Eric: Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy, and in this episode, we bring you one of Hollywood’s greatest and most proficient casting directors, Jane Jenkins.
— When an actor comes in and has really thought about. Who is this character? Where do they fit in the script? And you bring a life into the room. I go thank you very much and I cancel 10 appointments.–
Jane Jenkins: Her credits over four decades. Makes you wonder is there a movie she didn’t cast with her partner Janet Hirshenson The Princess Bride. Jurassic Park. Ferris Bueller. A Beautiful Mind. When Harry Met Sally. Harry Potter. Plus another 50 or so movies for John Hughes Ron Howard and Rob Reiner.
–You’re a Wizard Harry.
You can’t handle the truth.
Houston we have a problem.
Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice.
Welcome to Jurassic Park.
Keep the change you filthy animal.–
Eric: But none of this would have happened if her career went as initially planned in front of the camera.
Jane Jenkins: I was not a successful actress. And I loved being in the business. I worked as an assistant to a number of people and one of the – two of the people that I worked for were John Peters and Barbra Streisand when they were making a movie called A Star Is Born, a remake of the original. And I sort of watched the whole casting process and then I went to work for a man named Frank Pierson. Frank Pierson was a terrific writer who wrote a movie called Cool Hand Luke. He – a lot of fabulous fabulous movies- and he wrote Dog Day Afternoon. He was a really fabulous Academy Award-winning writer and he wrote and directed, A Star Is Born. And after we finished shooting the film he asked me if I would come and work for him on a film called King of the Gypsies. And so I did a lot of research for him and then I watched them casting it and I kept saying no these people are wrong they’re not gypsies because I knew a great deal about more than I ever needed to know about gypsies. And literally a lightbulb went off in my head and I went, “casting! What a great job that could be could really incorporate my acting and my production and all of that.” And then all I needed to do was find a job because I didn’t know how to actually, cast anything. There are rules and regulations and an actor by the name of Ralph Waite who was on a very successful TV show called The Waltons. Way back when before all of you were born it was an old boyfriend of mine and I asked him if he could help me get a job at Lorimar the country. The company that produced the Waltons and he said, “you know, I’m going to do a movie and you can cast it for me.” And I went, “I don’t know how to actually.” He said, “go to the screen actors guild and get the rulebook.” And I did. And I read it. And I figured out how to hire people. And I was just it was the perfect culmination for me of my love of acting and my love of the movies and literally the minute I said casting one door after another opened and early on in my career I hooked up with a wonderful woman named Jennifer Shull and she had worked for Francis Coppola and then we all went over to Zoetrope and worked for Francis for a couple of years until the studio fell apart but because we had been Frances’s casting people Rob Reiner called and said I need a casting director. And so I cast Rob’s very first movie after Spinal Tap, a film called The Sure Thing. And we just finished a film that he hasn’t started shooting yet but we just finished a film called Shock and Awe. And it’s the 18th movie that I’ve done with Rob Reiner. So I mean and I’ve worked and the same the same is true for Ron Howard. You know Ron called the studio and said I need a casting director and Fred Roos who was Francis Coppola’s producer. Said oh just hire Jane and Janet. And so he did. And I’ve done I don’t know 16/17 movies for Ron as well. And it’s just been truly the right – I was in the right place at the right time.
Eric: Ms. Jenkins credits acting background for giving her the skills needed to be a successful casting director.
Jane Jenkins: I come to everything that I do from an actors point of view. I read a script from an actors point of view because that’s my training I went to the High School of Performing Arts, I studied acting after performing arts with people like Bill Hickey and Uta Hagen at a HP studios. So I read the script and interpret it and then I sit down with the director and talk about what it is. You know all of the fine – It’s very easy to come up with a whole list of names – What are the financial ramification? How much money do we have for the film? How much money do we have for all of these people? And I think because I understood it from an acting point of view it made it easier for me to make the leap into the production part of it. And I think it was just a very – you know casting is not a job that you go to school for it’s not like becoming a costume designer or an editor it’s a very intuitive job and I think I just had a natural sense of how to do it and what the parts required, who is going to bring it to life.
