March 11, 1999




Back Stage West names the nominees for an Academy Award that ought to exist: Best Casting



Mary Gail Artz and Barbara Cohen



While most films about high schoolers offer either a sanitized fantasy world of mini-adults or the distorted-hindsight view of vengeful former nerds, Rushmore is among the few films about the pre-legal-age set that gets it right. Among the most strikingly successful elements of this peculiarly earnest comedy about an obsessive 15-year-old know-it-all named Max is its clear-eyed casting by Mary Gail Artz and Barbara Cohen.


Of course, Artz and Cohen can't claim credit for finding two of the leads. For the role of Max, director/co-writer Wes Anderson had seen and rejected 1,800 young actors nationwide when Bay Area casting director Davia Nelson, attending a party at Francis Ford Coppola's Napa winery, met Coppola's 17-year-old nephew, Jason Schwartzman, who was cast soon after. And the sneakily brilliant Bill Murray was courted directly by Anderson for the part of the dissipated tycoon Blume.


But the rest of Rushmore's unique world was peopled by Artz and Cohen, whose intelligent youth casting (from 1983's Bad Boys to last year's Simon Birch), as well as their work for demanding auteurs (John Boorman on Beyond Rangoon, Desmond Nakano on White Man's Burden), made them a good choice for Rushmore. So though we've seen Mason Gamble as a precocious, freckle-faced tyke before--i.e., as Dennis the Menace--he's something of a revelation as Max's quietly loyal, refreshingly average sidekick, Dirk.


Ditto Olivia Williams, whom few saw or remembered as Kevin Costner's squeeze in The Postman, as the pale, pretty, tentative English schoolteacher for whom Max falls; Seymour Cassel, a fine actor too often relegated to the direct-to-video bin, as Max's stalwart father; Brian Cox, as the permanently grimacing school dean; Sara Tanaka, as a tenacious young match for Max; Stephen McCole, putting a wistful Scottish twist on the school bully, and the rest of the Blume clan--tight-lipped Kim Terry as the cuckolded wife, redheaded Ronnie and Keith McCawley as the twin sons (whom Artz reportedly discovered roughhousing in a Blockbuster video store).


This is not the generically "universal" dramatis personae of most high school flicks. Indeed, like The Last Days of Disco, it doesn't seem to have been cast at all. This sort of intuitive, inevitable sense for the human dimensions of a filmmaker's vision is what the best casting directors have. Artz and Cohen are clearly among the best.

--Rob Kendt