On the Job: Casting Call

Douglas Aibel, head of the Tony Award-winning Vineyard Theatre in Manhattan, talks about being a casting director for some of Hollywood's most acclaimed films.

By Willow Lawson, published on January 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Douglas Aibel has two lives. In one, he heads the Tony Award-winning Vineyard Theatre in Manhattan. In the other, he has cast the characters of some of Hollywood's most acclaimed films, including Dead Man Walking and Kinsey. A favorite of wunderkind directors Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou) and M. Night Shyamalan (The Village), Aibel spoke to Willow Lawson for the debut of PT's "On the Job" column about professions that wrestle with human behavior.

How does casting for film differ from that for the stage?

A wildly untrained newcomer is not going to be able to deliver a big part in a play. But it is possible for someone without any experience to deliver a great performance in a film, if the director knows what he is doing.

So a stage actor is more versatile.

I used to think that, but not anymore. Sometimes people with conservatory training have to learn to let go of it. It requires an emotional release. Most intelligent stage actors who have trouble with camera work are very aware of it. They'll be the first to say, "I was too theatrical. Let me do it again."

Wes Anderson likes to cast regular people. Where do you find them?

Wes is a champion of the unknown. He's brilliant at it. In The Life Aquatic, we cast the maître d' at Nobu restaurant as one of the divers.

How do you find kids?

Sometimes you'll see a kid on the subway. It's not easy to go up to a parent and say, "I'd like to audition your kid."

In The Royal Tenenbaums, almost all the kids were schoolkids. One was John Turturro's son, but honestly, we didn't know who he was. We just saw him in a school lunchroom.

After a movie is finished, have you ever regretted a casting decision?

Once in a while I will see a film and think, "Gee, that person was better in the audition. What happened?" But it's all about the director and his interpretation. Actors don't have a lot of control over how they come across in a movie.