Casting By

Marion Dougherty. Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO

Once upon a time casting directors were truly the auteur’s secret weapon. “I had no idea they were so responsible for the movies I grew up with,” says director Tom Donahue, whose latest doc Casting By, premiering August 5 on HBO, examines the little known profession through the eyes of its “grand pioneer,” the late Marion Dougherty. The two first spoke in 2007; later Donahue interviewed some 240 showbiz icons who were eager to talk about Dougherty’s half-century career, which included reigns at Paramount and Warner Bros. Between the late fifties and early nineties, Dougherty mentored generations of women while giving first breaks to countless stars, among them Dustin Hoffman, Glenn Close, and Al Pacino, whom she discovered in an off-Broadway production of The Indian Wants the Bronx. “Actors need confidence,” Pacino explains. “In this business one of my favorite words is encouragement, and Marion Dougherty was full of it. I’ve never seen anything like it.” The film revisits Dougherty’s battles with directors over her casting choices, notably Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon—and unmasks the Directors Guild of America’s fight to strip the title of “casting director” from credits (hence “casting by”), while keeping the field from Oscar consideration. Martin Scorsese is among the many Hollywood heavyweights who would like to see that change. “More than ninety percent of directing a picture,” he observes in the film, “is the right casting.”