The casting process, according to Mulholland Drive

The tiny man, Richard Nixon, the film composer, the cowboy.  These men run Hollywood.  In your dreams.

A pair of Italian brothers are financing a motion picture.  It appears to be the story of a fictional or semi-fictional girl singer from the early sixties.

These Italians are tough customers.  They know what they want, and they have extremely high standards for their espresso.

How do we know they’re tough?  Because one of them is Richard Nixon (not to mention a Texas bar-owner) and the other is — I can barely even say it — a film composer.

Whatever you do, don’t mess with a film composer.

The tough Italians want an actress named Camilla Rhodes to play the girl singer.  They are adamant about this.  They are so adamant about it they can barely speak.  They tremble with fury at the thought of anyone opposing them.

The director of the picture, a young man named Adam, doesn’t yet know who he wants for the part, but he knows he wants a say in the matter.

The studio is willing to put on a show of compromise for the director, but ultimately the decision has already been made — by a tiny man who lives in a windowless dark room.  No one may touch the tiny man, who doesn’t even have a desk or a television, only a telephone and a glass wall with an intercom that faces a pair of double doors.

The tiny man seems to be the studio head, and he seems to be sympathetic to the Italians’ choice of girl.

It seems to be a bleak existence for the tiny man, but he appears to be content.  He has, it seems, immense power and the few people who speak to him do so in stammering, gasping tones.

The director balks at the Italians’ behavior.  No one’s going to tell him who to cast in his picture.  He walks out of the meeting and trashes the Italians’ limo.  I guess no one told him — the Italians are Richard Nixon and a film composer.

It’s nice to think that, in the world of David Lynch, a film composer outranks Richard Nixon.

The director soon feels the wrath of the Italians.  They freeze his bank account while the tiny man in the dark room shuts down production on his movie.  They strongly urge him to go see a cowboy who lives at the top of the Santa Monica mountains.  The director (who has problems of his own) goes to see the cowboy who dishes out folk wisdom with an eerily calm demeanor and obliquely threatens the director’s life.  The Italians, it seems, don’t know any Italian hit men — they must rely on eerily calm cowboys to do their dirty work.*

The director, humbled, awed by the displays of power from the Italians and the tiny man, goes to the next day’s casting session.  Casting sessions in Hollywood, it seems, are expensive propositions.  Sets are built and actors are put into full makeup and wardrobe.  (Across town, a young actress, freshly in town, goes to try out for a picture and finds herself in the room with the lead actor, who apparently has made it his priority to attend every audition.)  The Italians’ choice auditions and the director wisely points to her and says “This is the girl.”

And young actors ask me every day how to get an agent.  If they were to only watch Mulholland Drive, they would know that agents have nothing to do with it.  You are either chosen in advance by Italians working in concert with a tiny man in a windowless room, or else you walk in the door and get an audition with the star.

Of course, in the latter case, the elder, visiting casting director indicates that the producer (Alcott faveJames Karen) is going about his production all wrong.  “He’ll never get this picture made,” she sighs.  It makes perfect sense — he hasn’t made the proper arrangements with the Italians and the tiny man.  It’s like they always say — it’s who you know.

Who the burnt guy is who lives behind the diner and owns a small blue box I have no idea.

*Wait a minute — they know some Italian hit-men after all.  They send one mountainous one to the director’s house.  He is unable to find the director, but he punches the director’s wife and her lover unconscious anyway.
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The Departed casting notes

The Departed, on top of being riveting entertainment and superlative filmmaking, offers an excellent opportunity to look at the casting process and how the right actors can really help to get across the ideas of the movie.  Each actor brings a wealth of associations with them to help raise the tension of the narrative and the expectations of the audience.

MATT DAMON, we know, was already a genius Boston guy in Good Will Hunting, so we not only buy his accent, but we know he’s really smart.  Plus, he played both Jason Bourne and Tom Ripley so we know he’s good at lying to people and can kill with a cold heart.

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO we know was in Catch Me if You Can so we know he’s good at fooling people, and he was in Gangs of New York so we know he can take care of himself in gangland, and he was in Titanic so we know that he’s operating under a terrible burden of guilt and shame.  Kidding.  Sort of.  But you know, ever since then he’s kept scrunching up his brow and looking really pissed off, never more so than here, where regret and anxiety waft off of him in waves.

JACK NICHOLSON is more sui generis.  He carries so much baggage with him that he presents a case all by himself.  No one comes within striking distance of Nicholson’s work in Hollywood today, especially since Brando died.  He shows up and you pay attention.  From Jake Gittes to Randall McMurphy to Jack Torrance to The Joker, he’s a steamroller of associations and innuendo.

MARK WAHLBERG we know is tough from The Perfect Storm and Three Kings, but we know he’s vulnerable too from those same roles.  So we know he can hold his own against the stars in the short run, but we don’t know if he can go the distance.

MARTIN SHEEN we know is tough because he killed Marlon Brando, but he was also President Bartlett so we know he’s wise and fair.  (This part, I’ve heard, was originally supposed to go to DeNiro, which would have lent a lot more surprise and tension to those scenes.  Martin Sheen killed Marlon Brando, but he kvetched a lot about it beforehand and he struck him from behind when it came down to it.  DeNiro would take your head off like swatting a fly and not even stick around long enough to watch your corpse drop to the ground.)

we saw stand up to Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, so we know he’s tough (they put a scar on his face for extra toughness), but we also saw that he ultimately lost that battle to Sir Ben so we know things can’t end well for him.

VERA FARMIGA we’ve never seen before so we don’t know what the hell she’s gonna do.

ANTHONY ANDERSON we know was in Kangaroo Jack so we know that he’s capable of doing anything.

ALEC BALDWIN we saw chew out Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross and pull the rug out from under Leonardo in The Aviator.  We saw him bomb Tokyo in Pearl Harbor, bomb Vietnam in Path to War and boss imaginary trains around in Thomas and the Magic Railroad.  He boned Kim Basinger in The Getaway and Teri Hatcher in Heaven’s Prisoners.  Alec’s no chump, he can take care of himself.  Unless the bear from The Edge comes around, then he’s screwed.

KEVIN CORRIGAN plays fuckups and losers.  I mean that as a compliment.