Casting Cull

For a quarter-century, Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins have cast more than 135 movies for directors such as Ron Howard, Wolfgang Petersen and Chris Columbus. They’ve found parts for Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Brendan Fraser and Tom Cruise before they were stars. They convinced Jerry Zucker to cast Whoopi Goldberg in “Ghost,” which netted her an Oscar. Their record is admirable: the Harry Potter movies, “Beetle Juice,” “The Princess Bride,” “Stand By Me,” “The Outsiders,” “Jurassic Park.”

They’re also still working, which is why “A Star is Found” — a mix of advice, innocuous anecdotes and advertisement for their services — is frustrating, irritating and intermittently enlightening.

The book, assembled by Rachel Kranz, reads like she turned on the tape recorder and transcribed the results. Janet and Jane alternate stories, but their personalities are so submerged that it’s difficult to discern who is speaking.

Not that it matters. This book is as edgy as a Parade Magazine profile. The stars are all gracious, patient and professional, and the only actor named for bad behavior — he punched a hole in the wall during an audition — redeemed himself by returning the next day with flowers, apologies and patching material for the hole. Jane and Janet even find forgiveness in their hearts for the callous actors, poor dears, because they probably had a bad day when they came in for a reading, or had to deal with pushy fans who won’t let them have a quiet dinner at Spago’s.

The stars’ assistants who will turn to the extensive index in the back will find nothing to cause their bosses any uneasiness. Tom Cruise was always “warm and friendly.” Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton “are extraordinarily gracious and generous” during casting, “unfailingly professional and gave 150 percent in each audition.” To the Hollywood insiders in a recent Radar poll, Russell Crowe may be a “nightmare actor” to work with, but here he’s “a true craftsman [who] looked for solid training in every single actor he worked with.”

As for the casting process, the advice doesn’t go much beyond relax, don’t be a jerk and accept rejection. Luck, timing and connections also are important. Each star seems to have caught a break in a different way. They pushed Brendan Fraser for a role in “School Ties,” even though the director had already rejected him. They sought out Bruce Willis on the advice of a costumer who dressed him for “Miami Vice.” Not only did they pressure Michael Keaton to meet with Tim Burton for “Beetle Juice” — he was “genuinely disgusted” by the script — they convinced Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara and Sylvia Sidney to reconsider as well.

Behind the endless soothing vibes and feel-good stories, there seems to be an undercurrent in”A Star Is Found” that, while the writers and directors deserve credit for their success, Jane and Janet put them in that position first. If they can’t be stars in real life, they can do it in this book. They are, after all, casting directors, and it’s time for their close-up.