Francine Maisler is seen as a shy kid.
The casting director, which she favors by some of the industry's most sought-after directors, is a master of assembling unforgettable ensembles of both stars and unknowns, but she feels a little uncomfortable being named The Hollywood Reporter's inaugural Casting Director of the Year. It's not that she's irritated; she was quick to say THR recently: rather, "I'm really in-the-moment... I've got a job at hand that I need to do
But it's increasingly difficult for Maisler to dodge attention, as collaborators heap praise on them. Among this year's releases, she's worked on roles such as Don't Look Up, working with directors and frequent collaborators Denis Villeneuve, Aaron Sorkin, and Adam McKay, respectively, as well as the forthcoming Sandra Bullock-starring drama The Unforgivable. On television, she helped assemble The Underground Railroad's call sheet of fresh and familiar faces for Barry Jenkins, who'
Maisler has worked on artsy festival favorites with repeat collaborators (a list that also includes Noah Baumbach, Steve McQueen, Alejandro G. Iarritu, and Terrence Malick), as well as tackled comedies (Tropic Thunder), superhero and action films (the original Spider-Man, Bad Boys), and rom-coms (You've Got Mail, How Stella Got Her Groove Back).
Maisler spoke about the challenges of casting actors to portray genuine people for movies such as Being the Ricardos during a call from her home in Los Angeles, whether she's seeking for the next significant thing on TikTok, and how studio casting mandates have changed over the past two decades: We're at a time that's open to so many things that weren't [welcomed] before.
What do you believe are the main characteristics or skills that make a fantastic casting director?
And it's easy to think of this person or that person, there's an intense working time between the director and the casting director, with all of my directors, I think they hire me so that we can talk about things we agree and disagree on and that they have as much information as they can when we make the final decision. Even for the finest, A-plus-plus films, there's a lot of work. With Aaron [Sorkin], we argue back and forth I like to say with passion and wit
Would you consider talents that may make a good casting director to be comparable to creativity, a passion for talent, and even the desire to, as you say, engage with directors, as you say?
We're all about being a great love of cinema and theater, and our goal is to avoid becoming obvious, and sometimes it's stars fitting into the perfect car and sometimes it's individuals who haven't had the opportunity or platform to show their best. Take Leo [DiCaprio]: We're not doing what you would think of him doing in Don't Look Up. And I think it's a beautiful turn.
I believe it's also helpful when it's something you have a passion for and it's not just a job. I wouldn't usually see four movies on the weekend but it's not work to me.
What do you look for today that you didn't do in earlier years, you've been a casting director for about 20 years. How has cast wish lists changed over the years, and what do you look for today that you didn't do in previous years?
I believe that [in the past] there was a mandate typically from the studios to have names in a lot of the casts I was working on, which has changed. Casting directors always wanted it to be diverse and represent the world we live in, but I don't know if studios wanted it. It's difficult because it's COVID, but I believe we're at a time that's open to so many things that weren't [welcomed] before.
In recent years, you've worked on projects with some truly vast, star-studded ensembles, most recently with Don't Look Up and Dune. What are the special challenges of taking on films that attract numerous well-known names?
We didn't have Timothee [Chalamet attached initially], so a discussion took place about him in the book, and then you just begin to build this ensemble of individuals. I can't say that we started either of those projects looking for stars; we didn't. It's simply because all of the actors wanted to work with Denis Villeneuve, and some wanted to be part of it. We didn't have Timothee [Chalamet attached initially], but that was a discussion took
Do you ever audition big performers or have them come in for chemistry reads, or do you go off intuition in terms of how they could work together? Whenever you have a bunch of actors at that level wanting to be part of a film, do you ever audition big stars or have them come in for chemistry reads, or do you go off intuition in terms of how they might work together?
Yes. They met many times with Adam [McKay] and Leo to ensure that it was a fit because they hadn't worked together before. They certainly didn't audition; they were offered the role, and we kept our fingers crossed that they'd want to do it. Does the director meet with them or have a discussion with them? Yes. With Adam [McKay] and Leo, they met to ensure that it was a suitable fit because they hadn't collaborated before.
When Adam McKay arrived on his return to Jerusalem and Boeing-Boeing in the theater, he attempted to form this arrangement with people whom you wouldn't normally see. But you're able to include people who maybe Adam hasn't worked with before, like Ron Perlman, who is known in a certain way, and we just got such a kick out of using Ron Perlman in a movie that you don't normally see him in. And Himesh Patel and Kid Cudi got the idea, she o'Boeing, he had a dream to have Mark Rylance, which I was, that was
On the other hand, recent projects like The Underground Railroad and Succession have rounded out some new talent. Cast directors have traditionally tended to showcases like cinema and indie films. To what extent do you now pay attention to people who are showing up on TikTok, Instagram, or other social media platforms?
I should, but I come from a theater background, and it's about having studied and not someone who is a TikTok sensation, but it's difficult to say who I've tried some TikTok sensations, and I don't think they've taken off to actually appear. I've tried some TikTok sensations, and I don't believe I'm a real actor. I believe the craft of acting is one that needs to be studied, and it's not something
chemistry among the main cast, as on Succession, is one of the main causes of a television series' success. To what extent can you figure out chemistry during the casting process, and to what extent is chemistry a result of luck and/or camaraderie shaping over time?
I don't know if it can be explained: I believe it's the creative people involved and having a fantastic script. Zendaya auditioned with Timothee, and other fantastic actresses read, but they had a chemistry, and she was the best that day. So that's one example of an actor coming in to read and seeing the chemistry in the room.
We honestly cast each individual role in For Succession, and it was magical when Nicholas Braun came in and read, and we had the producer Kevin Messick read opposite him as the Brian Cox character. [In the name of hireability, the 6-foot-7 Braun has said he skimmed inches off his height.] So we knew that would work. When Matthew Macfadyen and Nick Braun met on tape, and they simply nailed their parts. Matthew was someone I had always loved, and I had seen him as
You talked about diversity and the industry requiring it now. There has been some controversy about Javier Bardem not being Cuban American but portraying Desi Arnaz in Being the Ricardos. Aaron Sorkin recently explained the controversy and said he feels comfortable with the choice, as well as a Latina casting consultant on the film. How do you think about cultural authenticity in casting, and, in your opinion, is there such a thing as casting too narrowly for cultural authenticity?
It was a difficult task to pick the best actor for this. Javier is Spanish, and we understood the role was Cuban and there were many, many conversations about this, but ultimately we felt that he was the best person to play the part. So I think everyone needed to be considered for the part, then it's who is the best for this particular part. Javier is Spanish, and we understood the role was Cuban and there were many, many conversations about this, but it wasn't taken lightly, let me say that
What types of similarities do you find between actors and the real people they're portraying when it comes to casting people to play real-life figures like in Being the Ricardos? How much of it is based on how closely they look like the real person?
I think there we didn't want to cast someone who was 6-foot-5 because Frawley is known for physically being a smaller, shorter man, but boy, was able to convey all of the nuances of who that person was the toughness, the humor, I mean, he just killed it. [Aaron] gave her specifics that he didn't want an impersonation, but you don't want to go for an impersonation. [Aaron] gave her specifics that
The interview was edited for length and clarity in order to prolong and clarify.
This article first published in The Hollywood Reporter magazine on Dec. 1.