‘The Irishman’ Casting Director Ellen Lewis on Working With Martin Scorsese

Jazz Tangcay

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Casting director Ellen Lewis first worked alongside Martin Scorsese on 1989’s “New York Stories.” Since then, Lewis has worked with Scorsese on casting his films including “Goodfellas,” “The Departed,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Irishman.”

When it comes to casting a film as grand as “The Irishman,” Lewis’ process is the same as any other project. “I start with the script,” she says. “I look at all the roles and I break them down.”

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She approaches each project creatively and starts fresh. “I act as if I’ve never done it before,” Lewis explains. Part of her process is reaching out to agents.

“I enjoy talking to agents who are going to talk to me creatively and think about the project I’m doing,” she says.

Aside from sitting with agents and going through their individual clients, another resource Lewis finds useful is Actors Access, a searchable online database for performers. “It’s a fantastic place where actors can submit themselves directly,” Lewis says. “I go through it and look for great faces and look for people we’ve never met before.”

In the case of casting Irene Sheeran, Lewis thought of Stephanie Kurtzuba, an actress Lewis had previously worked with and cast in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” “I really loved her,” she says with pride. “She’s such a wonderful actress.” Similarly, she had already known Kathrine Narducci. When it came to looking at the casting, the key was also going on instinct. “It’s about putting people together who feel like they fit,” Lewis explains.

Early on in the casting process, there was a read-through with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Kurtzuba and Narducci. “Stephanie and Kathrine did their scene together so we could see their interaction.”

The process with Scorsese is still one-on-one. Lewis looks at every audition tape that comes through to her before passing anything onto him. “I don’t just let anybody in,” she says. “I’ll sit with him in our casting sessions.”

With a wealth of extras to cast, Lewis says a key perk of working with Scorsese was that she was able to look at comedians and musicians to help build the ensemble.

Her favorite new discoveries included Louis Cancelmi (“The Looming Tower” and “Billions”), who played Sally Bugs. “He came in and did that scene about the fish and the car, and it was such a fantastic scene. After he did that, I was so excited to introduce him to Marty and De Niro.”

Action Bronson was a different way to go,” Lewis says excitedly about casting Bronson as the casket salesman. Off-camera, Bronson is a rapper, but when Lewis saw him, she thought he would be an ideal fit for the role.

“What’s so great is we had the greatest living actors in the world, but we also had the greatest ensemble,” Lewis says. “It’s such a fantastic community of all these great people working together on this great Scorsese movie.”

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