Casting an Oscar nominee isn't a snap

March 23, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- "If you cast wrong, it's not an easy day," said director Barry Levinson, who with Oliver Stone and Barbra Streisand addressed a recent Directors Guild of America seminar. During the course of the 2 1/2 -hour discussion, they shared, among other tidbits, some of the agonizing that went into casting Oscar nominees "Bugsy," "JFK" and "Prince of Tides."

Mr. Levinson said that he was "amazed" at the number of people who turned down various roles in "Bugsy." The part of gangster Meyer Lansky, in fact -- for which Ben Kingsley received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination -- wasn't filled until a week before the shoot.

Mr. Stone recounted, quasi-tongue-in-cheek, the difficulty of finding a 6-foot-7 actor to play Jim Garrison, the former New Orleans district attorney on whose investigations "JFK" was based. Because he could not cast according to physical type, the director said, he went with his gut. Kevin Costner was his choice.

"I like his small ears -- don't you love those small ears?" Mr. Stone queried, flashing a gap-toothed grin. "I needed someone to anchor the movie, and you can watch Kevin for three hours. People think he has integrity and honesty -- because he does."

Ms. Streisand did not hesitate when asked if she always thought of herself playing Susan Lowenstein, the female lead in "Prince of Tides."

"Yes," she shot back. "Who else could I get to play a New York Jewish psychologist?" (Mr. Stone pointed to Mr. Levinson, who as it happens, played a therapist in his own movie "Rain Man.")

"Anyhow," Ms. Streisand continued when the laughs subsided, "I couldn't have gotten the picture made if I wasn't in it. I certainly wouldn't have gotten to direct."

Nick Nolte's name popped into her head after Robert Redford, who had initially intended to play the role, backed out in favor of "Havana."

"I thought he'd be terrific," Ms. Streisand said of the best actor nominee. "But one studio actually turned us down on account of Nick."

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