Eric: An old expression about acting is that there are no small parts only small actors. A lesson that Ms. Jenkins continues to live by when looking for the perfect actor, be it a lead role or the pizza boy.
Jane Jenkins: I think that not being really prepared not thinking that just because it’s a couple of lines anybody can do this. But every human being has some unique characteristics and I’m looking for what kind of interesting life you’re bringing into the room with you that’s going to add to this movie. It’s sort of like you know, weaving a tapestry in a way. And even though there are small parts I’m looking for that little gold thread that you go oh what was that. That’s. So for me. There really are no small parts. They’re all important. Years ago Janet and I both cast I don’t know about 14 movies for John Hughes who paid us really one of the greatest compliments saying that he loves working with us because even the pizza guy brings something to the whole movie. And that’s what I’m looking for.
Eric: Today’s pizza boy could wind up being tomorrow’s star or in the case of Mystic Pizza the blink and you miss it roll of a boyfriend’s brother could be the next Matt Damon.
Jane Jenkins: When I go back and look at actors that were in movies that I did early on who have become successful actors. You know when – when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won their academy award some reporter called me up because the very first – if you look at Matt Damon’s IMDb – the first movie that he’s in is a movie called Mystic Pizza. And this reporter called me up and said, “Did you have a sense when you hired him for Mystic Pizza that he had this in him?” And I went, “Is this like a joke question?” I said, “No, of course not what I knew was he was the best 16-year-old kid who lived in Boston who looked like the guy who was playing Julia Roberts’ boyfriend.” And he was his younger brother you know because Ben Affleck came in and auditioned for the same part. But Ben didn’t fit into the family. So it’s not that I had you know any ESP that he was going to turn into anything. He was was he was the perfect kid who looked like he fit into this you know, family. And when you go back and you look at all of these people who have gone on to successful careers it’s incredibly satisfying from the casting but I’m looking for somebody who brings an authenticity and preparation and hopefully fits into the family that I’m casting.
Eric: Matt Damon went on from Mystic Pizza to an Oscar-winning career as did another then little-known actress named Julia Roberts. Yet Ms. Jenkins will not take credit for discovering her.
Jane Jenkins: You know that somebody else would argue that somebody else gave her her SAG card. So I did not give her SAG. She had done a couple of small things. Has anybody here ever seen or heard of Mystic Pizza? Probably not a whole handful of people. It’s an interesting film because when you look at it now it’s a very different Julia Roberts than the Julia Roberts that you see now. She was also I think 18 or 19 years old. You know there was a time, back in the 80s when all these movies were being made that they were all made on very small budgets. I think Princess Bride was maybe 10 million dollars. Mystic Pizza was certainly nowhere near that. It was probably six or seven million dollars and we had the ability to find because they were all so many of them were teenage actors. We had the ability to find new young actors. Now, even when you’re doing a teen movie they want you to find that person who has some television presence and maybe a couple of the other people can be new people. But it’s much more difficult now because the movies are more expensive and the competition to get them produced and out on a screen is much more difficult.
Eric: Ms. Jenkins also helped launch the career of another beloved movie star Meg Ryan. But in her case, it took several years and quite a few tries before locking down the right part.
Jane Jenkins: I first met Meg Ryan when she was 18 years old and I was casting Rob’s first film called The Sure Thing. The Sure Thing was John Cusack’s first big breakout movie and that was about a young college bunch of kids. Meg Ryan was hysterically funny, absolutely adorable, really talented, really terrific. I brought her back in for Rob. He said “She’s terrific. Not the right girl. But she is terrific.” And we did not hire her. And then two years later we’re doing The Princess Bride and Meg comes in and she reads for The Princess Bride. And Rob says to me, “God, if Bill Goldman wrote that Buttercup should be the most adorable girl in the world, I would hire her right now but I need the most beautiful girl in the world. Keep looking.” And Meg was not ugly by any means. And then two years after that we were doing this movie called When Harry Met Sally and Meg Ryan was the second girl that came in to audition and Rob said, “It’s her part. Cancel everybody else.” So in that six or seven year period Meg auditioned for a bajillion things. There were two jobs that we gave her in movies that were not enormously successful movies nor did they catapult her career but the point is that she was absolutely fabulous the very first time I met her when she was 18 years old and that’s why I remembered her and kept bringing her in, and bringing her in and whether I cast her in something like When Harry Met Sally that catapulted her career or somebody else did, it was clear to me that at some point this girl – the opportunity and this actress were going to meet up – ’cause that’s what it takes it takes the opportunity and the right actress for that explosion to happen.
–Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today.
You’re The Dread Pirate Roberts admit it! – With Pride.
Bow to the Queen of slime, the Queen of filth, the Queen of putrescence.
The Cliffs of Insanity.
Bye bye boys. Have fun storming the castle.
Hello my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.
Inconceivable. – You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Eric: Thirty years after its initial release The Princess Bride still resonates with audiences of every age largely due to its wonderful collection of performers including a very young Robin Wright.
Jane Jenkins: We made it in 1987, and Robin was 19 years old when she came into my office and we hired her. She was so beautiful. Well that was that was the thing! You know we needed -William Goldman wrote that Buttercup was the most beautiful girl in the world. So I needed to find not just a beautiful actress but an actress who incorporated all of that fairytale stuff. And one of the things that we discovered when we were casting was a lot of very pretty young models came in and then I started seeing some European girls and suddenly it just sounded better even though their acting wasn’t all that great, but not having an American accent sort of brought the fairy tale thing to life because America wasn’t discovered yet in the time of fairy tales. It’s just hard to – and we started just asking actors to do this with any kind of an accent make up an accent. Any kind of an accent, you know, an English accent or French accent. And when I met Robin I said, “Can you do some kind of accent?” And she said, “My stepfather is British I do a pretty good British accent.” I said, “Great! Do that.” And she read the lines and Buttercup came to life. She was the last girl that we saw after seeing almost 200 girls. She walked in, she said the lines, I went, “oh my god! Yeah.”
Eric: I could gush about The Princess Bride’s cast all day. Cary Elwes, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Peter Falk. But I’ll reserve my fanboying for the casting of the famed eighth wonder of the world, Andre the Giant.
— So what happens now? We face each other as god intended. – Sportsman-like.
Fezzik are there rocks ahead. If there are we’ll all be dead. No more rhymes now I mean it. Anybody want a peanut.
Why are you wearing a mask? Were you burned by acid or something like that?
The dread pirate Roberts is here for your soul.–
Tova Laiter: Andre the Giant, you had to go to some giant land to cast him?
Jane Jenkins: You know that was the hardest part. Needless to say when I first sat down with Rob. And Bill Goldman and I said, “so this giant guy how how how big a giant? Like how what are we talking about?” And Bill Goldman said, “You know like Andre the Giant.” I didn’t, I didn’t have a clue as to who Andre the Giant was and Bill Goldman says Andre the Giant like I should like what- do I follow wrestling? But he was in a, pardon the pun, but he was an enormous wrestler at the time. So he still has a presence and there are posters and everything. And so I came back to my office and my partner’s husband Janet ran the company for us and I said, “who’s Andre the giant?” He said, “he’s like the biggest wrestler out there.” I said, “well how would I know this?” So we tracked him down through the World Wide Wrestling Federation – say that three times fast. And when I said that we were interested in him acting in the film and I gave them the dates they said, “oh no no no he’s going to be wrestling in Japan for millions of dollars and we’re not canceling that. So then I started meeting giants. Now that’s a movie in itself because you meet all these enormously large people but you know most people who are giants. It’s a disease and they’re not necessarily graceful and they’re not necessarily healthy and they’re not necessarily the strongest people. They’re just very large. And so I met an array of very interesting people and we sort of didn’t know what we were going to do. I mean we went to London I met this Scottish guy who was like the strongest man in the world who could pull you know tractor trailers with his teeth, and it was crazy. And at the very last minute we were in a casting session in London and I got a phone call from my office in L.A. saying that Andre’s dates in Japan were canceled. And if Rob wanted to meet him he’s flying from Brussels which is where he lived to Paris and then going someplace else and maybe Rob could meet him at the Paris airport. And Rob we dropped everything we said excuse me to the actor who was auditioning Rob and Andy Scheinman got in a taxi cab went to Heathrow got on a plane flew to Paris met Andre and Rob had tape recorded all of Andre’s dialogue and he met him in the in the lounge and he said you have the job. Learn it exactly like that. So all of those Hello lady. This is all Rob Reiner’s interpretation as translated by Andre the Giant. And it was truly a miracle that at the last minute because. Giants are hard to come by. It was an amazing thing that he was available at the last minute.
