Washington is often called Hollywood on the Potomac. It certainly is that for Dagmar Wittmer and Carol Ness, the two women who founded Central Casting as a modeling agency 31 years ago to support their own modeling careers. At the time, the owners never imagined they would encounter such a variety of requests for talent.
“No two days are the same,” says the Munich, Germany – raised Wittmer. “There’s no pattern. We’re always ready for anything, no matter how unusual.” Ness once rounded up a half-sheared Suffolk sheep to appear in a political campaign spot that took a candidate to task for being on the fence. “We learned very early that Washington is not the fashion capital of the world,” says Ness. “This is not a glamorous business. It’s not doing lunch.”
The Central Casting office is on the second-floor walk-up of an unpretentious, 14-foot-wide, 100-foot-deep row house not far from the Capitol (623 Pennsylvania Avenua SE, 202-547-6300; www.centralcastingUSA.com). Head shots of models and actors cover the walls, and telephones ring constantly. Auditions are held in the studio in the back. About half of their business is government and industrial training films, 30 percent film and voice-overs, and 20 percent print work.
The owners long ago gave up dreams of modeling. “We got over that,” says Ness. “Now we’re like proud mothers enjoying our children having fun,” says Wittmer.
In 1987 Central Casting handled the movie Broadcast News, which was filmed entirely in Washington. More recently, they cast more than 60,000 extras for Major League II. True Lies, The Pelican Brief and Forrest Gump are also on the résumé. Casting Gump was a memorable experience: “It was a blue, cold week in November,” Ness recalls. “We had 1,000 extras, all young, hippie types, standing around the Reflecting Pool with summer clothes on.”
Washington turns out to be a fertile ground for actors as well as politicians. For example, Marcia Gay Harden, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Pollock (2000), got her start in D.C., including some work from Central Casting. “We have so many people here who are New York or L.A. material, but want to live here,” Wittmer says.
“We’re only a short Shuttle flight from New York,” Ness adds.
As for advice from these pros to aspiring actors: “It’s an unfair business,” says Ness. “You may be terribly talented, but you may not be able to make a living as an actor, so find another field that you love, and do the acting in the evening.”
“And never aim to be a star,” adds Wittmer. “Just try to be a good actor.”
|The Best Wing
So who would play the current occupants of the White House? Central Casting inspired The Sheet to try to fill the parts. Here’s what the editors came up with:
President George W. Bush: Kevin Kline. Not only does the impish actor have popular appeal, he already has curly hair – and experience playing the president in the film Dave.
First lady Laura Bush: Holly Hunter. She’s exactly the sort of presence we’d like reading aloud to us.
Vice President Dick Cheney: Anyone who’s seen Darrell Hammond’s impersonation knows the buck stops here.
Secretary of State Colin Powell: Morgan Freeman. Not as handsome as the actual secretary, but he certainly has the magnitude.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: The kind of role Gene Hackman eats for breakfast.
Attorney General John Ashcroft: Robin Williams. With all the glum, dark movies he’s so unwisely appearing in, he’s somehow mastered the AG’s dour demeanor.
National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice: Angela Bassett. Just take a bit of the edge off ‘la Bassett’s natural glamour and she’s there.
White House Senior Advisor Karl Rove: Jack Nicholson, if only to watch how he’d contrive to steal the show.
Chief of Staff Andrew Card: Aaron Sorkin. Why not move the handsome “West Wing” creator out in front of the camera?