The casting couch—that pernicious institution—may still persist in some Hollywood studios, but perhaps the industry’s most respected location-casting team purposely uses “only hard chairs, so the perfumed parlor snakes will leave early.” That’s Liz Keigley speaking, and you’ll have to pardon that quaint “snakes” reference—she and her partner, another 39-year-old divorcee named Shari Rhodes, are Texans.
“They just can’t be topped at finding colorful, interesting, believable people,” says producer David Brown, who has assigned Shari to both versions of Jaws. The Keigley-Rhodes knack is a combination of casting to type, an intuition about who won’t freeze before the cameras—and Texas luck. Jaws 2’s grumpy ship’s captain was originally hired just to ferry the crew to offshore Florida sites in his own boat. “I watched him for a few days, and we cast him,” says Shari. “He did everything in one take, and even the crew applauded.” When they could not find a suitable actor at juvenile casting calls for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Shari called her sister in Atlanta, who called her daughter’s kindergarten teacher, who suggested Cary Guffey, then 4. Critics agreed with Shari that “he was totally wonderful—magic.” Guich Kooch was another find. A teacher and beer-hall operator until they tapped him for a bit part in Sugarland Express, he’s now Harley on ABC’s Carter Country.
Keigley and Rhodes don’t just hire actors on location. “We do everything from accounting to making certain there are enough potties,” says Shari. When 10,000 extras showed up for 2,500 parts in Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, they had to call in riot cops. One tip from Liz in case they should be casting about your town: “There are no Method actors in the ones we pick. What a pleasure it is,” she adds, “to work with people who don’t have to go off in a corner and play werewolf or something before they can do the job in front of cameras.” A painful part of their job is to warn euphoric first-timers against throwing over their lives and heading for Hollywood. Extras earn $60 a day, Screen Actors Guild members with speaking parts a $225 minimum. But some 80 percent of SAG is on unemployment. “It’s a rough, mean world,” says Liz. And the two have resisted uprooting even themselves to the Coast. “That would be like going to Siberia,” growls Shari. “Many people there have no idea what life is really about. I’m not used to dealing with phonies.”
A movie nut all her life and briefly a secretary in the SAG office in Dallas, Shari bluffed her way into nearby productions and then listed herself with the Texas Film Commission as a casting director (“I wasn’t even real sure what one was”). Within two weeks she was hired for Steven Spielberg’s Sugarland Express. On location, she got food poisoning. “I was damn near dead in a hotel room.” Enter Liz, a nurse. “I owe her my life,” says Shari, and soon they were in a loose partnership. They’re cagey about discussing money, but a six-week job for one can pay $20,000. Currently they are also producing their own film, The Newton Boys, a true story of the bank-robbing Texas family, and are corralling backers for a $5 million, 3,000-acre “Movie-town,” which would provide producers with period sets and, hopefully, draw tourists to San Antonio.
Liz lives in a rambling San Antone house, with flower plots and a pool, where an aunt cares for her three children the nine months a year she’s on location. Shari, based in Dallas, casts her mother as guardian of son Kenny, 18, and daughter Stacy, 15, the 11 months she’s away. The women have two ironclad rules. One, states Liz, is “We don’t get involved in location romances.” The other is that they insist on living in Texas. “If they want the best,” asserts Liz, “they send us where they’re shooting.” Exults Shari, a little more starry-eyed: “I still can’t believe it. When the phone rings, it’s just like in the movies. Hollywood really is calling.”