Eric: Ms. Jenkins’ relationship with director Rob Reiner has spanned from 1985’s the sure thing to 2018’s shock and awe. Likewise she has continually worked with Ron Howard and Chris Columbus on dozens of projects including Apollo 13 The Da Vinci Code and Home Alone.
Jane Jenkins: I was in a very very very very very I can’t stress it enough fortunate position in that I hooked up with two young guys who were not famous filmmakers. When I first worked with them Rob between Rob Reiner and Ron Howard and my partner Janet did a young Chris Columbus’s early movies so that we worked with these guys when they were starting out on their first films. We clicked. We did a good job. They hired us again and again and again. And I was very fortunate and because I had that sort of to count on that you know nothing is guaranteed but pretty much they were going to do a movie every year year and a half. It gave us the ability to say no to pictures that we found. You know we were two women running a company and there were scripts that I went I’m sorry this is just degrading and I’m not going to do it. Somebody else did it. But you know I think that and I think that’s true as actors you know there are scripts that involve you know sexual activity and rape and the victim and the if it’s something that you feel that you can’t do in good conscience just say thank you very much but it’s not for me. Nobody’s going to you know not ever see you again. You can’t do things that you have to live with this stuff for the rest of your life. And so I feel that I’m very very fortunate in that I worked with some really good guys on some really terrific movies. It was just I just got lucky.
Eric: Jane Jenkins bases her casting on two key components the screenplay and the director’s vision. Though sometimes that means she needs to push back against the director’s wishes in order to help them realize their own vision. Such was the case with Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost.
Jane Jenkins: There have been times when I thought the director was making a mistake. And you know I said Are you sure that this is what you want to do. But ultimately my job. Is to fulfill a director’s point of view. Not my point of view. I can sort of wrestle a director to the ground a little bit to say come on You know when we were casting the movie. Ghost you know the movie Ghost literally when I read the script I said oh they must have hired Whoopi Goldberg already. I don’t know who anybody else says. But this part seems to have been written with Whoopi Goldberg in mind. And so Janet and I you know because the casting director kind of has to audition for the job as well you go in you have a meeting about blah blah blah blah blah. And I said So did you write this with Whoopi and Jerry said No we thought about Whoopi Goldberg but I’d like to see who else is out there and I went. Why. That’s like the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. And. I literally saw something like 230 people. You name a black actress from Tina Turner to Nell Carter to Alfre Woodard. I mean hundreds of actors came in to read for the part that Whoopi ultimately played and after every single person Jerry would say no it’s not them. I would say so. What about Whoopi Goldberg. I mean I think she was like Born to play this part. And at some point early on in the whole proceeding Whoopi came in to meet with Jerry and she said I would love a shot at this part. Jerry said well we know she’s there but you keep looking. And I kept looking and I’d bring in actors and eventually what happened was when Patrick got hired they turned to Patrick and they say what do you think about Whoopi Goldberg and Patrick says she’d be great. And. He even though he said she’d be great. They got on a plane and they went to North Carolina the two of them Patrick and Jerry and Patrick and Whoopi did the scene in the first class lounge at the at the airport. And then Patrick and Jerry came back on the next flight and Jerry said well she was great. I don’t know what I was thinking she’s perfect but it took me months. I was very thin though I lost a lot of weight on that movie. But I mean sometimes you can persist with a director and at some point if Jerry said finally no no no no no Whoopi Goldberg I’d have to come up with another actress. But fortunately he caved and she won an Academy Award. You know there’s just no way of knowing.
