There is much in film folklore, if not in fact, about directors with informal "stock companies" of actors with whom they work again and again. The directors best known for utilizing a "family" of actors are John Ford (1894–1973), Ingmar Bergman (b. 1918), Mike Leigh (b. 1943), Robert Altman (b. 1925), and Spike Lee (b. 1957). Calling upon an established ensemble, both in front of and behind the camera, has enabled these directors, all of whom are very prolific, to put new projects together quickly. Altman, with his background in series television, learned his craft in "stock company" conditions. The stock companies of the non-Hollywood or post-studio Hollywood directors serve the purpose that production units had served in the studio system. Indeed, the stock company may have allowed Ford, who made one independent film per year even during his studio contract days and went completely "off the reservation" in mid-career, to become in effect his own studio, carrying his own resources with him from film to film.
A pioneer of the profession, Lynn Stalmaster is credited with helping cast 228 films and 150 television series and television movies in his fifty years as an independent casting director. A former actor and a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), he began by casting television episodes. The volume of work involved in casting weekly episodes with just a few days notice moved him to open his own casting office. Stalmaster convinced the producers of the hit western Gunsmoke (1955–1975) to spread a much wider casting net and fill their show with new faces not usually seen on westerns. Stalmaster soon became a magnet for new talent from all over the world for such prime-time network television series as Have Gun, Will Travel (1957–1964), The Twilight Zone (1959–1964), and The Untouchables (1959–1963).
With his partner James Lister (1926–1969), Stalmaster cast the compelling dramatic film I Want to Live! (1958), and his company became a valuable resource for independent film productions, particularly those with distribution deals through United Artists. Thus Stalmaster received credit (sometimes as "Lynn Stalmaster & Associates") on films of Billy Wilder ( The Fortune Cookie , 1966), Stanley Kramer ( Inherit the Wind , 1960; Judgment at Nuremberg , 1961) and Hal Ashby ( The Last Detail , 1973; Bound for Glory , 1976; Being There , 1979). With six full-time casting associates at his company's peak, Stalmaster helped establish the dual purpose of the casting director—serving as an advocate for actors and as the link between the agent or manager and the film and TV director or producer—while bringing a filmmaker the most talented and interesting ensemble possible.
A man of great enthusiasm and energy, Stalmaster seemed to thrive on the task of seeing, keeping track of, and remembering for roles individual actors among the thousands who descend upon Los Angeles. Stalmaster has said that he has auditioned and videotaped thousands of actors and nonprofessionals all over the world. He claimed that he has the singular ability to spot a one-percent difference onscreen between one actor and another who might have been better for the role. One of Stalmaster's better known coups is Superman: The Movie (1978), the makers of which found themselves stumped in casting the all-important title role. Stalmaster recalled Christopher Reeve from past auditions and brought him in to test.
One of the oddities of the casting profession is that it has become an overwhelmingly female-dominated profession, making Stalmaster's achievement not only remarkable, but also generous in that it prepared the ground for the success of many young people, most of them women. Stalmaster was one of the founding members of the Casting Society of America and received the Hoyt Bowers Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Casting Profession at the 2003 Artios Ceremony.
I Want to Live! (1958), The Great Escape (1963), In the Heat of the Night (1967), Deliverance (1972), Sleeper (1973), The Last Detail (1973), New York, New York (1977), Roots (TV, 1977), Superman (1978), Being There (1979), Tootsie (1982), The Right Stuff (1983), The Untouchables (1987), Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), "Making Superman : Filming the Legend" (DVD documentary, 2001)
Parisi, Paula. "Dialogue: Lynn Stalmaster." The Hollywood Reporter , 8 January 2004.
