A Star is Found by Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins

A Star is Found by Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover, 307 pages, 2006

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: I love some of the movies listed on the cover, such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone and Beetlejuice, for example, and I liked the idea of an insider’s peek.

Synopsis: When a movie is truly great, with the power to pull you in and make you laugh, cry, and even love its characters, you simply can’t imagine what the movie had been like with another actor in each role. Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins are two top casting directors and partners in The Casting Company who have made careers out of making sure you leave the movie theatre with such contented sentiments (and with as few ‘What was he doing in that role?’ bloopers as humanly possible). Trading back and forth with writing duties, they give the reader both a general outline as to how things happen in Hollywood, as well as specifics with casting certain movies from their beginning days with Francis Ford Coppola to more recent pursuits casting the next James Bond.

Why you should read this book: If you’re a film buff, or, indeed, a star waiting to be found, you’ll love this behind-the-scenes look at movie casting. It’s the sort of background detail that most movie-goers will never notice – unless something goes horribly wrong – and so it’s enormously fun to see the artistry at finding the right chemistry, and nothing short of surprising to find out that thousands of head shots might be flipped through for even a one-line part. Even more mind-boggling is the thought that gorgeous superstars simply aren’t right for certain roles. And speaking of superstars, these are the women that cast the much-talked-about Da Vinci Code, insisted that Patrick Swayze had what it took to star in Ghost, and decided that Robin Wright Penn had to play Buttercup in The Princess Bride. There’s a spectacular array of big breaks, struggles to get exactly who they want (and sometimes need) for certain parts, downright bizarre requirements for certain roles, along with the occasional disaster, all of which make A Star is Found a real treat for movie lovers.

Why you should avoid this book: Watch out for spoilers about movie plots! You’ll generally have a hint that they’re coming (no starting sections with ‘When George died at the end of the movie…’), so you’ll be able to skip over a few paragraphs if you’d prefer an element of surprise when you get around to watching certain movies. Unless you’ve got a mental Who’s Who over a huge range of actors, genres, and decades, you might find that you’d rather be inconvenienced by reading the book near a computer so that you can Google your way to the sort of ‘aha, her!‘ moments that lend even more excitement to Hirshenson and Jenkins’ stories.

Opening paragraph:

Casting is a part of filmmaking that most people never think about – but once you become aware of it, you might be startled at how central these decisions are to your experience of a film. Just recall Hollywood’s casting legends – Casablanca, for example. The studio’s first choice for the role was George Raft, then a major leading man. Only when Raft wasn’t available did the studio grudgingly accept minor contract player Humphrey Bogart, known mainly for playing gangsters in a slew of second-rate crime films. Matching Bogie with Rick turned the actor into an icon for world-weary, cynical heroes with hearts of gold – and it endowed the film with near-mythic status. Who knows what would have happened if George Raft had been the one to murmur ‘Here’s lookin’ at you, kid’ – but it’s hard to imagine that a new type of film hero would have been the result. Bogart seemed so right that, once he was cast, the part seemed made for him – even though he hadn’t actually been anyone’s first choice.

Fabulous quotes:

I learned a valuable lesson from the Maud Adams saga: No casting problem can ever be solved in only one way. True, most of the time you move heaven and earth to cast the character who’s already written. But sometimes – especially if there’s a terrific and gorgeous actor that you’re just dying to use – you simply change the script.

Meanwhile, back on Body Double, I still had to find the perfect combination of homely face and beautiful breasts that would make that first scene work, so I lined up a few dozen actresses to come in to show me their mammary glands. I saw them privately – no need for Brian to watch the first round – and took Polaroids of the ones I thought were especially likely. I ended up taking Polaroids of everyone, in fact, because it was just too awkward to tell an actress that I didn’t like her breasts.

Also recommended: Elizabeth by J Randy Taraborrelli; Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style by Richard Torregrossa; Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell by Amy Sohn.

Also by this author: A Star is Found is Hirshenson and Jenkins’ first book.

Fun tidbit: It was David Geffen that helped persuade Michael Keaton to do Tim Burton’s breakout film, Beetlejuice.

Would I read more by this author? I’d consider it if they wind up doing another book, but they certainly covered a lot of ground with this one.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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