Casting should not be so stressful

I really love technology. And obviously, I’m all about Internet culture and New Journalism. A huge, huge downside to entertainment journalism in the post-Google era, though, is that a whole lot of people assume they understand something based on scraps of information doled out willy-nilly. Nowhere does this bug me more than with casting rumors. I’m at the point where, when I’m catching up with an acquaintance who works in a casting office, I routinely say, “Can you please keep that shit off the Internet? It’s exhausting to watch everyone freak out over something that could very well amount to nothing.” Meaning—I don’t think casting should ever be announced until the first day of principal photography on a film shoot. Case in point—everyone was assuming Benicio del Toro was going to be in Star Trek 2, probably as the villain, but just yesterday news came out that his negotiations fell apart and he’s out. And everyone was like OMG THIS IS A CATASTROPHE STAR TREK IS DOOOMED!!!1!!!1!!!

Bitch please. That shit happens all the time.

It usually happens because an actor thinks they’re worth more than the studio is willing to pay (I’m looking at you, Viggo Mortensen), but there are myriad reasons casting talks can fall through. Scheduling. Money. Chemistry doesn’t work out between actors X and Y. In reality, most movies, on average, run through 3-4 actors before a part is cast (I mean in serious talks, not counting the dozens, if not hundreds that may audition and never get a call back). But these days, when so many sit on the Internet and obsess over every little detail, each casting announcement is met with undeserved fanfare and each “oh never mind, that didn’t work” is greeted with uncontrollable despair. If someone enters into talks for a part but those talks don’t pan out, fans of whatever person/project is involved often start up with the “is this project in trouble?” talk.

Take Mortensen and Snow White and the Huntsman earlier this year. Originally tapped for the lead role of the Huntsman, Mortensen got into talks with Universal which ultimately broke down over money. He later cited health and scheduling reasons, which sure, I’ll allow for that to have been a factor. But money was the motivator (from a PR standpoint, though, he can’t really go around saying, “I asked for a bucket of cash and they said no” without alienating pretty much everyone, so it’s a good dodge). Next Universal, not in a panic, called up Hugh Jackman. They didn’t get much further than that with him because he was trying to get The Wolverine off the ground and he passed. They next approached, still not panicking, Thor star Chris Hemsworth, who ended up landing the part. The search was broader than that—you can never put all your eggs in one basket—but Universal only engaged in three serious conversations before casting the role. Totally normal.

Never would’ve known it from the Internet. Is Snow White in trouble? was the banner headline on a lot of film/entertainment sites. (For the record, the only projects I’ve heard of having serious casting trouble this year are Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and The Mortal Instruments.) At no point, though, was Universal worried. They had their list of people they wanted and they ended up getting someone off that list. What’s the big deal?

In the real world, there is no big deal. But on the internet, it’s a disaster because a couple of guys passed. Successful actors routinely pass on projects. They pass on way more than they take. Passing on a project is not a big deal, in and of itself. Successful actors are also passed over for projects. David Fincher recently stated that he ix-nayed Scarlett Johansson for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Is ScarJo suddenly a failure? No, she just wasn’t right for what Fincher wanted to do. I’m totally stating the obvious—this is all common sense stuff—but I challenge you to pick a project in development and follow it through casting. You’ll be amazed at how people lose their shit over nothing.

Of course, it all gets worse when some actor mouths off about almost getting a part and then we start playing Hollywood Sliding Doors. Hollywood Sliding Doors can be fun—I always wonder how different things would be for Dougray Scott today if he had landed Wolverine back in 1999—but generally, it’s not something I put a lot of stock into. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I have a lot of pet peeves. Well one of my biggest is when an actor recasts herself in a role that went to someone else. First and foremost, this is intolerably RUDE. It detracts from the person who actually got the role. Second, it’s incredibly bad PR. What if you have to work with that person you just backhand complimented?

This is fresh in my mind because we’ve just had two prominent examples of this. First, Jessica Biel bemoaned how Anne Hathaway keeps getting all the parts she goes out for. It reminded me of this scene in The Trip when Steve Coogan says, “I have an albatross around my neck and it has the face of Michael Sheen.” Biel made herself look pathetic but she also took the shine off Hathaway’s achievements in winning some sought-after, competitive roles. Suddenly Anne Hathaway being Catwoman = pitying Jessica Biel. How gross, to make someone else’s accomplishment about you. It’s like a normal person giving a toast during a co-worker’s “yay promotion!” party and saying, “Well I think I would have done just as a good a job, but congrats, I guess.” TACKY.

