For all the bridesmaids in “Bridesmaids,” and all the housemaids in “The Help,” the most actor-packed film in the race for the ensemble cast award from the Screen Actors Guild on Jan. 29 might be the one about a supposedly solitary silent movie star — that is, “The Artist.”
It is hard to know with certainty how many performers caught the camera’s eye in each of the five SAG-nominated films. But a tally of the cast lists on IMDb.com shows “The Descendants” with 40 named actors, “Midnight in Paris” with 42, “The Help” with 54, “Bridesmaids” with 66 and “The Artist” — about that lonely guy, the actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) — leading the pack, with 68.
Heidi Levitt, the casting director who assembled actors for “The Artist,” said the movie was loaded with performers mostly because its director, Michel Hazanavicius, was bent on recreating an old Hollywood that was, well, loaded with performers.
“The day players were part of the making of a movie, whereas now we have special effects,” said Ms. Levitt, who spoke by telephone on Thursday about the film business of yore. (“Day players,” she noted, are actors hired by the day, rather than the week, usually for a union minimum payment that is currently set at just over $800 a day.)
“The Artist” has two leads, Mr. Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, and behind them are a handful of familiar faces in full-blown supporting roles. Those include John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller and James Cromwell.
But the rest of the film, Ms. Levitt explained, was populated by a fraternity and sorority of less well-known actors from Los Angeles and New York, many of whom she had used in other pictures and television shows.
One was the screen veteran Ed Lauter, who played a butler in “The Artist” and had been cast in “Born on the Fourth of July” when Ms. Levitt was working on that film more than 20 years ago. Another was Bitsie Tulloch, who figures in a movie within the movie. Ms. Levitt once cast her in the film “Lakeview Terrace,” and she is now a star of the television series “Grimm.”
During casting calls for “The Artist,” many of the actors came dressed in character for what could not be speaking parts, as the movie is mostly silent.
But the actors, Ms. Levitt said, often spoke lines, which the audience never hears. And those muted lines, plus plenty of facial expression, helped distinguish players like Joel Murray, who plays a cop in the film, and Annie O’Donnell, who shares a scene, from a slew of “featured extras,” who have less to do but still help people the film.
At least one role, said Ms. Levitt, was cast with the help of her own pet project, the ActorGenie, an iPhone app that connects actors with the casting world. Adria Tennor, said Ms. Levitt, landed her role as the secretary to Mr. Goodman’s character via the app.
Given that actors do the voting not just for the SAG Awards, but also for the coveted acting nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, “The Artist” might get a boost from its large family of performers and their friends.
But Ms. Levitt, as it turns out, has also lent a little past help to one of her competitors from “Bridesmaids.”
Melissa McCarthy, nominated for a best supporting actress award from SAG, used to babysit for Ms. Levitt’s family, before hitting the big time with her role in “Gilmore Girls.”
Way back then, said Ms. Levitt, she cast Ms. McCarthy in a television pilot, and has remained fascinated by her skills.
“She’s brilliant,” said Ms. Levitt. “She nailed every single audition.”