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Interview: Casting Directors Jeanie & Maggie Bacharach Talk ‘Station Eleven’

Photograph by Parrish Lewis/HBO Max

The casting director for a film has one of the most powerful influences on the final product, yet goes largely unnoticed by the general audience. The actors bring the characters to life, but they first need to audition, which means they are selected by the Casting Director. Careers can be made by matching the right actor to a role that lives on in the public consciousness.

A show with one of the strongest ensemble cast from last year has to be Station Eleven. Spanning decades and crossing continents, Station Eleven featured an incredibly diverse cast that allowed for actors of all ages and ethnicities to shine. Awards Radar was fortunate enough to speak with the Casting Directors of Station Eleven Jeanie & Maggie Bacharach about how they were able to pull together such a talented roster of actors.

Jeanie & Maggie Bacharach

Maggie: It was important to Patrick Somerville (series creator) and Hiro Murai (director), and the whole creative team to really reflect the world. You know, and, and the diversity of our worlds. And that included, gender identity as well as ethnicity and representing different parts of the world. Other than sort of just opening it up, and there were certain roles that there was an age range to it, or, or an ethnicity or gender assigned. But, we really tried to find people who could tell the story and inhabit these characters.

Jeanie: And that’s a testament to the creative team. We just wanted to find really interesting actors. And be, really open as to who fits that. And also just want to shout out the local casting department, because, you know, all the guests and co star cast, there’s so many really, really interesting, great, super diverse, people that really kind of, I think, helped fill out the world.

Maggie: Especially with Alexandra’s role, but also some of the Traveling Symphony people of that post-pandemic identity. And those people who were born, post pandemic, and their qualities and their personalities and all of that, how they needed to feel a little different than our characters who you came through the pandemic.

Lucas Longacre: Were there any actors you’d come across from previous productions that you were like, as soon as you saw the role on the paper, you’re like, Oh my God, this person will be person would be perfect for this role?

Maggie: Matilda Lawler. I had seen Matilda in a production of The Ferryman on Broadway a couple of years before and had sort of been a little weirdly obsessed with her. I see it was this huge, huge ensemble piece that was just beautiful. And she had a scene where actually the actress vanilla Flanagan had like a, I think it must have been like a 10 minute monologue, she tells a story in a couple of the younger characters are kind of seated, seated around her listening to the story. And I could not take my eyes off of Matilda, who at this point had probably, you know, the show had been running for a while, had probably heard this story, you know, 100 times and was so completely present and locked in to this story that like, as much as I was listening to the story, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. So she was definitely someone when when, you know, we started looking at young Kirsten came to mind for sure.

Jeanie: I mean, her intelligence and her like, poise and, you know, with, with kid actors, you know, it’s, there’s always kind of a fine line of, of, you know, capturing, you know, true sort of innocence. Without it kind of crossing over into a slightly obnoxious, you know, There are scenes where there’s just so much going on, there’s such heaviness, and there’s a lot of emotion, and she’s just so present in it, like you still can’t kind of take your eyes off her.

Maggie: Yeah, she’s so comfortable and in and of herself, you know, as there’s nothing put on, it’s so raw and real and genuine.

Photograph by Parrish Lewis/HBO Max

Maggie: McKenzie was was sort of in process when we came aboard to cast. So So we knew we were casting a young Mackenzie. So that, you know, helped to at least, once we dove into that role, you know, knowing what we were looking for, I mean, and then it’s been fascinating to hear McKenzie talk about, you know, Matilda shot first. And then we shot out of order and things like that. So she was actually developing her character around Matilda and Matilda’s performance, which I, you know, I hadn’t really thought about until I heard her talking about it, but I mean, we just I think that episode seven. And I may be remembering this wrong, but I feel like that was pretty early on in the shooting schedule, which is, you know, with the episode where where Mackenzie is getting to go back and observing Matilda, both on screen and you know, in person as she was sort of developing her character.

Lucas: Was there any kind of roles that you really struggled to find the perfect actor for that you kind of had to put in like the extra effort in that regard?

Maggie: I would say Miranda.

Jeannie: Yes, I would agree. Yes. And Tyler.

Maggie: And Tyler, yeah. I think with Miranda, you know, it just I mean, that character is so important. But they, it really took them a long time to kind of figure out who she was, like we were, we were figuring out the role as we were casting, which, you know, happens a lot. But this, I would say, more so. And there’s like, an ethereal quality to her, but a super grounded quality to her. There’s a vulnerability and a strange, there’s a survivor, there’s, you know,

Jeannie: So she can also be guarded. Yeah,

Maggie: You know, an artist and, you know, a realist, and so it was really I mean, she, she’s such a contradictory character, in a lot of ways. And, and again, like, so pivotal.

Lucas: Oh, yeah. I mean, the whole story kind of revolves around her creation in a way, right. Like, and, and that, for me personally, like this idea that you could tell there’s this wealth of emotion behind, like the stoic facade, that I just thought was beautifully portrayed. Yeah.

Maggie: Yeah, I was just gonna say from like, I was reflecting on this the other day, kind of from a very practical like casting perspective, because she is so multi dimensional, actually have to do a lot more material to see if she can do everything that you need the actor to do. So from an audition perspective, versus someone who can come in and do maybe two scenes and you go, yeah, that’s it, they’ve got it was Miranda, you really need to do three or four, or callbacks, maybe even another, you know, to really make sure that the actor has everything that you need them to bring. Projecting, can also just make the process a bit longer.

