Star fixer who can 'make or break' a film

Casting agent Francine Maisler reveals her secrets - from The Bikeriders to Succession

by Richard Mowe

Francine Maisler gives a Karlovy Vary audience a glimpse of her craft
Francine Maisler gives a Karlovy Vary audience a glimpse of her craft Photo: Film Servis Karlovy Vary
The choice of the cast can make or break a film - hence the casting director is one of the most powerful figures in the production firmament. Only now is their worth being recognised by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who will include them in an Oscar category in 2026.

Nobody could be more delighted than Francine Maisler who has worked on such hits as the current The Bikeriders as well as Dune 2 and series such as Succession. We catch up at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival where Jeff Nichols’ current motorcycle movie is revving up for its Czech release with a stellar line-up of Tom Hardy, Austin Butler and Jodie Comer.

Maisler explains the nature of her craft. “Once the director is signed then I am usually the next person who is hired. Then I read the script and talk to the director and my job is to give my thoughts but the film remains his vision. I say what I think and my views on say a certain actor and I try to bring forward people who he doesn’t know or people he wouldn’t think of for something.

“Even for a name actor you would think it would be just automatic but what happens is that there are always going to be people who are unavailable. They come to the casting director to put together a list of alternatives. We try to think outside the box. A lot of the incredible directors I work with like to surprise an audience with a choice that is not obvious. The choice of a cast can make or break a film (in my opinion).”

The casting director is responsible for every spoken part in a film, not just the lead roles, even if the actor has just one line.

She added: “There is additional pressure on us to make sure that a particular person is good to work with and luckily most actors are. They are so grateful to get the part ! I had a movie recently and I had it in the back of my mind that this particular actor who shall be unnamed, could be a bit difficult but I showed the director his tape but before I made the offer I checked him out.

“I always like to give actors the benefit of the doubt. There may have been extenuating circumstances and it is not always the actor’s fault. This actor did have a bit of a reputation for causing trouble and we did not offer him the part because this particular director wants a happy set and does not want drama.”

Francine Maisler on Joker: Folie A Deux: 'Even though we had read the script I did not know what we were going to see on screen'
Francine Maisler on Joker: Folie A Deux: 'Even though we had read the script I did not know what we were going to see on screen' Photo: Film Servis Karlovy Vary

Maisler has been gaining a reputation for putting ensemble casts together for such series as Succession. “What we did was to kill ourselves to get each role right. The potential candidates did not read together as a family but somehow or other it worked. I do think to myself if it was another cast would it have worked so well? I question myself but it was a great script with great roles for actors so if you didn’t have Brian Cox but if you had another actor would it have worked? I still struggle with that. Could the late Donald Sutherland have done it and been just as good. I don’t know …”

She relishes her part in promoting to prominence newcomers, among them Timothée Chamalet. He had been in a small film Hostiles and he was with her agent. “I thought he was adorable but I had only seen him in one tiny role. We were casting Beautiful Boy by Felix van Groeningen and he auditioned. It was an emotional and difficult part but he was incredible. He is one of those people who have an unbelievable presence such as Vicky Krieps in Viggo Mortensen’s The Dead Don’t Hurt - I barely heard a word of her dialogue, I was just watching her face.”

She regards most directors she works with as part of her “family.” The way she operates involves “heated discussions. I don’t fight for a particular person because that takes it away from the director. Instead we discuss it creatively and there is definitely what I would describe as banter.”

On Ferrari director Michael Mann chose Adam Driver opposite Penelope Cruz rather than Italian actors. “It was Mann’s decision,” she said, “on who was the best person for the job. There was no real discussion about that because it was an expensive film. We had an Italian casting director for some of the minor roles.”

Francine Maisler has a reputation for putting ensemble casts together for such series as Succession.
Francine Maisler has a reputation for putting ensemble casts together for such series as Succession. Photo: Film Servis Karlovy Vary

What was her most challenging undertaking? “To be honest it is what I am working on at the moment that feels the most difficult thing. Everything is a challenge and then you move on.”

She cannot wait spread the word about Joker: Folie Á Deux who is returning to the fray with Joaquin Phoenix reprising his star turn opposite Lady Gaga. “She was incredible in A Star is Born but I felt that it was something she could easily relate to. But she is extraordinary in Joker [a sequel to the billion dollar hit of the comic Batman villain] up against Joaquin and you will be surprised. Even though we had read the script I did not know what we were going to see on screen and they are both amazing.” The film is due for release later this year.

She is equally excited about working with South Korean director Bong Joon-ho of Parisite fame. “I am in awe of him but I have yet to see his science fiction fantasy Mickey 17 with Robert Pattinson whom she describes as “one of those actors who can get a film made.” The director had considered other actors but finally landed on Pattinson to play the part of a man who dies and dies all over again. For the rest of the roles in the movie “finding unusual faces was important.” The date of release has been postponed until 2025.

She winds up with a line from Dune 2 director Denis Villeneuve whom she holds dear. “When I asked him if I should make an approach to a certain actor he replied ‘Let me dream on it.’ I just loved that.”

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