Filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s 2013 film “Gloria,” about a free-spirited divorcee in her 50s, was Chile’s official Oscar entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Though it didn’t snag a nomination, “Gloria” won many fans in Hollywood, including actress Julianne Moore. She went on to meet Lelio in Paris in 2015, shortly before the filmmaker began directing “A Fantastic Woman,” his follow-up to “Gloria.”
“A Fantastic Woman” won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for the 44-year-old Lelio, whose next feature would be the English-language “Disobedience.” Moore expressed to the director her desire to star in an English-language remake of “Gloria” but only on the condition that he direct it.
Moore’s passion for the film, together with the exciting prospect of reimagining it with the actress in the lead role, prompted Lelio to agree. The English-language version, titled “Gloria Bell,” comes out in theaters on March 8. Transplanted from Santiago to Los Angeles, “Gloria Bell” also stars John Turturro, Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, Holland Taylor, Rita Wilson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Sean Astin and others. The film was cast by Lindsay Graham and Mary Vernieu.
Lelio tells Casting Networks that one can’t help having the original in mind at first when casting a remake. “You’re kind of trapped in that at the beginning, but then you slowly become free of it,” he admits.
That freedom began with the new lead, Moore, and rippled outward from there.
“Once you have the main actress around whom everything will revolve, it’s all about making things coherent to that choice,” he says. “The previous film in your mind doesn’t help you because you have to find a way to make the entire new combination click. It’s about balance and chemistry.”
Lelio says his casting process begins with the main roles, which he calls “the biggest branches” of a tree from which he can build upon. With Moore attached from the get-go, finding her counterpart lover, Arnold, was the next step. “For me, casting is all about combining energies and trying to find that magic between actors that allows those sparks to fly. That usually comes from making the less obvious choices. When John Turturro accepted the role, it was great because the two of them are such an unexpected combination. It is the first time Julianne and John are in the same frame. They shared a film before—”The Big Lebowski”—but they never shared any scenes together in that film. Their pairing is not something we’ve seen before, and maybe not a pairing you’d automatically think of. But I liked that cinematic combination.”
Whereas the original “Gloria” starred actors unfamiliar to US audiences, casting “Gloria Bell” with faces American viewers would recognize was not the goal for Lelio. “A name by itself is not a guarantee of anything,” he says. “It has to work within the film and that’s the challenge. For me, it felt right to have a few well-known actors and combine them with lesser-known actors and actresses to create interesting families.”
For example, Arnold’s ex-wife and two grown daughters are often referenced and heard throughout the film as they interfere in his and Gloria’s relationship via a barrage of texts and phone calls. The viewers don’t actually meet them until the end of the film in one crucial scene when Gloria decides she’s had enough.
Casting the daughters and the ex-wife who appear in only one scene—albeit a significant one—was crucial since the audience has by then spent the entire film imagining what this invasive trio would look and act like. Would they really end up being as Arnold has described them to Gloria? Or could their traits have been exaggerated by Arnold in a bid to gain sympathy from Gloria? Casting was intrinsic to that reveal.
“That scene is actually one shot. The camera pans, and we see [Arnold’s family] probably for eight seconds, and that’s it,” remarks Lelio. “It’s one flash so it has to work. I saw a lot of girls, and a lot of combination of girls for the sisters. Sometimes, one would work but maybe not physically match another one I liked. Choosing right is so important because once you start shooting, you’re up against the clock. You hope that styles and energies click.”
In the end, the two young women who won the roles were Abby Gershun and Lauren Brickman.
“Working with casting directors has been quite special in my experience,” Lelio says. “You want to expand what you think is possible for the film and a casting director can do that. When you have preconceived notions and a casting director comes along and says, ‘Hey, why not this person?’ it can be a mind-blowing idea.”