Bonnie Timmermann: The secret force behind Benicio del Toro, Natalie Portman, Steve Buscemi and half of Hollywood | Culture

Benicio del Toro at a first audition for Bonnie Timmermann.

He had not printed the necessary documents. He only brought a handwritten sheet of paper. Nor did he provide standard photos of himself: instead, he handed over tiny photos, as if asking for a passport. Two basic requirements, two basic failures to meet them. It’s fair to say that the budding actor’s audition didn’t get off to a good start. But Bonnie Timmermann always knew how to see beyond these things. Maybe this dark-haired, intense-eyed kid wasn’t the most organized interviewer she remembered, but there was something special about him. “Star quality”, recalls the legendary casting director in front of the camera. She was right, again, when she proposed him for the TV show miami vice, and she was right to believe that the young man would one day be a Hollywood star. Today, Benicio del Toro has an Academy Award, a Bafta and a Golden Globe. Besides his obvious talent, he owes his success to Timmermann’s intuition, like so many other actors. As stated in the documentary bonnyprojected to recent Venice Film Festival: “Every actor whose name we remember has been through her.”

“I’m always drawn to a certain mystery in people. I like an invitation to imagine all sorts of implausibilities. I also think it’s important for an actor to take the time to place the emotion of the moment into a larger understanding of the character,” Timmermann says over email about what she looks for in auditions. And she’s been finding it for decades. Some of Hollywood’s most famous faces star in Simon Wallon’s film: Sigourney Weaver, Mark Ruffalo, Liam Neeson, Melissa Leo, Lawrence Fishburne, Bruce Willis, Kate Winslet and Natalie Portman. Many are grateful and their descriptions add to the portrait of one of the most important talent scouts in the industry. They pay homage to a decisive but almost invisible figure: hidden behind the director and the actors, it is up to her to bring them together. By the way, the film compiles the first auditions of many Hollywood celebrities, before fame, before fame, when they were like all the other budding actors: insecure dummies on the lookout for an opportunity. .

Timmermann helped them break through: “Sometimes even the best actor needs help auditioning. At first, I spend 20 minutes talking to them,” she says in the documentary. Steve Buscemi, for example, explains in the documentary that he was constantly rejected for being “too shy”, until he crossed paths with Timmermann. Giancarlo Esposito is emotional remembering the woman who launched his career. She also guessed Brian Cox’s magic simply by watching him perform from the backstage of a theater. She insisted on putting Russell Crowe forward for Michael Mann The insider, one of his first leading roles, after simply seeing him smoke in a hotel bar. And she’s still proud that she lobbied for Jennifer Gray to play Baby in dirty dance. She sums up the characteristics of a good casting director: “An intuition and an open mind, which allows a casting director to see the possibilities behind an awkward audition or to realize that an actor playing a bad guy utterly compelling could also be an engaging lead role in a romance film. the comedy.”

In the film, her discoveries find more poetic ways to describe her. “It’s the gap between everything and nothing,” says Ruffalo. “It adds a dimension to the project that the writer didn’t even imagine,” adds del Toro. And this, at first, even Timmermann did not quite understand. “My first casting job was for an independent theater company in New York. When I accepted the job, I didn’t know what a casting director did, but I was immediately attracted to the actors and theater. It’s gratifying now to be able to focus on a career that has remained a labor of love. In film and television, so many people contribute to what’s seen on screen, and it’s time that casting directors get the credit they deserve,” she says, citing other legends of her craft, from Marion Dougherty to Lynn Stalmaster, Mary Colquhoun and Shirley Rich.

Bonnie Timmermann in an image from the documentary.
Bonnie Timmermann in an image from the documentary.

The documentary recognizes its merits even more. “She’s a very strong believer in the actors she casts,” Mann says. “He’s not the kind of person who says yes to everything,” adds filmmaker Derek Cianfrance. She also values ​​a certain warrior spirit: “I insist until they agree with me or I give up.” She spent weeks interviewing people on various reservations in Canada and the United States because she was determined to have real native actors for The Last of the Mohicans. She repeated the process with natives of the Amazon for Wizard. And, in the face of general skepticism, she succeeded in making the musician Leonard Cohen appear in miami vice. However, she had a trick: “He was my ex-boyfriend. Of course I got it. After so many years, Timmermann also remembers a few defeats: towards the end of the 1990s, even her insistence did not convince the producers of a film to hire a boy who had fascinated her: his name was Edward Norton.

A good part of Timmermann’s stable are men: the documentary itself underlines this. She notes, “I’m sure I cast more men than women. But that’s because most of the roles are written for them. And it should be noted that one of his first productions, the 1977 play Rare women and others, by Wendy Wasserstein starred Meryl Streep and Glenn Close, among others. Weaver points to the casting director’s great ability to “handle high testosterone atmospheres.” To explain this, Timmermann goes back to his father: “He was an immigrant, an amateur boxer and a demanding parent. I suspect growing up in this house prepared me to work with directors like Mann and Ridley Scott. Although I have to say that the auditions for alarm clocksby Penny Marshall, whom I respect very much, were not a walk in the park.

Kate Winslet during one of her first auditions in an image from the documentary.
Kate Winslet during one of her first auditions in an image from the documentary.

At the same time, his willingness to include minorities in his projects has always been recognized. Decades ago, Timmermann was said to practice “voodoo,” according to the documentary. In Black hat, from Mann, she had to look for a white Italian-American actor for one of the lead roles. She proposed Viola Davis, a black woman. In the end, she had her way – as usual.

Timmermann says the MeToo movement hasn’t changed his job much. She says she never heard of or suspected “any of these behaviors” in the films she chose. Stories about the so-called casting couch – a young actress seeking a role, exposed to harassment or abuse of power by the director who will decide her fate – have been going strong since the early days of Hollywood. What she sees differently is the way she searches for hidden treasures: “When I started, I was able to follow all the new talent by going to the theater several times a week and seeing most of the films and relevant television. Now there is so much content that it is impossible to see all the good performances. Newspaper reviews and word of mouth have become much more important. Instinct, however, is always paramount and Timmermann’s seldom fails. Half of Hollywood is grateful for his Midas touch.

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