How Ron Shelton nearly missed casting Susan Sarandon in 'Bull Durham' as she was not on a SECRET list

Ron Shelton said, 'I couldn’t tell her she wasn’t on the list because I’d be giving away a studio secret. Then I’d be in trouble'

How Ron Shelton nearly missed casting Susan Sarandon in 'Bull Durham' as she was not on a SECRET list
While casting for 'Bull Durham', Ron Shelton's (R) first choice for the female lead was Susan Sarandon (L) (Jason Kempin/Getty Images and Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images)
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Writer-director Ron Shelton said in the latest episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s 'It Happened in Hollywood' podcast that he had almost failed to cast Susan Sarandon in 1988's 'Bull Durham' due to her absence from a secret index. Shelton said while breaking down the making of his 1988 baseball classic, "[It’s] every studio or network or now streaming company’s list of actors or actresses who trigger financing — who are bankable."

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“The problem is everybody’s list is a little different,” he added. “Everybody’s list has Dwayne Johnson and Tom Cruise on it, but the list changes every week, every month. You’re auditioning women, and they may be on the list today and off the list tomorrow. It’s unfair to them, and it’s unfair to the director, the producer, the casting director. But you got to deal with this moving target.”

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While casting for 'Bull Durham', which was Shelton's directorial debut, he already had actor Kevin Costner in mind for the role of Crash Davis, the male protagonist. While there were various actresses who could have played Annie Savoy, the female lead, Shelton’s first choice was Susan Sarandon. The problem was, she was missing from the so-called list.

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“For some reason, the studio said Susan Sarandon was not on the list, which made no sense. And her agent kept calling. I couldn’t tell her she wasn’t on the list because I’d be giving away a studio secret. Then I’d be in trouble. So I’m lying. I’m trying to make my first movie and I’m lying out of the gate,” Shelton said. 

Sarandon, however, was determined to get the role. She was living in Italy at the time, and flew in to directly go to the Burbank studios from the airport. Burbank studios was where the film was in preproduction, ready to start in two weeks. “She shows up dressed to kill in a red-and-white tube dress. She looked like a million bucks and she just got off a plane, a 10-hour flight,” Shelton recalled. “She comes in, and I have Kevin there. She’s pushing me and Kevin around verbally and physically. She’s off-book, meaning she knows her lines. She’s Annie. She was Annie.”

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As Sarandon left, the key players found themselves wondering what they could do in such a difficult situation. “We sat there and poured a drink, I remember Kevin and the producers: ‘What are we going to do? She’s not on the list. She’s so great'," Shelton said.

However, an hour later, the head of the studio called to say Sarandon “looks great” and must get the role. “I found out later she went right from the audition to the studio, Orion Pictures on Avenue of the Stars,” Shelton said. “She worked her way up and down the hallways until she found all the executives that matter… She pretended she had business there. … [Then she] flew back to Italy and by the time she landed, she had the part.”

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