Film & TV

Casting Actors

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 10:07 min

Martin explains the significance of casting and offers his wisdom on how to interact with your potential actors, both individually and as part of a group. He also shares which performances he uses as models and what he looks for in an actor.

Martin Scorsese
Teaches Filmmaking
In 30 lessons, learn the art of film from the director of Goodfellas, The Departed, and Taxi Driver.
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At first, I was the casting director. So I did-- we put a few ads in Backstage newspaper, I think it was. And we found Harvey Keitel. In 1965 he came to an "audition," quote unquote, at NYU, which was actually just myself and a friend and a couple of other people for some of my short films. But primarily, you, at that time, just grabbed your friends and your parents and put them in because they're going to have to do it for you. It's your parents. And if they're around and if they're available to do it and that isn't so complicated, they've got to do it. So from that basically home movie, and Mean Streets is like a home movie in a sense, not literally, but-- well, in some cases, yes. But at some points it is. But primarily a lot of the people in the frame, and even to the extent of Robert De Niro who grew up in that area so he knew many of the people making the film about, and shot in the hallways of where we grew up and people around us, it was kind of a community effort, so to speak. Since then, I was able to work on a couple of films, two or three films, a very, very key casting process with Cis Corman, who did Raging Bull, King of Comedy, and Last Temptation of Christ originally. But in the late '80s began to work with the same casting director, Ellen Lewis. And Ellen kind of-- well, of course, we discussed the project. She reads what I'm going after. And she usually knows exactly what I want. For Goodfellas, for example, we were taken up to Rao's Restaurant, and in one night we cast about five roles just from the people in the restaurant. So we've been doing that ever since for that kind of picture, for that kind of film. But she gives me a range of choices. And I respond to them, make decisions. The reason we work together is I could tell that the people she brings to me, I connect with for the most part. So we kind of have the same taste in a way. And I always say that casting is 85% to 90% of the picture for me. So all of you are just starting out, I want to repeat, again, insist on what you want. And you don't settle for close enough or second best. And don't imagine there's a shortcut. It's meeting the people, spending time with them, talking with them, then putting them together with the other actors. That's a key thing. And see how the other actors respond. It's somewhat different, I think, than I could imagine a studio system, where in the case of certain key films, filmmakers had to work with certain actors because of contractual issues. And very often they didn't get along with each other. But that was the contract, and they had to do it. Here that may not be the case. I don't say you have to become friends. But you have to be-- here's the key thing with casting, and this is why casting directors are so important. He or she has to know that with the actors primarily, you want to work with the actors, y...

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Martin Scorsese drew his first storyboard when he was eight. Today he’s a legendary director whose films from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street have shaped movie history. In his first-ever online film class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make and watch movies.


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Teaches you to pay more attention to films while watching them, analyze them more closely, and how any, and all scenes can help and influence you in any way, shape or form.

Just do it! Do it your own way. Learn the grammar of film, learn from other filmmakers and how they've been successful (or failed). But, in the end, do it and keep doing it. Find the people you can trust to work with, that's so important. Work with them again and again.

This was my favourite Masterclass thus far. Martin is sitting there talking to you as if he was sharing stories after dinner. Cosy and relax, in control. He tells you, even if it's scary... get up and do it anyways. Find your own way. I love it.

It is so interesting and enlightening to hear and see in depth one of the biggest icons of the industries thoughts and processes.



I’d eat spaghetti to land an acting role with director like Martin Scorsese. I’m there already. Guess what’s for dinner?!!!


There is a wonderful actor that I would love to star in my film. He loves the script, but I am not sure he likes my choice of the leading lady. I would be lucky to be able to make the film and it would be an honor to work with either of them. Another option would be to turn the project over to a film maker that I have been associated with and would be honor for him to direct or produce, but he would have the option of throwing all of us out and hiring whomever he wants.

Jo E.

Great Lesson about the casting process and how chemistry between actors is important for the film. Inhabiting roles and working together to make scenes work is crucial...! Another aspect of making a terrific film.

Eric G.

