Hollywood’s most acclaimed casting directors came together at the 2015 Artios Nominee Party on Tuesday at Sur in West Hollywood, in a joint production between the Casting Society of America and Breakdown Services.
As casting directors still strive for recognition — it may just be the last branch not to have its own category at the Academy Awards — the tight-knit community gathered to celebrate each other’s achievements over the past year ahead of the official Artios Awards ceremony on Thursday, Jan. 22.
“Selma” casting associate Robyn Owen was one of the luminaries in attendance at Sur, the popular West Hollywood lounge owned by “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Lisa Vanderpump.
Nominated in the Big-Budget Drama category, she recalled how working with director Ava DuVernay on her first film “Middle of Nowhere” eventually led them to the Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic that has garnered a slew of accolades and awards.
Lead actor David Oyelowo (who plays Dr. King in “Selma”) starred in “Middle of Nowhere” before going on to do Lee Daniels’ “The Butler.” It was there that he met media mogul and cultural icon Oprah Winfrey, who co-produced the project. Owen said Oyelowo introduced DuVernay to Winfrey, and the rest was history.
“David was really the glue that brought everyone together,” she told TheWrap.
Another high profile attendee at Tuesday’s event was casting director Terri Taylor, who was a casting assistant on several acclaimed ’90s projects including “American Beauty” before eventually moving into the casting director role. She’s nominated for an Artios this year for her work on “Whiplash,” which she has been attached to since it was just a short film — albeit one that ended up winning Sundance awards years before the feature film adaptation did the same on a much larger scale.
J.K. Simmons is considered a frontrunner in the Best Supporting Actor category in this year’s Oscar race for his role as the abusive music teacher butting heads with an ambitious young drummer, played by Miles Teller.
Taylor shared that Teller had been sought to do the short version of the film for director Damien Chazelle, but was unavailable. So while “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” actor Johnny Simmons impressed in the short and came close to reprising the role in the feature, they went with their original vision for the character — and it clearly paid off.
Casting directors are uniquely qualified to discover talent who will become future stars, and Taylor holds Teller up as one of the rising stars she’s most proud to have helped discover.
“He was coming off of ‘Rabbit Hole,'” she recalled. “And was just such a hard worker, so talented. He read with so many different actors before it was even a sure thing he had the role.”
“It was packaged through CAA and it was just a matter of the perfect fit — the perfect star with the perfect script and it all came together,” she explained.
Sarah Finn, nominated for casting the studio’s 2014 subversive superhero hit “Guardians of the Galaxy,” also mixed it up with her casting colleagues at the event. She has served as casting director on nearly every major Marvel movie since 2008’s “Iron Man,” and she was quick to remind TheWrap that Robert Downey Jr. was no sure thing back then, either.
But this year Finn has garnered acclaim for making “Parks and Recreation” star Chris Pratt an unlikely hero in “Guardians of the Galaxy. Finn laughed while recalling an interview given by director James Gunn in which he expressed frustration over her insistence that Pratt be given a crack at the role. “The chubby guy from Parks and Rec?!” he had told Collider. “That’s stupid!”
Tamara Hunter was also nominated for her work as an associate casting director on “Guardians,” but she attended the shindig as Fox’s recently promoted Vice President of Feature Casting, trying her hardest not to spill the casting beans on “X-Men: Apocalypse.”
Frustration at the lack of a Casting category at the Oscars was a common theme of the night. “Casting directors are really the unsung heroes of the film industry [because of the lack of recognition],” said Breakdown Services founder and president Gary Marsh. “They say it’s because casting is a collaborative between all different facets of a production, but so is production design or costuming. It’s a fight but we are making inroads.”
CSA President Richard Hicks and Vice-President Matthew Lessall were both at the party, both of whom are also working casting directors. Hicks recently cast Kristen Stewart in “Camp X-Ray” and is currently shoring up “Scream Queens” for Ryan Murphy and Fox. Lessall, meanwhile, is nominated twice in the newly formed Web Series category for casting “Aim High” and “Mortal Kombat: Legacy.”
The 30th Annual Artios Awards, named after the Greek word “Artios” (for “perfectly fitted”), will be held on Thursday, Jan. 22 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills and New York.
See pictures from the event below (A’da Woolfolk, VCN, and Laray Mayfield, “House of Cards” and “Gone Girl” are pictured above).