"It's really nice to see casting directors get up here and be more nervous than I've ever seen them before," Gyllenhaal told the packed International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton. "Now you know how it feels! It's perversely wonderful to watch you shake. I'm actually kind of getting off on it."
Gyllenhaal and Washington were joined by thesps Michael B. Jordan, Marg Helgenberger, Liam James, Jonathan Groff, Constance Zimmer and Ana Ortiz to present awards for achievement in casting direction. Comedienne Aisha Tyler stepped in to fill hosting duties at the last minute when Nicole Sullivan had a family emergency.Among the night's top honorees was Linda Lowy, who was presented with the Hoyt Bowers Award for her outstanding contributions to the casting profession over a career, working on such skeins as "Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice" and "Friday Night Lights." Nina Tassler was given a career achievement award, while Michael J. Fox was presented with the New York Apple Award at the Artios event in Gotham.
A special award was presented to the filmmakers of "Casting By," Tom Donahue, Ilan Arboleda, Joanna Colbert and Kate Lacey. "[This film] shows us how the work of Marion Dougherty and other casting directors was a powerful, essential and egregiously overlooked element in the films we now call classic," said Richard Hicks, prexy of the Casting Society of America, who reminded the crowd that 2013 is also a landmark year because it marks the first year of the casting director branch of the Academy.
"We are no longer uncelebrated, unheralded -- as a matter of fact, we can cross out the un- now," Lowy said.
The ballroom rumbled with the spirit of a high school reunion -- old friends dashing across the expansive ballroom to congratulate their colleagues, then hooting and hollering at every mention of a nominee. Anticipating the feverish excitement, producers had a designated "shusher" on hand, who had a busy first half of the night.
"You people work in the entertainment industry and you have to be shushed," Tyler razzed the audience. "I know the chicken at the Beverly Hilton can't compare and that pretzel roll is out of this world, but don't you make me get ethnic. I'd like to keep it Caucasian tonight, but I can get black."
Each presenting thesp shared stories of their most nerve-addled and memorable experiences in the casting room, several of which landed them pivotal roles that changed their careers. Tyler remembered being cast in a recurring role as a paleontology professor on "Friends," a casting decision she jokingly said paved the way for such icons as Jay-Z and the first black president of the United States.
Washington shared what it felt like auditioning for her starring role on "Scandal" and what sets an audition for Lowy apart from the rest."There's some casting directors who allow you to be an artist," she said. "They are a scene partner, an audience member, they are in your corner. Auditioning for Linda Lowy is an opportunity to be an artist. I'm forever indebted to Linda Lowy for creating that space for me when I was so far away from being in a room without attachments and expectations."
"I wanted to play Olivia Pope in ways I'd never experienced before," she continued. "I read this character and thought, 'Oh sweet Jesus, I was born to play this woman,' but there were 12 other actresses who thought the same thing. She was supportive and constructive and generous and smart and perfect. You have to reach for your own inner perfection when you're in a room with her. [Linda Lowy's] commitment to inclusivity serves a purpose in this business that is divine," Washington said, referring to Lowy's propensity for color-blind casting.
In her acceptance speech, Lowy compelled her fellow casting directors to focus on raising the next generation of casting directors."How do we preserve the truthfulness of the art? We need to encourage the next generation to go to the theater, to know what's happening outside of L.A., to read, to seek out the classics," she said. "To truly understand the text and speak not just to who will play the part but to the overall story, genre, tone. To have some knowledge of film history. I don't know about you, but I'm seeing these things fade. Working in the shadow of great mentors reminds us that we can teach young minds to trust their vision amidst the ever-growing maze of distractions. Without that, we start to roll backwards."
For a full list of the evening's winners, see this story.
(Pictured: Kerry Washington and Linda Lowy)