Even worse than the “poor me” tactic, is the flat out, “Yeah, I was offered that but I turned it down” approach to self-recasting. Michelle Trachtenberg just pulled this when she said she was offered the role of Bella Swan in Twilight but passed because of either scheduling and/or “already having done the vampire thing”. This is even worse than going “poor me” about losing a role, because at least “poor me” makes it sound like the role was worth having. Pay attention to the kinds of actors that will play the “yeah I could have had that” card about a role—you rarely see it coming from someone really successful. Trachtenberg is stuck on TV, once again playing a character a lot of fans (this time Gossip Girl, last time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) blame for sucking up their show. Her film career is virtually non-existent. In the interim, she’s watched Kristen Stewart go supernova as Bella Swan.

As IF she wouldn’t have taken Twilight if it was offered to her back in 2007. You know what Trachtenberg was doing in 2007-2008? TV movies. Like she would have actually passed on the lead role in a potential franchise. But that’s the point of the “yeah, I could have had that” tactic—to make the person saying it look so desirable and busy that he/she couldn’t possibly have considered doing whatever major part they turned down. But ultimately making these kinds of statements isn’t worth it. Beyond being rude in the general sense, in an industry sense, it’s so unprofessional I almost can’t bear it. As I mentioned earlier, what if you have to work with the person who did get the role? These are the statements that make PR reps groan out loud and force agents into apologizing for twatty clients. It’s not that I doubt Trachtenberg’s veracity—I believe she talked to Catherine Hardwicke about Twilight. I just don’t for one second believe that she actually passed on the role. Hundreds of actresses were auditioned for Bella Swan but only one was made a formal offer. Neither Trachtenberg nor anyone else ever even had the chance to turn the part down.

And that’s the problem with playing the “yeah, I could have had that” card. Casting for a big part like Bella Swan (or Catwoman) is always followed very closely both within the industry and by industry-watchers. The ramification of recasting yourself in such a role is that everyone will cry BS because the casting story is probably well known. Basically, you look like a liar. But to the public, now it looks like Stewart was second-choice. And now people are assuming something about casting that isn’t true. What gets lost in this kind of posturing is that there are steps to casting. There are auditions, screen tests, talks, offers, negotiations. It’s possible to be in talks for a role you haven’t been formally offered, such as Jackman and Snow White. And with big parts like Bella Swan, even if the director has a clear favorite, they still have to audition and test other people. Partly to cover their own asses—what if there is a real scheduling conflict and your #1 isn’t available? It’s why you can’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Two recent examples of this are The Descendants and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. For The Descendants, director Alexander Payne hand-picked Shailene Woodley as his first choice to play Alex King, but the producers wanted him to audition actresses native to Hawaii. So Woodley had to cool her heels while Payne did that before he could bring her back in. For Dragon Tattoo, Fincher wanted a relative unknown, his favorite being Rooney Mara, while the studio wanted a name. So Fincher was basically forced to screen test a bunch of actresses he knew he didn’t want to hire. Does that in any way detract from Woodley and Mara getting their respective parts? No, it’s business as usual. But should Mara and/or Woodley hit it big, you know some twat will open her mouth and go, “Yeah, I could have had that part.”

Casting doesn’t have to be stressful. Its very nature is change and flux. Any actor you like is going to lose a part and pass on a part in turn. Any project you’re interested in will likely cycle through several people before landing on the person right for the role. Some sad-sack actor will eventually bemoan losing out to someone they perceive as more successful. And inevitably, a twatty actor will claim they could have had a major role that, no, they couldn’t. Any time a new casting announcement is published, we should all just take a breath and remember that until cameras are rolling, nothing is set in stone.

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15 thoughts on “Casting should not be so stressful

  1. lula34

    Once you mentioned Tratchenberg all I could think of was Lindsay Lohan. (See also: Katherine Heigl.) And then I got to the picture of Rooney Mara at the bottom of this post and you have, again, confirmed my utmost respect for you.

  2. Ro

    Great post – I’m always very put off by the people that say,”I could have had this, I could have done that.” But the point is You didn’t, suck it up and move on. Plus talking about the role after it’s already been cast just spoils it for the actor that did get the part.

  3. Heyyyy

    Very good post! Hope your blog gets more readership eventually. It’s so annoying for occasional armchair industry watchers (like myself) to be on Twitter and read the various trade mag journos and movie bloggers jabbing each other over who scooped first that someone was in talks. Then add to that THR and Deadline and whoever else tweeting about every negotiation and drop out, it does make it sound like a lot more drama than there probably is. I wish it could go back to castings announced when filming starts, but can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

    Playing the “I could have been…” or “I tried out for…but didn’t get…” – again totally agree. The former is worse, especially because the general public will think, oh that girl could’ve played Bella Swan. Is it more damaging or beneficial to Michelle Trachtenberg that the story got some play, because I saw her name a hell of a lot more than I usually do.

  4. laura

    oh please! Viggo bailed cause he hated the script changes! The money rumour was released by the studio and they later took it back! He didn’t want it to turn romantic with Snow White, it’s common knowledge! He bailed. Live with it.