Jeannie: Yeah, and there’s the time, you know, to have kind of aware who she is when she starts, you know, and there’s even scenes, we were auditioning and looking to cast that, you know, didn’t end up appearing much more of kind of her backstory and thing. So, um, so there’s also, you know, there’s a certain age range she has to play, and who she is kind of, you know, when we first meet her, and then, you know, by the end with Arthur, you know, she’s in a very different place. So, you know, she really had a journey. And again, they were still writing and trying to figure, you know, trying to kind of see, I think, was the hardest character for them to nail in the writing. So that, you know, some of the actors man, we, we put him through the wringer like, you know, they wouldn’t give them like, yeah, seven different notes, you know, and most of which were contradictory, and, like, just trying to get to this, you know, essence and, and Danielle, you know, she went on tape for it. We sent it around, you know, they, you know, didn’t quite respond at that time. And then one of the writers, I think, remembered her from Atlanta, or maybe from Watchmen. But so we, you know, brought her up again, and then she went, you know, back on tape, and then it was like, oh, you know, and at that point, we’ve gone through, like, you know, so many iterations of the character that, you know, I don’t think she made sense with how we saw Miranda initially. But as the character developed and got defined, when she went on tape the second time, it was like, ‘Oh!’

Photograph by Parrish Lewis/HBO Max

Lucas: What about Himesh (Patel)? He convinced you that like he was a great fit for this?

Maggie: Himesh, just a first of all has that, you know, tremendous likability. I mean, you know, it was important as he was sort of our entryway into the story and kind of takes us on the, you know, beginning of this journey. And he Matilda, you know, that we as the audience, we’re going to have to root for him. So, so, you know, tremendous likability, that vulnerability. That sort of reluctant hero.

Jeannie: I was just thinking that reluctant hero. Yep.

Maggie: And his humor. I mean, you know, that was also going to be that was humor was going to be important for all of these characters, you know, because they did not want this kind of heavy, you know, burden sort of performances. But he came in and read, and we just, I mean, like it just, again, he found so much humor, so much. The guy you know, who’s who’s trying, but like, completely overwhelmed, but attempting to put a good face on it.

Jeannie: Yeah, like his timing is just so fantastic. And I think Lucas, what you’re saying is like, he’s the one you identify with the most. I think he’s the one that a lot of people identify with the most like, I think he really draws the audience in to this kind of like, oh, shit, this is happening. Kind of a bit of a scramble. Like, what do I do? I’m trying to like respond as best I can. I’ve got this kid, right. I’m trying to do right by her. But now she’s shackled to me. What do I do with that? So and yeah, Himesh just did all that. So well. It felt really natural. Yeah.

Maggie: And then, you know, he and Matilda did it. So Himesh got cast first. And then he and Matilda did that, like, not a dry eye in the room? Like,

Jeannie: It was so good.

Maggie: I mean, and you just like, it was weird. Like, he’s stepped up, like, in his performance with Matilda. Like, in a way, like, he was great to begin with. And then like, somehow she elevated him. And you know, he just like so zero to n. And you suddenly saw this relationship of, you know, this.

Jeannie: Yeah, they complemented each other. So

Maggie Yeah, yeah. And you can see him like, I so care about this person, but I have no idea what I’m doing. You know, and it really speaks to parenting, I think a lot of people responded to it on a parental level to have that idea again, of like, I sort of I’m a little angry with you for, you know, putting me in this position. You know, I don’t want to be the grown up here, but I’m being forced to be there. You know, I’ve been forced into a situation. You’re really annoying, and we just want a little alone time. And yet, you know, here I am. And so I love that it’s so flawed.

Maggie: And then, episode nine which I just like I could start crying just thinking about it right now and to, you know and where he goes and you know the guy who, you know was pretending to be a doctor or you know, and you know, was playing Doctor 11. And, you know, I mean, I remember hearing an interview, you know, where he he literally starts the show, responding to Arthur on stage that he’s having, you know, like, even though he’s not, you know, a medical person and then ends up making this journey where he becomes a doctor. And that’s what so much of this sort of hopefulness story is about, you know, reconciliation and forgiveness and connection.

Jeannie: And then, yeah, and then just shout out to David Wilmont who just beyond brilliant as Clark I mean, just killer and and and Oban crank. I mean, we just and Lori petty like we just had this I had an amazing, amazing cast and they just all did such a beautiful job it was so I it was so moving like I, you know, I we knew the show was special. But man it, it took my breath away. They also don’t get to see the fruits of their labor until months or even years later when the film is released.

Maggie: You just kind of keep your fingers crossed, and you trust in the creative team that you know and love. And hope that it turns out great. So this was just such a joy to watch. And you just feel so happy and so fulfilled, you know, it’s like you’re sending out your little babies. Like going back to giving birth. You really feel like you birth this creative thing, and then yet send it out into the world and hope that it, you know, in the chemistry works and all of that stuff. And that you know, and I think, again for us, because we you know, we did the first and third episode shot, you know, pre pandemic. And then we had that, you know, the shutdown and then came back so like, again to I think it was like even more special this time around because there was this horrific event that happened in the midst of it. And, and to feel like there was light on the other side. And that to have gotten to be some small part of that really, I think was also very speaking for myself incredibly healing.

You can watch Jeanie & Maggie Bacharach work for Station Eleven streaming exclusively on HBO Max.

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Written by lukonianlogic

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