Mary Selway, the British casting agent whose transatlantic career led her to cast some of the most successful films of her time, including "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi," "Gosford Park" and "Out of Africa," as well as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," which she helped to cast, has died. She was 68.
Selway had been ill with cancer and died April 21 in London, where she lived, according to the London Guardian.
She worked steadily until the end of her life, most recently on "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the fourth installment in the series, which is scheduled for release next year. Despite the demands of her illness, she never seemed to slow down. She helped cast several of last year's more popular movies including, "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," which starred Russell Crowe.
"Mary had an essential understanding of what the roles required," said Sydney Pollack, director of "Out of Africa," in an interview with The Times on Wednesday.
"She had good taste, and her suggestions for roles were right on," Pollack said. "Usually you ask for suggestions and you get a laundry list of two or three pages. Mary made fewer, more accurate suggestions. I got two or three names."
Pollack had already cast Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Klaus Maria Brandauer for the movie, but Selway suggested Michael Kitchen and Malick Bowens, among others, he said.
In her career of more than 40 years, Selway worked with Steven Spielberg, Peter Weir and Roman Polanski as well as less established directors such as Richard Curtis, who made his directing debut last year with "Love Actually."
"Her contributions to the field were inestimable," Jane Jenkins, a leading casting director in Hollywood, told The Times on Wednesday. "The aim is to do something inventive," Jenkins said of the casting director's job.
She noted that Selway was a champion of new talent and had a knack for putting unexpected actors in roles that proved to be right for them.
For "Gosford Park," a film with 54 speaking parts, Selway assembled a cast that included Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Alan Bates, Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren among others in a logistics feat. Several of the actors had overlapping commitments. Jacobi was appearing in a London stage production during filming.
"Mary would be the first name I'd credit for making the film happen," director Robert Altman said of Selway in an interview with The Times on Wednesday. "Her contributions were vast. At one point, we lost our financing, and she held the cast together through that." The film was finally bankrolled by Capitol Films.
"Mary understood, more than I did, that with so many actors in the cast we had to be sure the audience could tell people apart," Altman said. "She made sure the actors were distinct from each other. In a movie with such a large cast, you don't want the audience saying, 'Now which one was that?' "
Selway also smoothed the friction among cast members, three of whom were not speaking to one another at the start of the film, Altman said. "Mary said we have to have apologies," Altman recalled, and apologies were made.
Throughout her career, Selway was fascinated by emerging talent. Asked by the London Guardian in 1998 to give her impressions of British actress Julie Christie, who was nominated for an Academy Award that year for her performance in "Afterglow," Selway recalled Christie's first film roles.
"Even in the early days when you wondered whether she could really act or not, you couldn't take your eyes off her," Selway said of Christie, who was 21 when she appeared in "Crooks Anonymous."
Born in Norwich, England, Selway enrolled in the Italia Conti school in London to study acting at age 13. She discovered that she was not cut out for it and, at 19, went to work for British independent television, first as a producer's assistant, later in the casting department.
From there she was hired by Miriam Brickman, one of England's leading casting agents. In 1969, Brickman sent her to meet with film and stage director Lindsay Anderson, who was preparing to direct a play in London. He became her mentor.
Anderson "has been and will continue to be the strongest professional influence in my life," Selway wrote in an appreciation of Anderson at his death in 1994. "He took me on an unremitting journey of truth." She credited him with teaching her how to "understand" a piece of writing and "to seek the quality in an actor that could best serve that work," she wrote.
Selway produced one film, "Wuthering Heights," in 1992, based on the classic British novel by Emily Bronte. She gave French actress Juliette Binoche the leading role as Cathy, although the character is considered by many to be the quintessential British heroine.
"Juliette doesn't just act at it," Selway said in an interview with the Vancouver Sun in 1991. "She is Cathy. She's out there in the freezing rain on horseback in 60-mile-an-hour winds and she's not cold, because Cathy wouldn't be."
The same film featured Sinead O'Connor, the Irish rock singer, as Emily Bronte. Ralph Fiennes played Heathcliff.
Selway was the associate producer of "A Dry White Season" in 1989.
She was recognized for her outstanding contributions to the industry by the British Academy of Film and TV in 2001 and received the Women in Film award for creativity in 1999.
Selway was married to actor Norman Rodway, who died in 2001. She is survived by her daughters, Kate and Emma Buckley; and by Ileen Maisel, her partner of 14 years.