The director with a stock company in the truest sense was Bergman. Liv Ullmann (b. 1938), Max von Sydow (b. 1929), Erland Josephson (b. 1923), Gunnar Bjornstrand (1909–1986), Ingrid Thulin (1926–2004), Bibi Andersson (b. 1935), and Harriet Andersson (b. 1932) all got their start with Bergman, played the major roles in his small-scale, intimate films, and contributed in essential ways to the intensity for which Bergman's films are known. None of these actors is in
fewer than seven Bergman films. Moreover, von Sydow's nine-film collaboration with Bergman produced many of the director's signature films, from The Seventh Seal ( Det sjunde inseglet , 1957) to Shame ( Shammen , 1968), as did Liv Ullmann's appearance in Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers ( Viskningar och rop , 1972), and Face to Face ( Ansikte mot ansikte , 1976), as well as three Bergman films opposite von Sydow. When some of this company, especially Ullmann and von Sydow, became internationally known, they may have "graduated" from Bergman—von Sydow, for instance, last worked with him in 1971—but they owed much of their training and screen image to him.
Mike Leigh is a somewhat similar case; as an independent European artisan making small-scale films, Leigh has a unique relationship with his cast. He finds players for his characters, researches and improvises with them for an extended period, then goes off and writes the script, which the cast returns to perform. A number of actors, including Lesley Manville (b. 1956), Jim Broadbent (b. 1949), and Timothy Spall (b. 1957), first made their names in Leigh's films, then became in demand in the industry. Thus, while the names of Broadbent and Spall are generally connected to Leigh, they have each made only three films with him, and one of Broadbent's appearances, in Vera Drake (2004), was a cameo.
This leads to an essential point about stock companies. Many actors and directors closely associated with each other in the minds of filmgoers actually worked together on just a handful of films. Commercial filmmaking, with its myriad schedule conflicts, makes stock companies difficult to keep together; directors often find that a favorite actor is not available, even if he or she wants to be, "unavailability" being in general one of the most common reasons that one actor is cast and not another. Moreover, an actor's work with a given director often takes place during a limited period. For instance, Shelley Duvall (b. 1949) is among the actors most associated with Robert Altman, but their six-film collaboration ended in 1980. Ford is also interesting in this respect. John Carradine (1906–1988) appeared in iconic roles in eight Ford films. However, after The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Carradine and Ford did not work together for eighteen years; Carradine was then cast in The Last Hurrah (1958), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). Ford, at the end of his career, recalled actors from his heyday, like Carradine, Andy Devine (1905–1977), and Olive Carey (1896–1988), wishing to include them in nostalgic but bitter films that revised his earlier, more upbeat renditions of American myths.
Often the aura of a director lingers with certain actors; they trail their associations with him into other projects. This is true of many of the actors who worked with Ford, as well as Martin Scorsese (b. 1942) veterans like Robert De Niro (b. 1943), Harvey Keitel (b. 1939), Joe Pesci (b. 1943), and Lorraine Bracco (b. 1955), and also of Spike Lee cast members such as Giancarlo Esposito (b. 1958), Roger Guenveur Smith (b. 1959), and Bill Nunn (b. 1953). Sometimes the associations amount to a form of typecasting. Michael Murphy (b. 1938) began his career playing weak, insincere organization men in Robert Altman films like McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) and Nashville (1975), then went on to play similar roles for other directors. Thus Murphy was ripe for a reunion with Altman, which occurred with the cinema-verité style TV miniseries Tanner '88 (1988), with Murphy perfectly cast as a struggling presidential candidate.
Members of a director's "stock company," then, carry that director's work with them throughout their careers and are more often than not remembered as having done their best work under the director's auspices. John Wayne was often little more than a self-parody away from his mentor, John Ford. De Niro's many films away from Scorsese have been largely undistinguished. Other close actor-director partnerships have included Johnny Depp (b. 1963) and Tim Burton (b. 1958), Toshiro Mifune (1920–1997) and Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998), Marcello Mastroianni (1924–1996) and Federico Fellini (1920–1993), Jean-Pierre Leaud (b. 1944) and François Truffaut (1932–1984), and one of the few in which the director floundered without the actor: Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg (1894–1969).