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Photo courtesy of Laray Mayfield.

How Laray Mayfield Became Director David Fincher’s Go-to Casting Director

Laray Mayfield got into casting the way a lot of other professionals got into it, by accident.

She was doing another job and someone said, “Hey, you should do this,” and once she did, it stuck. That’s not an unusual story. What makes this unusual is that the person who told her is arguably the best American filmmaker working today, David Fincher, with whom she’s been working for nearly 40 years.

Mayfield has since built an impressive career, with an Emmy award for the first season of House of Cards and two Artios awards —the highest honor the Casting Society offers— to her name. Her latest collaboration with Fincher, The Killer, is streaming on Netflix. She spoke with us from her home in Nashville.

How did you get into casting in the first place?

I was working for David. It was his idea. I was his first assistant. I met David the first day I came to L.A. in 1986.

That’s lucky. How did that happen?

I had a boyfriend that I met in Nashville, and he was a very prominent music video director. He was at the same company that David was at, this little company called Greenbrier Productions. I was working in production. I stopped because it was too hard because my son was young, and then David asked me to be his assistant. I said okay.

So then, how long were you his assistant?

Oh, gosh, I mean, a couple of years. I worked for David exclusively until he went to London to do Alien³. He asked me to go with him, but at that point, I had just moved [with] my son a couple of years before to L.A. We had a little house, I finally had a car and I was like, “Oh my gosh, Dave, I just can’t.” He understood and said, “Don’t worry. We’re gonna always work together.”

At this point, I was also doing all of his casting. When Dave would have a job come in while he was shooting something else, I would gather all the DP’s that were available, costume designers, hair and makeup people and I would show him who all these people were based on what his concept was. I was editing all the casting types that came in for him, and one night he just said, “I think this is your thing.”

It was that simple?

He said, “I think you should try it. You’re one of the few people I’ve ever met who generally likes human beings. (Laughs) I think you’d be great at this.” So I tried it. I did a Jody Watley video that had three people in it. Then we did Steve Winwood’s Roll With It, and that was a very successful video for David. It was also very successful for me as far as casting, and off we went.

You came up through the ranks of music videos and commercials. Do you think that that gives you a different perspective?

You know, it’s my only perspective, so I really don’t know. I think I have a different perspective, just because of who I am. I’m just different. I do think it taught me not to be afraid, even though I was scared to death when I started Fight Club because I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Of course, once you start working on a studio film, it’s different. You can’t fly by the seat of your pants. I also took a ration of shit from I can’t even tell you how many agents and managers and people that will literally say to me on Fight Club, “Who the hell are you? And how’d you get this job?” And I was like, “Who the hell are you? And how did you get your job?” I can give as good as I get.

Clearly. You obviously have a career separate from David, but I don’t know a lot of casting directors who are so specifically tied to a single director the way that you and David are. You’ve done all of his movies since Fight Club, plus House of Cards and Mindhunter.

I love working with David. I love working with my friends. Nobody’s ever treated me as well as David does. Nobody lifts me up as much as David ever has. Nobody’s ever given me the free rein that David gives me, and the sense of confidence that he’s given to me. I had a huge thriving commercial business for years and years and years, so I would do a movie and just go back and do commercials and I was perfectly happy, and I liked being available for David.

You also worked for Jeph Loeb casting the Marvel shows on Netflix. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Does that mean you found Charlie Cox to play Matthew Murdock and Vincent D’Onofrio as the Kingpin?

Jeph sought me out, and we just became the best of friends and had a great, great, great working relationship. I loved Charlie from Boardwalk Empire. Literally from day one, I was like, “Charlie Cox, Charlie Cox, Charlie Cox, Charlie Cox.” Of course, Jeph and lots of others agreed and it worked out great. Charlie is a wonderful, kind, hardworking, generous actor and a great human being.

Also, Vincent D’Onofrio is my dear, dear friend, so that casting was a quick phone call. Like, “Hey, you want to come do this?” He goes, “Are you kidding? I didn’t know he loves comic books! And he loves Wilson Fisk!” He’s like, “Yeah, I do.” Oh, God, that was so easy.

Do you have any piece of wisdom or advice for somebody coming in to audition for you?

You know, it’s always the same thing for me: be uber-prepared. Come in, do your best and walk away from it. Don’t hold on, don’t worry about it, don’t obsess about what you could have done differently, what you could have done better, just go in doing as strongly as you can, and walk away and understand that only one person is going to get that job.

Just because you don’t get that job, which is no doubt disappointing, doesn’t mean there’s not a whole ‘nother one down the line. I know that’s not such a great consolation for people, but it should be. Make a great impression and know that you will be back, and we look forward to it.

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