Bonnie Timmermann, the most famous casting director in the world.

His archive of auditions surprises, fascinates and provokes debate: “Look how awkward he was at twenty. Brad PittDo you see the shyness of a very young Natalie Portman? Today a legendary career Bonnie Timmermann, perhaps the most famous casting director in the world, between glamor and surprises, is celebrated in a documentary simply named after her, a true brand. This is a lady of small stature, but inexhaustible in history, with a touch of gothic in her gaze, a sharp gaze and a convincing voice: she discovered and launched many stars, from From Benicio Del Toro to Portman, from Mark Ruffalo to Melissa Leo, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Bruce Willis, Chris Rock, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi.

To the cinema Bonnie we find them awkward, impatient, very young in front of the camera, for all this was the beginning of anxieties and illusions. The casting director has a soft spot for some of them: “Viggo Mortensen didn’t want to talk or answer my questions, he just wanted to read. It was already clear what kind of free career awaited him ahead, as an artist, poet, actor, director. Mark Ruffalo: I’m touched by the kind words he always says to me. I gave a lot, but the actors really gave me a lot back.”

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Timmermann began her casting work in the late seventies and is still very active, including as a producer (she was presented in Venice In the land of saints and sinners with Liam Neeson) and revolutionized the profession and the future of television by working with Michael Mann on Miami Vice, the 1984 original, before the word was even used. Directed by Simon Wallon, produced by writer and directed by Amanda Steers. Bonnie was presented on October 4 in Rome (and will soon be shown in cinemas) accompanied by a live conversation with the main character. The event was organized by Uicd, the Italian Union of Casting Directors, which thus intends to highlight the increasingly acute value of this profession, which is still little recognized and rewarded. There are many legends about Timmermann, and she confirms some of them herself in an exclusive meeting with Elle.

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Benicio Del Toro on the set of the film License to Kill

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Is it true, for example, that in front of twenty-year-old Benicio Del Toro he thought: “Oh my God, who is this wonderful creature”? “Yes it’s true”. And is it true that bartender Bruce Willis in Manhattan stood out as a braggart? “I confirm. It happened over thirty years ago, I was already known as a casting director, I went around all the theaters and parties looking for faces. At a certain moment, I was sitting at a table in a bar and a paper airplane flew up to my lap. I looked up. and saw Bruce’s unmistakable smile. I later enlisted him in the Miami PD. Today, the sadness of his illness, which separates him from the world, is enormous.”

Bonnie, let’s start with the basics, what should be the quality of a casting director? What does he actually do?

Look, observe, touch, ask questions, listen. All my life I went to theaters, walked the streets, restaurants. I was looking for authenticity. Today, of course, we tend to oversimplify: autotapes, portfolios, Zoom, and then obviously social media, which has changed a lot, but I believe in contact, I’ve actually interviewed aspiring actors. I have never been the mother of the stars, as some say, but of course I helped them to manifest themselves, I accompanied them, I was not gentle, I know what rejection is and tried to make it acceptable. In any case, it was a pleasant adventure: I ate tuna sandwiches with Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon and Ed Harris during breaks on the set of The Americans (Glengarry Glen Ross). This doesn’t happen to everyone.

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Kate Winslet in 1996

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In fact… But how to recognize a future star?

Everyone asks me (laughs) if I have a crystal ball? Obviously not, it is a talent and it is developed with passion and observation. You have to be able to catch that certain glow even with inexperience, when a possible star enters the field, the light heats up, this actually happened to me with Scarlett Johansson at the beginning, in 2001. I think every actor has their own twist. side, reverse side, darker or lighter, and I know how to find it, enhance it. Then, I repeat, theater is important, I first saw Meryl Streep in a small production, it was impossible to take my eyes off her. Also on stage I found Sean Penn, very thin and hairless, he already had the makings of a star.

Documentary Bonnie (distributed by I Wonder Pictures) is irresistible, with endless filmed auditions of the main characters we mentioned: Kate Winslet listening to her as if she were Madonna, as well as Patrick Swayze’s dance rehearsals with various partners for Dirty Dancing, large Jennifer Gray’s plans…

Yes, today it seems incredible, but no one wanted to cast her in the film, they said that she was not beautiful enough, and they continued to try other actresses. Instead, I saw a certain light in his eyes and felt how sexy this couple could be. I finally convinced them and now it has become a cult.

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Scarlett Johansson in 1998

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Where do you store this extraordinary visual material, videos and Polaroids that span entire careers and generations of stars?

While working on the documentary, I discovered that I had over five thousand Polaroids of aspiring actors under my bed, in my basement, in my garage. The beta videotapes of the films were all already at Boston University, it was not easy to transfer them, but I think Vallon was surprised by what he found, even I did not remember everything.

Most exciting audition?

Benicio’s discovery. Liam Neeson’s total surprise. He was biased and didn’t want to date me, but I always got what I wanted. And for Miami Vice I needed an Irishman. We became great friends.

TV series Miami Vice is In the 1980s, it was a hotbed of Latino and black talent, a melting pot that had not yet caught on, a revolution, as they said at the time.

Yes, and I owe it all to the fact that Michael Mann said, “Leave it to Bonnie, set her free.” From bars to the most popular and immigrant areas, I spared no one, stopping people on the street. I was looking for a choir to accompany the two main characters, Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, I wanted realism, variety, modernity. They also opposed me a lot, but from this forge came such excellent talents as Del Toro, Bruce Willis, Neeson, Chris Rock, Stanley Tucci, Julia Roberts, John Turturro, Saundra Santiago, Giancarlo Esposito.

And Leonard Cohen makes an unexpected foray into the world of pop music. The episode with his participation became a cult favorite.

They told me: “even if you manage to talk to him, he, of course, will refuse!” I forgot to reveal my secret card: Leonard was the secret boyfriend of one of my best friends at the time. difficult, but in the end he said yes. Nobody believed it. I love challenges.

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Mark Ruffalo

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