite of "The Thomas Crown Affair")

Mr. PIERCE BROSNAN: (As Thomas Crown) Do we know each other?

Ms. RENE RUSSO: (As Catherine Banning) Not yet. I'm Catherine Banning.

Mr. BROSNAN (As Crown) Thomas Crown.

Ms. RUSSO: (As Banning) I've been reading about you.

Mr. BROSNAN (As Crown) Oh? Where?

Ms. RUSSO: (As Banning) In a file.

Mr. BROSNAN (As Crown) Who do you work for?

Ms. RUSSO: (As Banning) I'm in the art world.

Mr. BROSNAN (As Crown) ...(Unintelligible).

Ms. RUSSO: (As Banning) Hmm-mm.

Mr. BROSNAN (As Crown) Gallery owner?

Ms. RUSSO: (As Banning) No, it's closer to insurance.

Mr. BROSNAN (As Crown) Bounty hunter.

Ms. RUSSO: (As Banning) If you like.

Mr. BROSNAN (As Crown) Always get your man?

Ms. RUSSO: (As Banning) Mm-hmm.

Mr. BROSNAN (As Crown) Think you'll get me?

Ms. RUSSO: (As Banning) Oh, I hope so.

SIMON: Well, it seems so utterly obvious when you hear the clip, but how did you get to Rene Russo?

Ms. McCORKLE: Well, obviously she's an extraordinary talent and a beautiful, beautiful woman, and one of the interesting things for Rene was the fact she has never played a sexy woman before. She had always played housewives, and it was a challenge to her to play that overt sexiness. But she did a brilliant job of it, and I think it really changed her career.

SIMON: Are you looking to create stars of tomorrow, or just get by with that property?

Ms. McCORKLE: I--we're always looking for the best talent we can, and we're looking for that sparkle. I mean, I attend shows regularly, showcases. I go to universities. I go--I teach all over the place and try to find young talent in what's out there in the market.

SIMON: I want to ask you, for example, the 1992 movie, "School Ties," you cast that, right?

Ms. McCORKLE: Correct.

SIMON: OK. You were--as I understand the story, you were asked to cast some unknowns...

Ms. McCORKLE: Right.

SIMON: ...actors who were not previously identified, as some anti-Semitic jerkish prep students at a private boarding school, so here's--I think it's a locker room scene, in fact.

(Soundbite of "School Ties")

Unidentified Man #1: Well, I wouldn't go to Harvard if you paid me--all those Jews and Communists.

Unidentified Man #2: What do I care if there are Jews at Harvard? They're not in the club. You don't have to room with them.

Unidentified Man #3: That's not the point.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, right.

Unidentified Man #2: That is the point. It's like Princeton. You don't have to be with them if you don't want do.

Unidentified Man #4: How would you ever know?

Unidentified Man #2: What?

Unidentified Man #4: If you were with them.

Unidentified Man #2: What, are you kidding? I mean, how would you not know? It's kind of hard to miss a hebe.

SIMON: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as the anti-Semites; Brendon Fraser is, I believe, the young Jewish gentleman. Chris O'Donnell's also in the movie. So did you say to yourself, `Ben and Matt, they'd make great anti-Semites'?

Ms. McCORKLE: They auditioned and auditioned. We heard, actually, Matt, I think, read every part. But I found them up in Boston.

SIMON: Did you know they were such good friends?

Ms. McCORKLE: No, and that just was an extra added plus on our part, because--the bonding of the boys.

SIMON: How well-known was Brendan Fraser at that point?

Ms. McCORKLE: He wasn't. He had done one small, tiny movie where he was--had a very small part. He was out of Seattle and was seen in LA. He actually auditioned three times and then clearly knocked it out of the park.

SIMON: Let me put you on the spot a bit, Pat McCorkle.

Ms. McCORKLE: OK.

SIMON: Does it happen to you that every now and then someone sidles up to you and says, `The producer or director has a girlfriend, and, well...'

Ms. McCORKLE: It does happen, but I usually say, `Well, that's great, but there's no zipper board under the movie screen or the stage saying, `Please excuse the performance of the actress because they can't say the words.' But there are times that they can come up, but sometimes they're talented. Usually those kind of things don't go too far.

SIMON: In recent interviews, Doug Liman, who directed "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," said that Nicole Kidman was originally going to play the Angelina Jolie role.

Ms. McCORKLE: Things change. People's popularity change, their availability changes, their profile changes, and it sometimes will change the film.

SIMON: Demi Moore was once going to be in "The English Patient"?

Ms. McCORKLE: I heard once Robert De Niro was going to be in the Tom Hanks movie, "Big."

SIMON: All right.

Ms. McCORKLE: I don't know if that's true, but I heard that.

SIMON: All right. We'll pass it on anyway.

Pat McCorkle, casting director for television, stage and screen.

Ms. McCorkle, very nice talking to you.

Ms. McCORKLE: Well, thank you so much.

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