Linda Phillips-Palo, C.S.A., always felt she oughta be in pictures-and, as a Hollywood casting director for the past 15 years, the Orchard Park, N.Y. native and UB alumnus has been up to her eyeballs in pictures and résumés of countless actors, from Shakespearean troupers to singing pigs.
"I bring the actor and the director together and try to make a chemistry," she explained during a phone conservation from her Venice, California home recently. "I have extensive lists of actors and I look for new people all the time. I might spend quite a bit of time bringing people in and reading them and seeing where they might fit in the movie. The good part comes when the director and I share a vision. Then we really start trusting each other's judgment.
"There's a certain chemistry about putting a film together. We go to the movies and say, 'Wow, this all works'-but that doesn't just happen. You have to keep a balance. Decisions aren't just made on whether somebody is a real good actor. They're made on how the balance of the picture is going to look, how the actors are going to work with the star, what the energy will be-right up to the very last person who has one line."
Among her recent casting work is The Yellow Dog and Heaven's Prisoners, Alec Baldwin's first film as executive producer. "Half of the movie is made up of well-known actors like Alec Baldwin, Kelly Lynch, Teri Hatcher, Eric Roberts and Mary Stuart Masterson, and then there are a lot of other actors whom you have never seen but they're Shakespearean-trained and very exciting."
Her role is usually preliminary in a project. She will help attach an actor to a role through her recommendations to a producer or director. Once those leads are determined, financing for the project gets underway.
Her success is the result of determined ambition for Phillips-Palo, a movie lover since she was a kid going to the show every Saturday with her grandmother. She studied acting at Buffalo's Studio Arena Theatre School and appeared in many local productions.
"The first thing that got me really gung-ho on theater was The Private Life of the Master Race which was playing at UB when I got there (in 1968). A fantastic play and they staged it beautifully. Then they did another play, Eh-very experimental theater. And I got involved. There were a lot of exciting things happening at UB," she related.
"To me, there's nothing like a university education. I ended up doing some work in media studies with Paul Sharits. The university always had an amazing group of people in residence whom you could actually work with and get close to. Working with the wonderful poets and writers at the university gave me no fear of working with directors like Werner Herzog or Francis Coppola."
Phillips-Palo majored in sociology as an undergraduate and then went into American Studies for her master's degree which she obtained in 1974. All the while, she worked her way through college at college-as a secretary in the American Studies Department.
In 1979, she set out for San Francisco to finally realize her long-held ambition of breaking into big-time show biz-without one connection in the industry. She went to a temp agency to try to get a toehold with rock producer Bill Graham.
"They said they couldn't help me-not even to sell T-shirts for Bill Graham-because I had secretarial skills but my shorthand wasn't good enough. And I had a master's degree, so I was overeducated. I walked out of the agency, put their card in the wastepaper basket and figured that nothing was going to happen.
"Then, about a week later, I'm on my way out the door and the phone rings. This woman from that agency is saying, 'Linda, you've got to help us. You're the only person we have. Francis Coppola just called and he needs a secretary with a master's degree.'"
Within three months, Phillips-Palo was working as a coordinator on Coppola's classic, Apocalypse Now. "All my jobs have kind of come from that first job," she related.
Phillips-Palo feels that her UB experience played a definite role in preparing her for her future career in Hollywood casting. "Because of the way I've handled my life with work and study, I have an ability to assess people and situations.
"I was very, very stimulated creatively," she continued. "I felt there were no limits to what I could do. The teachers were always tough and presenting challenges to you. They really prepared me for life."
After being on staff of Zoetrope and Lorimar studios, Phillips-Palo became an independent casting director in 1985. She cherishes the freedom, allowing her the time to pursue other interests such as screenwriting and composing song lyrics.
Television has beckoned as well with the casting of a variety of shows, from mini-series like Aaron Spelling's "Crossings" to the reunion of Eddie Albert, Eva Gabor and all the eccentric Hooterville characters in the movie, Return to Green Acres.
"Whoever was available (from the original cast) and alive came back," she recalled of her Acres experience, "but that wasn't the original Arnold, the pig-I didn't even ask where that original porker was.
"Last year, I had to hire a singing pig for The Radioland Murders. The trouble was, singing pigs work all the time and are very hard to get."
However, with the determination and focus she first honed at UB, you just knew that Linda Phillips- Palo would come through with this casting challenge, with piggy squeals of delight-right on key, of course.