Eric: Ultimately the script led Jerry Zucker and Jane Jenkins to find the perfect actor. In fact, her first stop in casting is what the screenplay says about a character though sometimes going against that description is needed to find the best performer.
Jane Jenkins: It depends on the script you know in LBJ, all of the people are all of the real people. This movie that I just finished with. Rob is also based on real people it’s a film called Shock and Awe and it’s about the lead up to the invasion of Iraq and a group of real reporters who wrote for a news organization called Knight-Ridder who kept writing articles about how there were no WMDs. And stop this stop this. Stop this. And they were largely ignored. The only minority and ethnic casting are of a couple of fictitious parts that the writer wrote into the script. So from a casting point of view it’s usually what’s on the page what the writer has created. Unless there’s an opportunity for me to say just because the doctor was written as a 50 year old white guy. What about if the doctor were a 40 year old black woman or whatever you know so the casting director can take that liberty and suggest but ultimately it’s the writer who has created this. And you know the whole thing about Oscars so white it isn’t actors in the academy works like this. Every branch does its own nomination. So the actors nominate other actors the costume designers nominate costume designers the editors nominate editors. There is not an Oscar for casting yet. So we don’t get to nominate anybody but we do get to nominate the films. And when each branch has culled it down to their five top choices for actors editing music whatever the the the department is then the entire membership votes on all of it. So it was the actors. You know everybody was hysterical at the academy but the Academy doesn’t nominate the actors the Academy votes on the actors but it is the actor branch that nominates the actors. And there’s I have no control over who they nominate. You know I thought that they were people every year I go through this. You know the same thing about people that I would nominate and people who get nominated and the two don’t always mesh. But I think that we live in a diverse world and I think it’s a great thing that people are opening up their eyes to the world that we live in. Part of the problem I think has always been that the majority of scripts are written by white men and so women are not always included in positions of authority as doctors as lawyers as whatever ethnic minorities are not always included and that’s not the world that we live in. So I think that all of this hubbub has been very fruitful in casting a wider shadow across the spectrum that is the United States of America and the world that we live in. So I think it’s all it’s ultimately a really good thing.
Eric: Ms Jenkins made a point of giving our students some great frontline advice for their own careers. The days of a star being discovered at the pool or bar or a soda shop are long gone. Even soda shops are long gone. Nowadays agents are looking at YouTube videos and reels so you better make sure yours looks professional.
Jane Jenkins: It’s important because it’s very hard to get an agent without a reel. But it’s also very hard to get a real good a real reel. I don’t want to see. I’d rather see little snippets of stuff that you’ve done professionally or a student film so that it’s not just avideo camera shooting your monologue in sort of dead space. I think that you know we all live in this era of everybody’s got a video camera with them at all times. And in terms of their phone you have to learn how to be a bit of a filmmaker and if you’re going to do a video because you don’t have professional footage then you really have to learn how to light yourself or have somebody light you and do this in a way that I can see you in a movie not just a blank background shot from a distance. I want to see a close up I want to see the intimacy that film offers and what kind what you’re bringing to it. So a reel is very important. But there are ways to accomplish putting a reel together when you haven’t gotten a whole body of work that you have professional quality stuff on it. I mean you’re in a film school all you should all be making films of each other. I want to see some variety of parts that you can play and keep it simple and honest. I just want to see good work. That’s all I want to see. Doesn’t have to be 15 different scenes. I want to see a couple of things that are simple and honest and real I want to see that there is a real actor showing me what they can do. You know I always tell actors go to documentaries watch documentaries watch newsreel footage watch how real people really behave. You know there have been all these horrible fires and you watch people with some you know crazy reporters saying and how do you feel that you’ve just lost your house. Actors go oh my god. Well, people don’t act like that. People are in such a state of shock. They just stand there say I just I. I’ve lost everything. There’s nothing there’s nothing and the honesty and the simplicity of how the depth of how they feel they don’t have to be hysterical. I know that they must be hysterical inside but the shock of what they’ve just lost you know on NPR the other day I was listening to a woman. She had horses and somebody rescued the horse and the vet called her and said the horse is not injured but he’s not going to recover. And she had to give the vet permission to put the horse down. I mean just listening to her explain was heartbreaking. I mean you could hear it in her voice because there was no acting she was talking from her heart. And that’s all that acting is if you make it honest and simple and real. It’s so much more effective than histrionics even when people are playing over-the-top parts. It has to come from a real place otherwise it’s all just bulls**t. You know and that’s never effective.
