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Part II’ Producer, Casting Director Was 89

Part II’ Producer, Casting Director Was 89

Fred Roos, the casting director turned producer who jump-started the career of Jack Nicholson and collaborated often with Francis Ford Coppola, sharing a best picture Oscar with the filmmaker for The Godfather: Part II, has died. He was 89.

Roos died Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills, a publicist announced.

It’s part of Hollywood lore that before Harrison Ford became a famous actor, he was laboring as a carpenter to make ends meet. What some might not know is that it was at Roos’ house where Ford was woodworking when the casting director befriended him, eventually pushing him for roles in George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973) and Star Wars (1977) and Coppola’s The Conversation (1974).

And it was Roos who convinced Lucas — who had been leaning toward Amy Irving — that Carrie Fisher should portray Princess Leia in Star Wars. (Roos did not have an official role on that film.)

Roos, however, was the casting director on The Godfather (1972), and he helped Coppola decide on Al Pacino and James Caan to play Michael and Sonny Corleone, respectively, after Paramount execs had wanted other actors. (He said he and Coppola “saw every Italian-American actor in Hollywood and New York” as they cast their movie.)

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Fred is one of the great casting talents in the last 40 years of American movies,” Coppola said in a 2004 interview with the Chicago Tribune. “He suggested and brought me people I would never have met, such as the great John Cazale.”

Roos also was instrumental in shaping the fledgling careers of Tom Cruise, Richard Dreyfuss, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio and Suzanne Somers. 

A friend of Nicholson’s since the early 1960s, Roos hired the actor to appear in Flight to Fury and Back Door to Hell, a pair of low-budget 1964 action films directed by Monte Hellman that Roos was producing back-to-back in the Philippines. He also hired Nicholson to co-write the screenplay for the former.

The actor “was high on the plus side of interesting,” Roos says in Patrick McGilligan’s 1996 book, Jack’s Life: A Biography of Jack Nicholson. “His face and look was anything but what was going on [in the industry]. It was the era of the pretty guys. But he was extremely likable, fun to be with, kind of unpredictable, not like anyone else. He seemed very smart in a street way. I was from Southern California, and this high-energy, New Jersey street thing was very alien to me. So I was fascinated by that aspect.” 

As the casting director on Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970), Roos got Nicholson on the way to his first Oscar nomination in the best actor category. He put musicians James Taylor and Kris Kristofferson in leading roles in Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and Cisco Pike (1972), respectively, and cast Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges in the John Huston boxing drama Fat City (1972).

Coppola valued Roos so much, he made him a partner, listing him as co-producer on The Conversation. The following year, Roos shared the best picture Oscar with Coppola and Gray Frederickson for The Godfather: Part II (1974), the first sequel to be named best picture. Roos received another Academy Award nom as a producer on Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979).

When Sofia Coppola launched her filmmaking career, it was only natural that Roos lend his expertise — during the making of The Godfather, he baby-sat her to give her parents, Francis and Eleanor, a night out. Roos was a producer on all the films she directed.

He brought then-unknown Josh Hartnett to Coppola’s attention for The Virgin Suicides (1999), her directorial debut, and urged her to consider Anna Faris for the role of the loopy starlet in Lost in Translation (2003). Roos headed the search that led to Emma Watson, Katie Chang, Claire Julien and Israel Broussard starring in The Bling Ring (2013) and recommended Colin Farrell for Coppola’s 2017 remake of The Beguiled

As the filmmaker told The Hollywood Reporter‘s Rebecca Ford in 2017: “The soldier had to be really masculine and a contrast to these delicate Southern ladies. And I just met different actors, and Fred Roos, my great consultant, suggested Colin. I had met him before but hadn’t thought of him for this.”

Frederick Ried Roos was born in Santa Monica on May 22, 1934. He graduated from Hollywood High in 1952, then joined the military and fought during the Korean War.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from UCLA, Roos landed a job in the mailroom at the talent agency MCA. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to a junior agent. One of his clients was actress Pilar Seurat, who was married to Nicholson’s writing partner, Don Devlin.

Seeking to get more into production, Roos exited MCA and signed with Hollywood veteran Robert L. Lippert as a story editor and casting director. Lippert ran one of the last studio “B” units, overseeing such low-budget fare as The Fly (1958), Desire in the Dust (1960) and The Last Man on Earth (1964). 

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Roos got Nicholson a small part in Lippert’s Western The Broken Land (1962), then had Nicholson and Devlin pitch Lippert on an idea for a low-budget actioner set in Central America. That became Thunder Island (1963), with the pair receiving $1,250 for their screenplay.

In 1964, the producer sent Roos to the Philippines to check on two films in production starring Jock Mahoney. He remembered seeing a World War II script around the office called Back Door to Hell and realized it could work in that locale. He also had his own story idea: Flight to Fury, about a diamond heist gone awry. He pitched both movies to Lippert, and the producer gave his young employee the green light to produce them for $80,000 each. 

Roos had seen Nicholson in The Terror (1963) and admired the moody, atmospheric way in which it was shot; he thought maybe one of its directors, Coppola or Hellman, would be interested in doing his two films. At the time, Nicholson and Hellman were a writing team, so they were the ones who came on board.

Roos segued to television, serving as casting director on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.I SpyThe Andy Griffith ShowThat Girl; and My World and Welcome to It. He began dabbling in big-screen casting with the 1968 releases Maryjane, starring Fabian and Diane McBain, and Petulia, with Julie Christie and George C. Scott.

Roos went on to produce Coppola’s One From the Heart (1982), Rumble Fish (1983), The Outsiders (1983), The Cotton Club (1984), Gardens of Stone (1987), Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), The Godfather: Part III (1990), Youth Without Youth (2007), Tetro (2009), Twixt (2011) and Distant Vision (2018) and was listed as a casting executive on Jack (1996) and The Rainmaker (1997).

He also was an executive producer on Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, the Emmy-winning 1991 documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now that Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, co-directed. And he put together the financing for her directing debut — the romantic comedy Paris Can Wait (2016), starring Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin — when she was 81.

Through Francis’ Zoetrope Studios and its later incarnation, American Zoetrope, Roos also produced features directed by Carroll Ballard (1979’s The Black Stallion), Wim Wenders (1982’s Hammett), Barbet Schroeder (1987’s Barfly) and Agnieszka Holland (1993’s The Secret Garden).

Roos kept busy into his 80s, producing such films as St. Vincent (2014), The Congressman (2016), Wonderwell (2018) and Girl Who Fell From the Sky (2018).

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