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How To Cast Like Marion Dougherty

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

July 16, 2014

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Marion Dougherty on the phoneWhen a producer goes about auditioning talent for a film or special project, every role has to be cast just right or their overall vision will be compromised.

No one understood this better than Marion Dougherty, a woman who almost singlehandedly set the bar for casting in feature films.

There's nothing like extraordinary casting when telling a story well.

Want to cast like Marion Dougherty?

Be sure to read this article and pick up 9 casting tips in today's VOX Daily!

Casting By

Last month, I happened to see a film called Casting By, produced by Tom Donahue, that shared about the life and work of the late Marion Dougherty (d. 2011), a film that truly captured how one woman, and a handful of others, transformed casting into what it is today, setting a new standard of excellence for those who followed in their footsteps.

What is Marion Remembered For?

Marion's approach to casting ran against the grain in Hollywood.

What she did was guide her clients towards the right actor for the job. Her methodology applied to all roles in the film, not just its leads.

This may sound like something you'd expect of a casting director but we have to appreciate that in old Hollywood, this practice was unheard of. Back then, a film studio had a roster of actors who were assigned roles regardless of whether or not they were right for them.

What Marion did was take an existing profession and make it her own.

Very few casting directors were doing what Marion was doing at the time, and boy, did people take notice!

Opening Doors to Deserving Talent

Marion's style of casting began to catch on, and as a result, the way an actor or actress looked didn't matter so much. Opportunities were created for talented actors who in that day would have been unlikely choices.

Dougherty's work reinvigorated the industry, introducing fresh faces to the silver screen the likes of Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Jon Voight. She also played a pivotal role in boosting the careers of actors such as James Dean, Al Pacino and Robert Redford.

Casting By film by Tom Donahue re: Marion Dougherty

Marion's Method

Casting for range was more important to Marion than casting for type, something she was against. Additionally, chemistry between actors was considered when she brought an ensemble together.

In the film, Marion revealed that she cast based upon instinct. She could see what couldn't be seen, with many an actor, including Danny Glover, believing that Marion could see something in them that they couldn't see themselves.

Another thing that set Marion Dougherty apart was her knowledge of the actors she was considering. She'd do interviews with actors, taking notes on 3" by 5" index cards careful to jot down their skills, education, preferences and any observations made while conducting the interview. She'd latch on to what made the actor excited, what made them tick, noting that his or her "eyes light up when I mentioned..." whatever it happened to be.

Marion loved actors and her choices changed the course of casting, and the movies, forever.

Want to Cast Like Marion Dougherty?

While it may be impossible to replicate Marion's special brand of casting developed over decades of experience, you can certainly take a few pages out of her playbook. When casting for a project, make sure that you:

  • Clearly understand the director or producer's vision
  • Have a thorough grasp of the roles you're casting for
  • Keep your ear to the ground for new talent
  • See what others don't see
  • Be confident in your choices, especially when giving someone their first real job
  • Maintain high standards for casting, no matter how small the role
  • Look for chemistry between actors
  • Truly enjoy the people you're working with (you need to love actors!)
  • Trust your gut

Do You Cast?

If you are a casting director or sometimes find yourself in a position to select talent, I want to hear from you!

Be sure to comment here on this post and introduce yourself.

With warm regards,

Related Topics: Acting, Actors, Casting, Casting By, Celebrities, Film, Hollywood, Marion Dougherty, Tom Donahue


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