    1. Liz

      Viggo recently came out and said he disliked the script changes, but there is no confirmation that it was because of new romantic angles between the Huntsman and Snow White. Regardless, the original script called for a small, unrequited crush on the part of Snow White. A lot of the script rewrites occurred right after Mortensen’s departure anyway. Money certainly played a part, regardless of how big or small it was made out to be.

  5. Sarah

    Tractchenberg said the same thing about Thirteen [I can’t remember if it was ERW or Nikki Reid’s role – Probably ERW’s because of how connected Reid was to the script]. It’s definitely a huge SIT DOWN move. It’s unfair to the actor who eventually got the part, since it comes across as very condescending to the other actor [“Oh, look who you’re stuck with, you could have had me”]. I’ll even give Trachtchenberg the benefit of the doubt and imagine that she was just making the comments for interest’s sake, but it still comes across as, at the worst, poor taste and, at the best, unnecessary.

  6. Ridley

    Thanks for this insight into the casting world. But I have a question. So why do these folks do it? There must be some benefit for these folks. Is the publicity worth it? Name recognition? But as you say, there are steps to casting. Why do they think this will benefit them? Why is Jessica Biel so try for so little gain?

  7. Ann

    Reminds me of another variation – “I had the role, but got shafted”. Looking at you, Shiloh Fernandez. He said he was signed to play Edward Cullen, but had no chemistry with Kristen Stewart (and of course it was her fault) so Robert Pattinson backed into the role. This was while he was promoting an even lamer Catherine Hardwicke movie. Classy.

    1. Vivienne Lee

      Shiloh Fernandez was one of the worst when it comes to Twilight. He basically implied that he was cast without even auditioning with Kristen Stewart. He got caught in his lie and had to backtrack a couple of weeks later.

    2. T

      Ann – I remember reading that article! His comments were gross. He sounded completely entitled and so unprofessional – said something about Kristen Stewart being ‘awkward’ and wondering what was wrong with her. Then went on to say he’s glad Rob got the part instead of him because that kind of fame ‘wasn’t for him’. My eyes just about rolled out of my head.

  8. This reminds me of the Hollywood Roundtable last year with the purported Oscar nominees for Best Actress. There sat 6 actresses who are very successful (Bening, Kidman, Portman, Adams, Bonham Carter, Swank) and very famous, and the moderator asked them about the etiquette of the roles they were offered but didn’t accept. They all said that it’s tacky to talk about the roles that you passed on, because it’s disrespectful to the person who gets the role and awkward. Hilary Swank started talking about a role that she really wanted, “Welcome to People”, how she had her manager get her a copy of the script and a meeting with the writer and she campaigned hard for the part but didn’t get an offer. Amy Adams turns a bright shade of red and Annette Bening, that divine scamp, stirs up the shit. And it turns out that Amy Adams, sitting across the table, got the offer but turned down the part. So there are the two situations, the Biel and the Trachtenberg of the A-List set, and both seemed pretty uncomfortable about the situation. It happens, at all levels of Hollywood.

  9. D

    Greta article .
    Though, it’s not only 3rd rate tv actors who try and get attention for themselves by p!ssing on a role they ‘turned down’. My long-held dislike for Julia Roberts, turned into full on hatred when I saw her on a pre-Golden Gobes interview saying how both the roles that Sandra Bullock was being praised for that year (The Proposal and The Blind Side) were basically her cast-offs that she’d turned down. It was the most bitchy, self-indulgent, attention seeking BS i’ve seen in a long time. And she said it while standing next to Tom Hanks and his wife, which made me wonder how he didn’t ‘BITCH PLEASE!!’ her.

    1. She did the same thing to Gwyneth Paltrow when she won the Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. And I’m sure Julia Roberts does see most everything first and she passes on 98% of it, but for Pete’s sake. Let someone have a little glory without shitting all over it, you know?

  10. Molly

    Sarah, did you see Vulture’s interview with Lea Michele today? I thought it was an interesting sidenote to your post. They ask Lea about being up for the part of Eponine in Les Mis, and she basically calls out Dianna Agron for being up for Spider-Man and not getting the offer. Maybe it’s just my disdain for Lea Michele these days, but if I were Dianna Agron I’d be furious at my castmate for reminding people of a role for which I was passed over.

    The quote is “I was just talking to my publicist yesterday that it didn’t used to be like this in the business: I’ve been up for a lot of movies before that I really wanted to get, but now, people know a lot more than they used to and it’s all out there. Like, I remember when my co-star Dianna [Agron] was up for Spider-Man that the news was online, and I felt really uncomfortable for her. I mean, yeah, it’s super cool that you’re in consideration, but it’s also a really private thing, and then if you don’t get it …”

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