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Photo courtesy of Maribeth Fox.

Maribeth Fox on Casting ‘Bottoms,’ the Spark that Lit Her Casting Journey

Over the course of her 20-year career, Maribeth Fox has some pretty impressive casting credits to her resume. For starters, there’s both A Quiet Place and A Quiet Place 2, Late Night and the Amazon series Modern Love. She’s also done work on such prestigious titles as Wonderstruck, Carol and Lion, so when she says that her latest gig, the indie dark comedy Bottoms, starring Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri, is one of the most special she’s done, that’s something worth noting.

Working in an office with her mentor, legendary casting director Laura Rosenthal, and recent Emmy nominee Jodi Angstreich, Fox is a key part of one of New York’s most formidable casting operations. She’s just as formidable in conversation. She spoke to us from her home in New York City.

How did you get into casting?

I grew up in Milwaukee, and my dad was a really big Broadway musical lover and raised me on records of Broadway musicals. We used to get tours coming through, and my parents would always buy season tickets. He would always buy me one of those big glossy souvenir programs, and from about the age of seven, I would sit there with a legal pad and take notes on the actors, just being a judgmental bitch, to be honest, at seven being like, who phoned it in, who was great, whatever it was that a seven or eight-year-old might write about somebody. Then, as I started to go see more and more shows, I realized that some of the actors that I saw in Cats were now in Damn Yankees. I was like, ‘Okay, so if they go from show to show, somebody has to do the job of putting them there.’

That’s what lit the spark?

I went to school at Fordham University, had internships at Sesame Street, a talent agency, NBC — I never actually interned in casting, but through my experience at the talent agency, I was like, ‘Oh, this is something I could maybe do.’

I started at Don Buchwald and Associates, learned how to work in the industry, and just really fell in love with the population of actors. But I didn’t want to represent them. I thought, ‘I’m really missing out on not seeing these amazing New York actors perform, and I think I have a good eye for what’s good.’ Jodi was working at CBS primetime casting at the time, and she and I had met each other a bunch of times and I reached out and she said, ‘I have a job at CBS for you.’ That’s what started the casting journey.

Another casting director I spoke to recently said that she realized on her second day working at an agency that she was in the wrong job, that she didn’t want to put people in the room, she wanted to be in the room with the people. It sounds like you had the same epiphany.

Absolutely. I joke to actors that I want to spend five to seven minutes with them, not a career with them. As I’ve grown in the casting field, I’ve been in casting for 20 years now, the beautiful thing is I’ve gotten to be with them for their careers. Think about actors that I started auditioning in their 20s, and now they’re in their 40s, and we talk about our families. There’s something so beautiful, knowing who they are as people as well as artists, I think that’s a really unique job to get to have.

You must feel a sense of propriety with some of them. The ones you’ve discovered or whose careers you fostered.

You know, it’s interesting. I think we have to be careful in terms of the word “discovery,” because we are never the first. I think about the person that I always turn to in questions like that, Millicent Simmons from Wonderstruck and A Quiet Place. We did a worldwide search for that role in Wonderstruck, somebody who had to keep up with Julianne Moore and [director] Todd Haynes. I happened to be the one to get that tape in, but I didn’t discover Millie. Millie’s English teacher knew that she was wildly talented and started putting her in school plays and handed her the flyer for Wonderstruck. So I do feel a sense of real pride in watching how people grow and change.

That seems like a perfect segue into Bottoms, which feels like that kind of job. Lots of fresh faces and high ceilings.

Bottoms was one of the most special casting experiences of my career thus far. It was a mostly female team, and I think that there is something so graceful and beautiful about all being on Zoom together. No one interrupts, no one’s thought is more important than the other, no voice is the loudest and everybody is so creatively respected. What a joy.

It’s so rare these days that you don’t have to go for the most famous person to get the movie financed. Our producers Allison Small and Elizabeth Banks and [Banks’ partner and husband Max Handelman] were so supportive throughout the entire casting process. That’s such a gift for us when you have a great producing team that just goes, ‘Okay, you guys, do your thing creatively, and we are here to fully support you.’ What a treat.

I finish every interview with the same question. Do you have advice for actors who are coming into your room?

I think the first thing that I’d love an actor to walk in with is just a mantra that whoever is behind the door is there to support them as an artist. We’ve worked our entire careers, and we’ve trained under Laura, specifically to make the room or the Zoom session a very, very safe space for them to be able to do their art.

The second thing I would say is to ensure that they have made brave bold choices with the material when it’s called for. If the size of the role is appropriate for you to really go for something, it is really easy to get into the trap of looking at producers and directors and going, ‘My job as an actor is to give them what they want.’ But that’s actually not true.

An actor has to be cognizant of pleasing themselves as an artist and bringing their unique perspective to the material, the best they can. And then tonally, if they’re off, we’re there to help them. Trust yourself as an artist and know that we’re there to support you.

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