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How To Cast Like Marion Dougherty


By Stephanie Ciccarelli

July 16, 2014

Comments (2)

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


    Great information. Thanks for sharing. I cast often due to being a director of dialogue and an action director. I have cast of energy most of the time it is magical.Thanks for this info
    Looking forward to seeing more.

    Posted by:

      OK, you asked.

      I've been casting for over 30 years, and every day I apply the philosophies that made Marion the legend she is.

      It baffles me that there is so much lip service paid to the "art" of casting these days, when so few in this industry walk the walk. So many of the CDs in the documentary are old-school, which I love because because it speaks to a real apprenticeship model that was the way so many of us started. It's not that they don't embrace new technology, but more that they haven't forgotten what makes casting so great.

      Marion said: "Most important for a casting director is for them to love actors - and be interested in them.”

      Today, as I look at our industry and in particular, casting, my biggest fear is that this state of mind has taken a back seat to commerce, and a greedy and exploitative system of asking actors to pay for access that should always be free. The so-called "casting director workshops" have critically undermined the true apprenticeships of the past that drove the quest for excellence in the casting profession. I worry that the casting directors of tomorrow will mistakenly believe that being paid to meet a pre-packaged group of 20 or so actors in a workshop is a viable alternative to finding the undiscovered talent in Los Angeles, in theatre, in acting classes and in general interviews. I’m afraid that the current crop of TV casting professionals may reflect this lack of imagination and initiative in finding new talent. But I'm even more worried that the inherent conflict-of-interest that the workshop scheme represents will become the norm and that the casting community will continue to embrace a reprehensible practice that makes a cash exchange the prerequisite to finding talent.

      There is no science to having great taste as a casting director. Ask Marion Dougherty, ask Debra Zane or Francene Maisler or Risa Bramon Garcia or Laray Mayfield or Jen Euston. The task before all casting directors is to recognize a very simple fact. Finding actors, talented and compelling actors is not an easy task, and that's a good thing. Through the journey, lessons are learned. We are often thrown every left curve possible and forced to walk though fire to find the great actors - those who become a part of our professional lives forever.

      The "science" that many consider a part of casting now - the technology, the databases, the apps - none of those things can replace the hard work and determination of a professional work ethic combined with a personal moral conviction that serves no other end than finding the most brilliant Oscar worthy cast possible.

      When the casting clerks of today talk proudly of their "workshop students", and continue to pretend that there is any merit whatsoever in the process of being paid to do a job they're already paid a lot of money to do...well, this philosophy speaks to a blatant ignorance of those professionals who laid the foundation before them.

      It's shameful.

      If there is ever a chance in hell that the casting community will finally get the recognition from the Academy it so richly deserves, then hopefully, before too long, the CSA and the rest of the casting community will stand together and remove "workshops" from our collective consciousness.

      Posted by:
      • Billy DaMota CSA
      • August 24, 2015 4:03 PM

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