It’s a heady experience talking to someone so incredibly instrumental, so incredibly key, to the last 20 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Casting director Sarah Finn started with the MCU way back on 2008’s Iron Man and continues this incredibly fruitful partnership now that the MCU expanded to Disney+. Given her legendary casting expertise within not only the MCU but also the Disney+ variants (enjoying Loki are we?) and other non-Marvel projects, Finn never lets the weight of the projects keep her from fulfilling the needs of producers or directors.
And since the Television Academy has the good sense to reward casting for television series. That’s something the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has yet to do with the Oscars.
Here, in a conversation with Awards Daily, Finn talks about her process and the challenges inherent in both Marvel projects in contention for the 2021 Emmy cycle.
Awards Daily: What are the some of the key takeaways that you look at when you’re trying to cast a Marvel film on such a large canvas?
Sarah Finn: The key, honestly, is to focus on the task at hand because it’s hard to think about the whole thing at once. What we do is I try to learn everything I can about the character and the director’s vision for the film or the project. That is the immediate task and the immediate goal. We’re always looking. We’re always casting as wide a net as possible. As we’re identifying who might be the candidates, we are very mindful of does this person have the range, the talent, the charisma, the skill, the humor to be able to interact on this larger campus in the MCU as a whole and potentially hold their own against anybody they could meet. The third thing I would say, which is really valuable, is having this long relationship with Kevin Feige and all the producers and the filmmakers. You develop trust. You have a common language. You sort of learn how to listen and communicate really well, and I trust that process and that collaboration.
AD: So when you’re looking at casting for television now that Marvel has such an enormous footprint on the Disney+ streaming service, is there a difference in the way that you would cast for a television series or a limited series over a film experience such as Endgame?
SF: The goals would be the same, to find the best actor, but the process is different because the scope and the volume is so huge. So instead of having a 2-hour film, Winter Soldier is basically a cinematic feature film but over six episodes. That’s a 6-hour movie for us from a casting point of view, so the volume is much more intense. I think the pace is truncated. For the pre-production period, we have to move faster. Often in a film I’ll have a year or more to be looking at various parts and doing searches. For the streaming series, we have to really accelerate our pace. We’ve been able to expand the team which has been fantastic, and these are amazing casting professionals that I’ve worked with for a long time that have been able to come up and help.
AD: How did you start to think about how you’re going to cast for the different periods that are reflected in the initial episodes of WandaVision?
SF: It really was about the skill and dexterity of the actors. Luckily, I know that I can rely on the most amazing costume hair and makeup artists to do their job. It was really finding actors who had the flexibility and range to be able to kind of fluidly move from era to era of that classic sitcom format. Obviously having Lizzie Olsen and Paul Bettany set the bar so high that it became a fun challenge. It was much more about the actor’s ability than how they looked. It was more about tone and style of the actor than having a certain look.
AD: There are so many great actors working on both shows: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier as well as WandaVision. But I do want to focus on two key actors who sort of shifted the conversation on both shows. One of them is Kathryn Hahn. She’s a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What is it about her as an actress that really fit the character of “Agnes?”
SF: Yeah, it was so exciting to see what she was able to do and how the audience responded to her. But I had known Kathryn a long time and seen a lot of her work, which gave me a very good sense of her incredible range. She’s one of those rare performers who is completely masterful at both comedy and drama. She can do anything. So to have somebody with those kind of acting chops really and to give them a part like this is very exciting. I also think that something else that we knew we would have with Kathryn is we were really hoping to kind of keep her secret, where this character was going to go. I think that she so perfectly fit in as the nosy neighbor, that helped with the mystery. It helped having the story unfold that the audience didn’t necessarily presuppose anything when they saw Kathryn. They just really weren’t entertained by her. They really enjoyed her and were able to follow along. I think that really helped the show make the twist that it did and a turn to a much darker, more complex place because she really was able to carry that.
AD: So same question but for Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the casting of Wyatt Russell as John Walker. What were you looking at in Wyatt Russell that fit that character so well?
SF: So with Wyatt, one of the things we were looking at was somebody who, in some ways, resembles Captain America, right? The audience can kind of understand that he’s a war hero and he looks like him. Actually, Wyatt’s first audition ever was for Captain America way back when. He’s sort of outwardly fit, but in also knowing Wyatt as an actor, I knew he would be able to bring the complexity, bring the strength and more of the darker, more potent aspects of the character that were simmering right under the surface. I thought he’d have the humor to kind of make that make that play for the relationship with Bucky and Sam. I knew he could take the character in a whole other direction and hopefully set him up for the arc of potential redemption.
WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier stream exclusively on Disney+.