Casting Director Bonnie Timmermann Talks Ana de Armas, Mark Ruffalo, Ashley Judd, Viggo Mortensen

Casting director Bonnie Timmermann, behind such films as “Heat” and “Dirty Dancing,” finds herself on the opposite side of the camera in Venice doc “Bonnie,” directed by Simon Wallon. Brian Cox, Mark Ruffalo, Benicio del Toro and Melissa Leo are featured, while Kinology is handling sales.

“It’s almost as if she was the one being auditioned. I wanted to treat her almost like a character in a movie. She is looking straight into the eyes of the audience,” says Wallon.

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Adapting to the new role was hard, Timmermann tells Variety in Venice, but luckily it came with some perks.

“Simon put me in a taxi in Times Square. There were lights and cameras everywhere, and somebody screamed: ‘Lady Gaga is in the car!’ I just struck a pose. For two minutes, I was a star.”

Timmermann has discovered plenty of stars over the years, with their old casting tapes now resurfacing in the film. Starting with Mark Ruffalo’s disastrous audition for “Armageddon,” trying out for the part that ultimately went to William Fichtner.

“He went: ‘If I am not going to get it, at least I am going to make them suffer.’ They are so vulnerable in these moments, so naked, and that’s why the casting director should be naked as well,” she says.

After seeing “Bonnie,” Ruffalo reportedly praised it for depicting the process in a “truthful” way.

“Actors are the ones who should be reviewing this movie. It’s for them,” notes Timmermann. Admitting it took her some time to properly describe her own work.

“I like mystery, you know? I need to see the screen behind the actor I am talking to. When I first started out, I didn’t know what a casting director was. My ‘office’ was in the basement of a theater, in front of a toilet. There was a table and a chair, and then these guys walked down the stairs: it was Eric Roberts and Richard Gere. I thought to myself: ‘What is this job?!,’” she laughs.

As her famous collaborators point out, Timmermann fights for her actors. Even when the director doesn’t believe in her choice.

“When we were doing ‘Heat,’ Ashley Judd came in. She was so elegant and smart, and Michael [Mann] said no. I brought her back, asked her to wear her hair differently, and he goes: ‘This girl is great!’ The first time I saw Sean Penn in a play, he was skinny and had his hair cut off. But I saw his beauty, inside and out. I saw him and his future.”

Just like in the case of Viggo Mortensen, giving her a hard time in the film.

“Viggo was very raw,” smiles Timmermann.

“I thought there was something special about him, though. I understood his passion, I understood he wanted to be a good actor. Not just an actor – he wanted to be Daniel Day-Lewis. I call it ‘the Marilyn Monroe syndrome.’ They put on glasses to appear less attractive and want to be known for their intellect. He didn’t want to be just handsome.”

Over time, Timmermann has also moved into producing. Currently in post-production with “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” with Liam Neeson, she still gets excited about unusual casting choices, however. Like Ana de Armas playing Monroe in “Blonde.”

“She is a movie star. She is trying to work on her craft, instead of going: ‘I am beautiful, so I will just make a Bond movie.’ I think she wants more,” she notes, praising Lady Gaga as well.

“I remember when she was on stage with Liza Minnelli [at the Oscars] and said: ‘I got you.’ My hair stood up. All it takes is this one little thing for me to fall in love.”

As the approach to representation is changing, so does casting, with filmmakers thinking not just about who can play the role but also about who should. But Timmermann’s priority remains the same: finding new faces. Ones that are “interesting and different.”

“We are moving backwards, I think. Everything is star-driven, every movie needs to have a big name. I think the opposite. I want to find new people.”

She enjoys coming up with unusual choices for roles, she says. Mentioning Patton Oswalt’s tweet about Robert De Niro-starrer “Midnight Run,” on which she worked too: “‘Midnight Run’ (…) is why there needs to be an Oscar for casting. Every single part is perfectly cast.”

“Charles Grodin was wonderful in it, but we searched so hard for that role. We saw women, we saw men. We even considered Cher!,” she says.

“I would find people anywhere, anytime. Even Miles Davis [for ‘Miami Vice’]. When I see someone I like, I write their names down. I am surprised my computer hasn’t exploded yet.”

“Seeing is believing. I hope that people who come after me will keep on looking.”

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