If you’re a fan of classic titles such as “Chinatown,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “E.T.,” “The Godfather: Part 2,” “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The Goonies,” “Footloose,” “Aliens,” “Back to the Future,” “Blade Runner” and “Chaplin,” then you’re familiar with the work of casting legend Mike Fenton. The Los Angeles native with nearly 300 casting credits on his résumé passed away from natural causes on December 30, but his legacy will continue long past 2020.
Variety credits Fenton with helping launch the careers of A-listers like Harrison Ford, Drew Barrymore, Robert Downey Jr., and Richard Dreyfuss. Fenton co-founded the American Society of Casting Directors, which evolved into the Casting Society of America (CSA). “His remarkable accomplishments and his incredible work in elevating the awareness and appreciation of the craft of casting defines his legacy in the entertainment industry,” CSA co-presidents Russell Boast and Rich Mento said in a statement.
Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Entertainment also paid tribute to Fenton, calling him “inarguably one of the top casting agents in our industry for decades.” The well-known auteur had a lot to say about him, as well. “Working with Mike Fenton was like working in a candy store — he made casting a blast,” wrote Spielberg. “His fervent support of actors was the stuff of legend, and after landing a part, any actor’s smile was rarely as wide as Mike’s.”
Fenton, himself, spoke to his appreciation for actors during an AMPAS interview. “That’s the joy of being a casting director, to meet all of these different [actor] people,” asserted Fenton. “They bring such wonderful, wonderful abilities to the screen.” An audition tape for Spielberg’s E.T. displays Fenton discovering such talent in real-time. During Henry Thomas’ read for the role of Elliott, you can hear the casting legend off-camera as he works through the scene with the then-child actor. The impressive performance — complete with real tears — ends with the victorious announcement, “OK kid, you got the job.”
Fenton’s work was admired by many, including those within his field, and a number of casting directors took to social media to honor his legacy. “What a loss to the casting world,” Sharon Bialy stated. “He was so kind and encouraging to all when many weren’t at the start of my career.” Erica S. Bream called Fenton “a gem of a man, an incomparable CD” while Michael Sanford named him “one of my casting heroes.”
The career of the casting legend was an enviable one, and those hoping to have similar success in the field would do well to follow his example of trusting your gut. “What makes a casting director is learning that little, tiny ‘something’ that the actor who has just come into your room has,” Fenton noted during the AMPAS interview. “You can’t bottle it, you can’t sell it, you can’t even describe it, but you know.” Such natural intuition led Mike Fenton to become one of the casting greats during his lifetime, and his work will continue to live on and inspire those who come after him.
Photo Credit: Casting Society of America