Beverly D'Angelo, among the brightest and most beautiful actresses in movies today, says putting together a cast for a movie is a little like conducting a symphony.
She says striking the right balance, resonance and harmony with a variety of actors and actresses is vital to producing a responsive chord with audiences.In her new movie "High Spirits," D'Angelo is part of unique mix of cast members including Peter O'Toole, Daryl Hannah, Steve Guttenberg, Liam Neeson, Ray McAnally, Jennifer Tilly, Donal McCann and Peter Gallagher.
The action takes place in a haunted Irish castle-turned-hotel owned by O'Toole, and the principal characters are Irish, English and American.
"It's rare that so many different elements are brought together in the same picture," D'Angelo said.
"There was a wide diversity in cultures, past films and training involved with the cast, which was brought together to turn out a smooth, ensemble performance. In `High Spirits' we came from different backgrounds and our styles reflected our training.
"The actors represented so many contrasting techniques and styles that it made me think. Some of the English and Irish performers were trained in Shakespeare and other classics in repertory and in English television and West End stage productions.
"Some of us Americans were purely the product of movies. Some of us had done stage work, too. I began as a folk singer before I joined a Canadian repertory company.
"So it was necessary to make constant adjustments in working with one another, responding to each other in different ways. It was like orchestrating a large variety of instruments into one harmonious sound.
"In one scene I worked with Steve, Liam and Daryl and I had to approach each line with sensitivity as to how each performer would react. How they reacted controlled how I played the scene to blend with the various energies.
"I guess that's true of all movies and casts to some degree, which is why so much time is given casting. But in a film with so many diverse actors it is especially difficult.
". . . We had a brilliant director in Neil Jordan. He made it work for all of us. He was patient and he knew exactly what he wanted.
"Neil set the overall tone and style and saw to it that his actors stayed in character. We used collaborative techniques, not overplaying or underplaying and not being manipulative. Neil kept us playing with the same passion and in harmony."
D'Angelo said good chemistry among the performers contributed heavily to the mix.
"We all liked each other," she said. "We were cohesive and helpful. I've been involved in other films where there was friction and tension, which can be very destructive."
For D'Angelo, "High Spirits" is a change of pace from the long-suffering, passive wife she has played in the "National Lampoon Vacation" pictures with Chevy Chase. For the first time in 19 movies, she plays an unsympathetic character.
A native of Columbus, Ohio, D'Angelo has appeared in such hit films as "Annie Hall," "Honky Tonk Freeway," "Coal Miner's Daughter," "Paternity" and "Hair."
She is concerned that "High Spirits" may not find a large audience because it does not fit easily into any currently popular genre.
"We shot for two weeks at a real Irish castle in Limerick and for 12 weeks at Shepperton Studios in London," she said.
"The story involves a plan to dismantle this medieval castle and have it reassembled in Malibu for a theme park called Irish World. But the castle is infested with ghosts. And Steve, who plays my husband, falls in love with one of them, a 200-year-old girl who was murdered in the castle, played by Daryl.
"It's really a fable, a sort of fairy tale. It's a picture about dreams coming true. But I'm afraid the producers were worried about the box office, so they made every effort to flatten it out, underestimating the audience.
"They were relentless in their efforts to make it fit into a mold with romance, special effects, comedy, drama, the occult and mystery, which doesn't exactly make it your standard farce."