How the odds-on favorite to win Best Picture, 'Spotlight,' landed the most impressive cast of the year

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Screenwriter John Singer On Writing "Spotlight"


With over 20 years of experience between them, casting directors Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee have done it all. They took Jennifer Lawrence from an unknown to a household name when they hired her for her Oscar-nominated role in "Winter's Bone." And they corralled the most impressive cast of last year in "Spotlight," the current favorite among gamblers to win Best Picture at the 2016 Oscars, and a nominee in three categories at Sunday's Golden Globes.

The movie, based on true events, follows investigative reporters on the Spotlight team of the Boston Globe who uncovered a massive scandal of child molestation within the local Catholic Archdiocese.

To bring this newspaper procedural to the screen with an "All the President's Men"-like intensity, director Tom McCarthy ("The Station Agent") needed actors who could fit into an ensemble, but also command the screen for individual scenes.

Barden and Schnee (whose credits include "Pitch Perfect," "Prisoners," "August: Osage County," and McCarthy's other movies) began the process as they usually do: They read an early draft of the script and then compiled a long list of actors they figured would be good fits, to go over with McCarthy.

"When you work with a director multiple times, there's a shorthand, and what comes out of that is the same tastes in actors and acting styles," Barden said.

McCarthy led the charge in getting the top-billed actors to join. Mark Ruffalo was the first to sign on, taking one of the Spotlight reporter roles. The director then signed actors he had worked with before, like John Slattery, who would play Globe editor Ben Bradlee Jr.

See photos from last year's Golden Globes ceremony:

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How the odds-on favorite to win Best Picture, 'Spotlight,' landed the most impressive cast of the year
Jennifer Lopez walks in the audience at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Jeffrey Tambor walks in the audience at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress Amy Poehler attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for Aquafina)
Kevin Spacey, left, and Kate Mara walk in the audience at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Kayte Walsh, left, and Kelsey Grammer walk in the audience at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
John Legend poses in the press room after winning the award for best original song “Glory” in a film for “Selma” at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Michelle Schumacher, left, and J.K. Simmons pose in the audience at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actor Edward Norton (L) and producer Shauna Robertson attend the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actors Adrien Brody (L) and Liev Schreiber attend the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon)
Richard Perry, left, and Jane Fonda walk in the audience at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Lily Tomlin walks in the audience at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Herbie Hancock poses in the audience at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress Reese Witherspoon attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Singer John Legend (L) and model Chrissy Teigen pose in the press room during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actor Jeffrey Tambor attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Matt Bomer, Winner of Best Supporting Actor - Series/Mini-Series/TV Movie for 'The Normal Heart', speaks onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, J.K. Simmons, Winner of Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture for Whiplash' speaks onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Hosts Tiny Fey and Amy Poehler speak onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Amy Adams, Winner of Best Actress - Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical for 'Big Eyes', speaks onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Jill Soloway accepts the award for Best TV Series, Comedy or Musical for 'Transparent' onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress Ruth Wilson attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Oprah Winfrey (L) and actor David Oyelowo attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Oprah Winfrey (L) and actress Helen Mirren attend the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Presenter Melissa McCarthy speaks onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Presenters Kerry Washington and Bryan Cranston speak onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Presenters Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan speak onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: (L-R) Don Cheadle, Bridgid Coulter, Ayana Tai Cheadle and Imani Cheadle attend the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: 72nd ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: (l-r) Writer Armando Bo, writer Alexander Dinelaris, writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and writer Nicolas Giacobone, winners of Best Screenplay - Motion Picture for 'Birdman', pose in the press room at the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBC via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, George Clooney, Winner of the Cecile B. Demille Award, speaks onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress Gina Rodriguez (R) and sister Ivelisse Rodriguez pose in the press room during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress Julianne Moore and Bart Freundlich attend the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress Judith Light attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress Uzo Aduba attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Presenters Salma Hayek and Kevin Hart speaks onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Tina Fey, Margaret Cho and Amy Poehler speak onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actor Louis C.K. attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actor Jon Voight attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Presenters Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader speak onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Presenters Paul Rudd and Adam Levine speak onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Presenter Kate Hudson speaks onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Patricia Arquette, Winner of Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture for 'Boyhood', speaks onstage during the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actors Adrien Brody (L) and Liev Schreiber attend the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: 72nd ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: (l-r) Recording artist John Legend and recording artist/actor Common, winners of Best Original Song 'Glory' for the Motion Picture 'Selma', pose in the press room at the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBC via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actors Jennifer Aniston (L) and Justin Theroux attend the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Director Sophie Hunter (L) and actor Benedict Cumberbatch attendthe 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon)
Actress Gina Rodriguez (R) celebrates with her sister Ivelisse Rodriguez after winning the award for Best Actress - TV Series, Comedy or Musical for her role in 'Jane the Virgin,' in the press room at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards, January 11, 2015 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
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As other name actors came on board, like Michael Keaton as Spotlight editor Walter Robinson, Liev Schreiber as the paper's editor-in-chief Marty Baron, and Rachel McAdams as another reporter, Barden and Schnee were hard at work auditioning actors for the supporting roles.

Though the film was shot around Toronto as a double of Boston and features Canadian actors, the filmmakers ended up looking to talent with Boston roots to give it a stronger sense of place.

"There was no mandate to get people who looked like the real reporters," Schnee said. "But there were some actors we tried for roles who just weren't as authentic as Tom wanted."

And given how bad Boston accents can be in movies, they likely made the right move. In the case of one character, Patrick McSorley, a victim who speaks to Spotlight, Barden and Schnee tried trained New York actors, but McCarthy thought there was something still missing.

"Our casting person in Boston, Carolyn Pickman, found this actor Jimmy LeBlanc, and he was the real thing," Schnee said. "He gave the perfect Boston accent."

LeBlanc's performance as a tough guy with a tortured past lasts only one scene, but it's critical to how the movie works, as it's one of the first times we get to hear from a victim. That powerful moment shows the audience the depth of the pain victims have carried around for years.

"That's the key to any casting job," Barden said. "The authenticity and the truth of the story has to come through the actors, and when you get it right it's seamless, and when it's not quite right it sticks out like a sore thumb."

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