When you get a chance to, audition. Don’t go when they’re desperate for work.
Here’s the most important thing that you need to know about an audition an audition is not about getting a job. An audition is about. Presenting yourself. To the people that you hope will hire you in the future. If you can get the final result you know just like in acting. You don’t you can’t he can’t act the final result. You have to be in the moment. You have to be in the moment when you come in for an audition and that’ll take away all those nerves that make you hyperventilate so that you can’t think and you can’t speak just be there. Just come in and let somebody know who you are. What do you have to offer. You’re either going to be right for the part in which case you’ll get a call back that you may not get the job. Well you’re not going to be right for the part in which case I make a little note going very interesting and I keep it in the back of my mind for the next time I’m working on something and I go Oh remember that kid that came in and blah blah. I mean casting directors keep all these ridiculous notes. And you remember we remember the people who really made a deep impression on us not because they got the job just because they were terrific and that’s all you have to worry about when you come in come in prepared and come in and be who you are don’t come in trying to be something that you’re not.
Eric: For filmmakers, Ms. Jenkins stressed that they need to look for actors who can elevate the story and their directing. Just like Robin Wright did for Rob Reiner all those years ago.
Jane Jenkins: You’re looking for somebody as a filmmaker you are looking for the best possible actor that you can find that embodies the character that is in the script that you’ve either written or you’re filming or you’re directing or whatever you’re doing with it and you have to go through that same process. I mean I meet a whole bunch of actors I meet 40 50 60 people who are not really perfect and then I meet five. That I go Wow. Any one of these people could be sensational. And then fortunately it’s up to the director to pick the one. So I do the same thing. I mean literally when we did the Princess Bride I met at least 200 very pretty young actresses. And then Robin and a number of them were pretty good. And then Robin Wright walked into my office and brought this whole. I mean it was just like oh my god oh my god. Oh my God. So that’s. You’re looking for the person that really encapsulates what you want that is going to spark your creativity and bring the whole movie together. And you may have to see a lot of people to find the one that brings with them what you need. And as a director and as a filmmaker what you can help them achieve because the quality that they have some essence of who they are is right for the project. There’s not an easy way. I see dozens and dozens and dozens of actors before I select the couple that I bring back to the director. And that’s up you know you can also. Cast a little further afield outside. I would imagine that if you put an ad in backstage as a student filmmaker there are always young actors looking to get a reel together. So I don’t know that you have to be limited to just you know. So if you need a 50 year old principal of a school you may not find it among your student body. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you put an ad in backstage if you couldn’t. I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that here but you might be able to find somebody more appropriate than from the student body.
Eric: Ms. Jenkins also made a point that for an actor branding yourself is only necessary when you don’t bring talent or training to the table.
Jane Jenkins: You’ve become an actor so that you can become different personas. What is the brand. Are you planning on selling perfume or. I don’t even understand this question makes me crazy. I think that you have to be the best you that you can be. When I meet. Young actors or any actor who know who they are so that they have the ability to be 15 other people. That’s what I’m looking for. You know when you watch Meryl Streep she always brings some portion of Meryl Streep to the party with her. But she has the ability to be 150 other people and plays them all. So what is her brand. Talent is her brand. I think that’s the only brand that you need. I don’t understand this concept. Maybe you know if you’re involved in reality television or. I it’s really beyond my comprehension this whole conversation about branding. I think your brand is your talent and what you. Your ability to interpret the script that you’ve been given and bring something interesting into the room.
Eric: Well Jane Jenkins most definitely brings talent into the room in more ways than one and has done so for almost 200 movies so far to learn more about Jane Jenkins adventures in the screen trade read her book. A star is found co-written with her casting partner Janet Hirshenson. We want to thank Ms. Jenkins for speaking with our students and thanks to all of you for listening.
This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As. Check out our youtube channel at youtube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.
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