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“Lady Gaga’s Going To Blow Your Mind”]

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As the Academy prepares to debut an award for casting directors at the 2026 Oscars, the timing was right for Francine Maisler to travel this week to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic for a tribute organized by its Industry Days office. Taking the stage for a KVIFF Talk with her associate Molly Rose, the renowned casting director admitted she had initially been reluctant to enter the limelight. “Coming here is special for me, because I tend to avoid these things. I’m hired to be behind the camera, not in front.”

Despite such modesty, Maisler had no trouble holding the room for nearly 90 minutes, reflecting not only on her own illustrious career path but praising the legions of actors she has worked with for the last 30-odd years. She seemed especially energized by Lady Gaga, having recently seen a cut of Todd Phillips’ heavily anticipated DC sequel Joker: Folie À Deux, which is rumored to making its debut, whether in or out of competition, at the upcoming Venice Film Festival.

“She’s so good in it, you guys,” said Maisler. “She’s going to blow your mind. I didn’t suggest Lady Gaga. It wasn’t my idea. That was Todd Phillips, before me. But I will tell you, she’s really surprising — and really good. I saw it and I was really surprised. I mean, we all knew what she could do in A Star is Born, but I thought, ‘Oh, well, that’s kind of in her wheelhouse.’ Something she could do and just be real. But this… Man, she’s good. Joaquin blows your mind, but that she could keep up with him, and be real — and not just wiped off the screen by what that role is and what the performance is — shows she’s good.”

Touching briefly on her very first steps in the industry (“I worked at a union called Actors Equity”), Maisler had an anecdote for almost every occasion, such as one in which she revealed how the Somali pirates from the Tom Hanks movie Captain Phillips were found not in Somalia but at an open casting call in Minnesota. Austin Butler, she said, landed Dune: Part Two not on the basis of Elvis, which wasn’t finished at the time, but for his theatre work in New York (most likely the 2018 revival of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh on Broadway).

Sarah Snook, who Maisler cast in Succession, had been a personal favorite for a long time, since the actress came close to taking the lead in David Fincher’s 2011 remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (“I saw that audition and I never forgot”). And despite her subsequent Oscar win, 12 Years a Slave’s breakout star Lupita Nyong’o did a self-tape that initially went ignored. It was a subsequent audition, with Maisler coldly reading opposite her, that finally made Steve McQueen pay attention (“It was emotional,” she remembers).

Maisler had come to Karlovy Vary with Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders, which features the impressive trio of Austin Butler, Tom Hardy and Jody Comer. That, and her work on Dune: Part Two, and prompted a question about the pressure of casting celebrities. “It’s not about who’s hot, who’s popular,” Maisler insisted. “When you have a movie like Dune, and especially Dune: Part Two, everybody wants to be part of it. So, the director has everybody to choose from. That’s how it works. You just have everybody raising their hands, and some people aren’t available. In this case, they all happened to be available.”

Though her mood was always upbeat, Maisler expressed some frustration with the new culture of secrecy that surrounds movies in the internet era. “Everything is so confidential now,” she said. “It’s happening more and more that you can’t give up the script, which means you can’t give the actor the sides to read from. Or, if you do, they have to sign confidential forms.” For some films, she noted, casting directors have to decide on sides from completely different movies that might strike a similar chord (for the first Dune, some actors were given sides from Lord of the Rings). Still, she understands the need for such cloak-and-dagger tactics. “The script gets leaked, opinions get made.”

Taking questions from the audience, Maisler expressed her backing for the Academy’s decision to — finally — create space for casting directors: “Well, as I like to say, everything takes time. It was our time to be recognized. There’s a lot of things that go into making a movie, and you always hear directors say, casting is 90% of what makes a good film. So now that 90% is getting recognized.”



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