Over the years it has been my great pleasure and privilege to work with some amazing actors, many of whom I remain friends with today. As a Sanford Meisner Technique trained actor, it is especially rewarding to work with another Meisner actor because the chemistry is always at maximum. When I was cast in my first really big, big feature film with top actors I was lucky to work opposite of a brilliant young Meisner trained actor who mixed with me effortlessly. We performed so well together the director came to us after the first set of takes and said he loved everything we were doing. Like Scorsese talked about, he rewrote the script on the spot in our next scene, gave us five more minutes on screen to work and simply outlined what he wanted us to do. He said we should just improvise the dialog. We would have done it all in one take except we were having so much fun the crew kept cracking up and we'd have to reshoot it. It turned out to be some of the best scenes in the film...having the right actors makes a huge difference on both sides of the camera.

Gene B.

Casting for actors is certainly crucial! It could change the way how the film is viewed, as well as the tone and mood of it. Casting the right actors for the role could make the film become a great product and seems more realistic and surreal! Plus, insist on what you want is also crucial in order to create the product you conceptualize and visualize in your head. If you get what you want for the film, the end product could be like what you want and desire for!

Matt H.

When being cast in a film, and to have that opportunity, I take the time given to me( a month), and use every second of it for the film memorizing the script and getting fully 100% into character, weeks before I arrive on set, so I'm ready whenever, I'm always there, the whole time on set and even after shooting for a while. I think that is so enjoyable, an idea I got from one of my hero's of acting Daniel Day-Lewis, to be in characters weeks before arriving on set and weeks after shooting, I thought that was so much fun as an artist and actor, that was the whole point of why I got into acting in the first place when I was younger, to see the world through someone else's eyes. A different viewpoint, to completely become someone else. I never wanted to be myself, I'd rather be someone else, it's more fun that way and makes life so interesting. The movie was Fast Food Nation, directed by another very good director Richard Linklater. I felt like he really got me, I was a slacker, to play a slacker in a Richard Linklater movie, I was in paradise. A book I was already planning on reading anyway, non-fiction adapted to film and using actors to tell the story. I saw it as a school project almost, got to read the book, then the script 50 times before going on set. My character wasn't very likable though, I don't know if I made a such a great impression on set, a risk I took, how am I supposed to explain that without breaking the spell? Artistically though...I was in paradise the whole shoot.

Alejandro A.

So I re-watched On the Waterfront and still find Brando incredible in it, but not just Brando, the supporting cast as well, the realism within the melodrama, what Scorsese calls ‘the behavior’ I see it throughout, I hadn’t seen East of first James Dean (who I think is amazing in Rebel without a Cause and Johnny Guitar from Nicholas Ray) seems borderline... well borderline... seeing as both are Kazan films that came out within a year of each other, I certainly see a lot of similarities, both movies even mention explicitly that being mean and cruel is caused by rejection and lack of love from the world or who ever... I see both performances as great, I think I didn’t completely buy Dean until the end when the savagery and animal-ness came out, after you see it then you truly get it... both performances are the ultimate display of young adult male angst... of violent lives addicted to pain and anger, but who ultimately (even at a high cost... the highest being an internal change) find redemption through love... it sounds very hokey, but both films are effective melodramas and somewhat brutal in their uncompromising portrayals. I also saw Sleuth, a lot of Michael Cain films, Lawrence of Arabia, the classic Hitchcock with James Stewart and Cary Grant.

Maram J.

Although I produce and direct, I have also picked up the habit of taking on the role of a casting director. This mainly comes due to living in a country where film resources and real actors are extremely limited and few. i have ended up working with non-actors but was always frustrated with them... I think I need to find better ways to communicate with them and be more patient. I'm sure Martin will help throughout this course.


The first actors I took wher models that where used to work with me in fashion industrie. The problem was they had not enough time to come to the shootings. when your budget its low, to make people spend their weekend shooting for you It´s not easy. Finally we did! Anyway my small daughter 10 years old was the most concerned in doing the best!

Robert A.

Great perspective on the process of choosing known and unknown actors for your films. Phenomenal lesson Martin. Thanks again!!!. Onward!!!.