Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Comedy of Errors

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves at 30: Ilene Starger on Her Experience as Casting Director

21 July 21 interview: Ashley Carter
illustrations: Smugcomputer Illustration

A $50 million budget, Hollywood’s biggest star, England’s most famous legend, an Oscar nomination, a BAFTA win, a song that became one of the best-selling singles of all time, that performance from Alan Rickman and a box office take of almost $400 million. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves left a huge impact on the legacy of Nottingham’s folk hero and, to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of its release, we caught up with some of the people responsible for bringing it to life, finishing with Ilene Starger...

Reel of stills from Prince of Thieves

She’s worked on the likes of Sleepy Hollow, School of Rock and Night at the Museum and, as Casting Director for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, it fell on Ilene Starger to assemble the eclectic array of British and American actors...

The process of casting the film was enjoyable and challenging, as one always strives to honour the material. The script was certainly well-written, witty and moving, and one wants to do right by the writer.  To name a couple of actors who were coveted choices from the start, given their brilliance: Alan Rickman and Morgan Freeman. And they said ‘yes’! Christian Slater somehow seemed right as young Will Scarlett.

With any casting project, I begin by reading the script multiple times. The better the writing, the stronger the characters and, as I read, I can envision and hear certain actors in the roles. I then start making lists for each character, and start checking availability with their representatives. Over a period of weeks and months, the lists keep changing; those who are not available are discounted from consideration, and I also keep adding names as I’m continually watching the work of actors, on stage and on screen, and many performances will inspire me. 

I want to acknowledge the work of UK casting colleagues on the film, Noel Davis and Jeremy Zimmermann. Everyone involved brought their creativity, and passion for the project.

One of my favourite performances in the film is by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio... I felt very strongly that she would be a luminous Marian, fierce and tender, and she was. I suggested her for the role and was a strong advocate for her getting it

The fact that the legend of Robin Hood is so well known probably helped the casting process, in that there was such enthusiasm to tell this story again. These are extremely popular characters; perhaps that’s why the story lives on in literature and in various films. So many people the world over know the legend from early childhood, from books and filmed depictions. Thus, for everyone involved with this film, the challenge was how to stay true to the characters while trying to bring them to life in fresh ways for a new audience.

One of my favourite performances in the film is by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, as Marian. We’d originally cast Robin Wright as Marian, but she learned that she was pregnant, and left the project (everyone completely understood, and was very happy for her). I was, and am, a tremendous admirer of Mary Elizabeth’s work, having seen her on stage in New York, and in other projects. I felt very strongly that she would be a luminous Marian, fierce and tender, and she was. I suggested her for the role and was a strong advocate for her getting it. She is a superb, multi-faceted actress. 

I’ve mentioned Alan Rickman and Morgan Freeman, who gave wonderful performances in the film; also, the marvellous Geraldine McEwan. It’s an ensemble, and every actor shines. Also, to have Sean Connery do a cameo, well, that was thrilling! He was a commanding actor: a legend, and had starred in Robin and Marian more than a decade earlier.

Alan Rickman had, of course, been doing wonderful work for years, but it was Die Hard which probably made him a star in the U.S. and internationally. I had seen him on stage, and he was magnificent: an actor of rare gifts. He was mesmerising.

I don’t believe Die Hard had been released when I began casting Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but the word was already out that Alan was fantastic in it. It was sort of ironic that, between Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Alan was known for playing silky-smooth, darker characters; it’s a testament to his acting brilliance because he was, in real life, a deeply sensitive, kind and generous man. He and I kept in touch over the years, and I would go to see him when he starred in plays or when he directed them. He was always warm, such engaging company, and incredibly smart. I think of him often, and miss him. He inspired, and was extremely generous to, countless actors and others. Thankfully, his work lives on in films.

The fact that the legend of Robin Hood is so well known probably helped the casting process, in that there was such enthusiasm to tell this story again

My favourite memories from making the film were coming up with ideas and talking them through with Kevin Reynolds, the director, who is a lovely person and terrific colleague. We’d worked together before, and it was always enjoyable. And, as I’ve said above, there was the excitement of working with actors who are so gifted. I’ve always loved and admired actors, and being an advocate for them when I work on a project remains a great joy. To try and match up an actor and a role in which he/she/they will shine is thrilling.

It is difficult to believe that it has been thirty years since the film’s release; to be candid, I have not seen the film in a long while! Answering these questions has made me want to see the film again. It’s always rewarding if a film one has worked on brings pleasure to people, or takes them out of their worries for a couple of hours. Every film will have its admirers and its detractors, but for those of us working on them, I’d say the process is the most rewarding aspect. Of course, we hope the finished product will turn out well, and be a success, but often the best memories come from small moments and joys during the ‘making of’, and the friendships one forges which can span decades.

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now

You might like this too...

Alicia

You might like this too...