Casting news for Woody Allen’s upcoming untitled project has just been released, with surprising names like Kristen Stewart and Bruce Willis included in the list. While these might seem like unusual choices, not just for a Woody Allen film but for any film by anyone, Allen has a unique instinct for casting that is part of what makes his films so unique. Good casting can make a mediocre film better, but exceptional casting – truly inspired casting – can elevate a film to masterpiece status. Some filmmakers have an instinct for casting, knowing who can deliver not only the right performance, but a unique and surprising performance.
Most directors have their stock of actors that they love working with – like Tim Burton with Johnny Depp or Tarantino with Samuel L. Jackson – actors that will pop up in their movies time and time again. Woody Allen has dabbled in favorites, but more often than not, he chooses a fresh cast for every project – which is quite a feat considering how ingeniously his films are casted. Of course, Woody Allen has the benefit of being Woody Allen. He’s never going to have a problem getting actors to want to work with him. Have a bit part for an Adrien Brody type? Allen can get actual Adrien Brody to do that. The most recent casting news for his new film (Bruce Willis and Kristen Stewart) compared to the cast of his last movie (Colin Firth and Emma Stone) are certainly a far cry from each other.
Anderson definitely has his favorites. Watch any Wes Anderson movie and you’re likely to see Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, and Jeff Goldblum, among other regulars. But frequent collaborators does not mean that the casting isn’t frequently amazing. Each and every one of Anderson’s favorites is brilliantly and perfectly cast in every film. Plus, he doesn’t stop at favorites. Anderson is also always adding new faces to his army of actors, which are often delightfully surprising choices. New additions include Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Bruce Willis, Jude Law, and George Clooney. Not only is it interesting to see which of his regular actors will return, but which new actors become regulars, and which new actors he chooses for his next film.
Watch any Joss Whedon project and you will see strong, surprising, and thoughtful casting choices. He’s a man who has a solid arsenal of regulars who are outrageously good, often little known, character actors and he’s launched a star career or two. Regulars include Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Enver Gjokaj, and a host of others. Now that Whedon is working with Marvel, you see a lot of these regulars turn up in the Marvel Universe. The phenomenal Enver Gjokaj, who featured on the doomed Dollhouse, plays Agent Daniel Sousa on Marvel’s Agent Carter, while Amy Acker (Dollhouse, Angel, Cabin in the Woods, Much Ado About Nothing) turned up as Agent Coulson’s cellist girlfriend in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Plus, anyone involved in the casting of Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk is clearly a casting genius.
Bruce Timm/Andrea Romano
While Bruce Timm, a leading writer/director involved in the Warner Bros. animated Batman universe of film and television, has an integral part in maintaining the quality and integrity of the franchise, I’m really going to give the credit for the casting where it belongs – firmly in the capable hands of casting director Andrea Romano. There are very few instances where you can simply see who the casting director of a project is and know by their name the quality of the cast, but Romano is one of those people. I always have a hard time accepting a Batman storyline that doesn’t feature the voice of Kevin Conroy, or a Joker story without Mark Hamill – but if I see Romano has had a hand in the casting, I place my faith in her genius and relax. She is among the names I look for on a Warner Bros. DC animation production – along with Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. She’s really that essential.
The directors with the best casting instincts often foster lasting working relationships with their best and favorite actors, basically ensuring a quality selection of talent whenever making a new film. Tarantino is no exception when it comes to claiming his favorites (Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Christoph Waltz, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Harvey Keitel). His choices, while always delightful, usually come as no surprise, except when casting Hollywood royalty like Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) or Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained). You can usually expect to see some relevant cinematic cult figures populating his films as well. Of course, his biggest talent find has been the revelation that is Christoph Waltz, the man who played the impossible to cast part of Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino needed someone who could speak two languages fluently, two more convincingly, who could also act and be funny. Waltz was indeed a one in a million find for Tarantino, evidenced by the fact that Waltz won the Academy Award for best Supporting Actor for the performance.
One of the all time best classic filmmakers, Hitchcock’s films were populated by the classiest, most glamorous talents of his era. Real movie stars like Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, and Grace Kelly jumped at the chance to work with the master of suspense. Hitchcock certainly had his favorite types – like cold blondes and extraordinary everymen – and he knew how to cast for them. While he had his fair share of recurring actors, he was a director who often pushed types and challenged comfort zones. Vertigo, now considered one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of all time, was considered a major failure in 1958 – partly because its leading man, all-American good guy James Stewart, treaded dark waters as the psychologically disturbed and sexually obsessed Scottie Ferguson. A lot of what made Vertigo a failure in 1958 is exactly what makes it a classic today, and that is proof of Alfred Hitchcock’s visionary talent and exceptional casting instincts.