In the moment with Pat Moran: Baltimore's casting director supreme recalls turning points in her career

Pat Moran has won multiple Emmys, and we haven’t. She’s a near-lifelong friend and cohort of John Waters, and we’re not. She’s been a key cog in Baltimore’s under- and above-ground arts movements for more than half a century, and we still wish we had made it to Martick’s at least once before it closed.

No wonder she’s one of the most fascinating, perceptive and respected people on the city’s arts scene. Fresh off helping to cast a D.C. and Northern Virginia shoot for 2020’s highly anticipated “Wonder Woman 1984,” she’s happy to talk about anything — except her age, which she steadfastly refuses to reveal, save that she’s about the same age as her friend Waters, who’s 72. And she gets bonus points for generally treating people like long-lost friends.

A second-generation Irish-American, Moran grew up in Beechfield and Catonsville. She met Waters, who had grown up in Lutherville, in 1964, when she was fresh out of Mount de Sales Academy and he was hanging out at Martick’s, a restaurant on Mulberry Street that was known even then as a breeding ground for the avant-garde.

The two became fast friends, and when Waters started making films — beginning with 1964’s rarely seen “Hag in a Black Leather Jacket” — Moran soon joined in. She had brief parts in some, but most of her work was done behind the scenes, as producer, assistant director and generally invaluable right hand.

Moran began casting as part of her work with Waters, and broadened her scope when she was approached by fellow Baltimorean Barry Levinson to work on the TV series “Homicide: Life on the Street” and his 1990 film, “Avalon.” Almost three decades later, she remains the go-to person for film and TV shooting in the Baltimore area, with a resume of more than 50 credits that includes three Emmys — for “Homicide,” “VEEP” and the HBO movie “Game Change.”

We spoke with Moran on a recent Thursday afternoon at her office in Canton, inside a one-time broom factory. The interior decor includes everything from a local fortune teller’s neon sign to the cases that transported her Emmys back from California, from photos of her with good friend Divine, the drag-queen star of most of Waters’ early films who died in 1988 (and whom she still calls Divvy), to a wall of (mostly) signed publicity stills of actors she’s worked with, including Johnny Depp, Kathleen Turner, Richard Belzer and Whoopi Goldberg.

Here’s a sampling of what she had to say, about her best friend, the Pope of Trash; about learning there was a world outside Catonsville; and about the accolades she’s won for casting:

On hanging out at Martick’s, and having her horizons broadened: “You know how it was – Barry Levinson always says, you could live in Forest Park, where he lived, and ‘I didn’t know anybody from Catonsville.’ And people in Catonsville didn’t know anybody from Forest Park. It was very tribal.

“When we started to come downtown – I met one guy who was a hairdresser, through a friend of mine, and through him met other people. Him, Divine, David Lochary [another early member of the Waters entourage]. I mean the tribe, our tribe. That was our family, kind of.

“And Martick’s was nirvana. Actual beatniks. It was … a lot of painters from around town, you know. I didn’t know many painters in Catonsville, believe me. This was all new to me. I was always thinking, out in the county, “Is this all there is?” And it wasn’t. And I’m glad I found out that.

“We were all young. John wasn’t even 21.”

On when she knew John Waters was somebody special: “About 10 minutes ago. (laughs)

“John, he was a puppeteer as a child. Then things got too crazy, and he stopped getting puppeteer jobs.

He always was a big reader, he read Fact magazine, all these things. We’d read the Village Voice. Imagine the Village Voice, being in Catonsville? But that’s where we learned. That’s when the trips to New York started.

“People say, ‘Did you think? Did you know?’ How was I gonna know? The two of us were kids, and I’m gonna know that he’s gonna be at the Cannes Film Festival, and taking me? I didn’t think so. I never thought that far. ...You know, when you’re that young — I never wanted to project what I was going to do in 10 years. I wanted to get from Monday to Tuesday, and then from Tuesday to Wednesday. And that was it.

“When you look back — I certainly had a lot of fun.

“He’s a tremendous reader, always has been all of his life. And a big thinker.

“I knew when I saw ‘Hairspray’ that it was something. My favorite [of Waters’ movies] was ‘Female Trouble.’ Now that’s not [a movie] for the masses. But it was a different time, though. It was a different time, and it’s your youth, and you’re full of angst, you’re full of piss and vinegar. You’re making a statement of some sort.”

On getting started in the casting business: “Oh my God, can you believe that I ever got a job casting? With Waters’ crew, it was a case where every one of us did 75 things. So not only did I act as his producer, which was to keep all aggravation away from him at all times … I did [casting] for him. You know, Edith Massey is not Meryl Streep.

“All of a sudden, we were doing ‘Cry Baby,’ I think it was. And a couple of people showed up on set — one was Charles Newirth, who was working with Barry. Now I’d never really worked with Barry before this, you know — and he said he was bringing us ‘Avalon’ and so on and so on.

“So I met with Barry, and what he said essentially was, ‘I don’t want you to cast this [like a Waters film] — in other words, I’m not looking for a sideshow here.’

“So that happened. Then Barry said he wanted to come and bring this cop show written by this kid from the Sunpapers [David Simon] who had been in a cop car for a year. And that was really it, that’s when I went to work for ‘Homicide.’ ”

On being at the Emmy ceremony and winning: “The year I went [1998], I thought, I’m not gonna win, but we’ll go anyway. Because [co-nominee] Lou DiGiaimo, who did the casting and put the ensemble and all that stuff together [for ‘Homicide’], he also happened to cast ‘The Godfather’ — now come on!

“So what’s-his-name — the guy who used to be on ‘Taxi’ and wound up with big drug problems, Jeff Conaway — he was up there on stage, it was his category [to present]. And he said, ‘Oh, this guy gave me my first job.’ And Lou grabbed my hand and said, ‘It’s us!’

“They dragged me up, and I was like — I mean, it was really a WTF moment. I ain’t usually at a loss for words, darling, but I tell ya, I was speechless… We went back to the hotel room, and I sat [the Emmy] on top of the television and just looked at it and thought, ‘How did this happen?’ That this golden statue is coming home with me to B-mo.

“I remember walking with it in my hands through BWI, walking right through there and somebody yelling, ‘Hey hon, did you win the Golden Globe?’ Even better, I thought.”

On how to get cast in movies when they are filming in Baltimore: “What they should do is keep up with what’s going on around town. If they have a big show, when something like ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ pulls in, there’s usually a lot of [buzz] about it. You just follow it. … You’re not gonna sit there and they just drop it in your lap. You’d better get a little bit of shoe leather here, be a little bit of a detective on what’s available to you.

“A lot of times, background [players] will get upgraded, as they say. ‘You with the plaid shirt, come over and open up this cab door and say “Thank you.’ ”

“If you really want to find it, you’ll find something.”

On what to send casting directors like her: “We don’t want head shots so much as we want, like, a selfie. A person has a great head shot, but they come in here, and they don’t look anything like them.”

ckaltenbach@baltsun.com

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