Interview with Tom Donahue
What drew you to this story?
Initially, it was two casting directors coming to me, and saying, maybe there?s a documentary here. But it was Marion Doherty?who I?d never heard of?who they explained was this great casting legend, and could I at least put her on tape. Because she?s in her mid-80s, and nobody?s ever told her story, and it would be great just to capture her. And as I did that interview it opened a window to me, of what an incredible story it is - the story of casting in Hollywood. I knew it was more than just about Marion. It was about her profession.
You reveal how Marion shook things up by casting from her gut, and how the actors she brought to these films, like Al Pacino, were not cut from the same old Hollywood cloth.
Marion is an amazing example of somebody who comes from outside the system, and therefore, has a whole new way of looking at things, because they?ve not bought into the old way. She had no idea what she was doing. [CHUCKLES] She was just told, you need to find actors for this TV show. And she was like, oh my God, where do I find these actors? And she started going to the theatre, which she had been doing anyway. She always had this inherent sympathy and understanding of actors. And on top of that, she had the golden intuition. So she was able to see through the crap, and see what that person was about.
And yet as important as they are to the creative process, the casting director?s role is overlooked in the industry. To this day there is no Oscar category for casting director.
I think that?s because it?s hard to define it as a craft. People don?t see it, the way you can costumes or a set. It?s so meshed in the experience of experiencing a movie that it?s hard to believe that they?ve made a creative contribution. The audience creates such an emotional bond with the actor. And then of course, the director gets all the accolades. And they?re not going to admit that it wasn?t really their idea, but the casting director?s idea. They want it to be their idea.
Marion Dougherty often saw something in them that they didn?t even necessarily see.
One sign of how much actors respected her was that, when we called them about appearing in the film, not a single actor said no. Jon Voight started telling the story of what Marion had done for his career, and it went on for an hour and twenty minutes. You could make an entire documentary on Jon Voight?s relationship to Marion Doherty, it was so beautiful. And I felt that with all these actors, there was just this vulnerability that I had never seen in them before. Because they weren?t on a press junket; they weren?t selling their latest film. They were talking about this person that was near and dear to them, and you really felt the love that they had for her, whether it was Diane Lane, Danny Glover or Al Pacino.
And then we flash forward to 1999, when Marion Dougherty learns she?s been replaced; and learns it not from her employer directly, but reads about it in the trades.
Lora Kennedy is an amazing casting director. She replaced Marion. And I think she said it best, that it?s not about Marion. It?s a lack of respect for casting directors in general; that they?re all replaceable, and that their creative contributions aren?t completely appreciated, or completely understood. In today?s corporate environment, I think it?s easier to replace people; it?s easier to not completely value someone?s contribution. And so here?s this woman who?s had an incredible fifty-three year career, who, in this corporate environment, can be so easily replaced. It says a lot about the industry.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
I hope audiences will have a new appreciation for one of the great creative crafts of filmmaking: casting, which is one of the most important contributions of filmmaking.