Casting director gave 14-year-old Nicole Kidman her TV break
A film and television director who often worked with her said “her great strength was her diligence. She went to performances in the small theatres around Sydney, often several nights a week and sometimes interstate always looking for new talent. If the casting consultant’s job is to offer a smorgasbord of actors for the director and producer to choose from, in Susie’s case, we were always offered a feast.”
Maizels had an entertaining shorthand to describe an actor. When casting the part of a well-bred daughter, I suggested actress A; she said “no, darling, she’s a shop girl”, and I instantly knew why my choice was wrong.
As casting director, Maizels liked to cast beyond the obvious. Probably the best example is the film On Our Selection. She had suggested venerable actor Leo McKern as Dad. There were many older actresses who could have played Mum Rudd opposite McKern, but Susie suggested Dame Joan Sutherland. As producer Tony Buckley says, “when I picked myself off the floor and flew to London to offer her the role, Dame Joan said yes over lunch”.
Among her other innovative casting recommendations were Ernie Dingo as a stand-up comic in Tudawali, comedian Paul Hogan in his first serious acting role in TV series Anzacs and Leeanna Walsman for the role of Jessica in Bryce Courtenay’s mini-series.
Susie understood actors. She respected them. In a profession that can be about disappointment as much as it is about success and stardom, Susie would break any bad news gently, telling actors to always believe in themselves. She was empathetic and kind.
She was also courageous and a risk taker. In 1999, right at the end of pre-production of the mini-series The River Kings, a private investor pulled out, jeopardising the rest of the finance including that from the Film Finance Corporation. The producer went to the corporation shortly before shooting was due to begin seeking a bridging loan until a new investor was found. The corporation refused, meaning the production would die in its tracks, throwing 60 or more people out of work.
Susie, casting director for the series, heard about the crisis and said to the producer, “darling, we can’t let this happen”.
She went to her bank, mortgaged her house and provided the funds as the new private investor, triggering the Film Finance Corporation’s production investment which was released late on a Friday afternoon before production was due to start on the Monday.
Fortunately, another private investor was found, Susie’s investment was returned and the project was saved. But she had no guarantee of this when she made her decision, and her fee on this relatively low-budget production would not have gone near covering her investment. She had cast the mini-series and believed in it and the people before and behind the camera.
Although she spent her working life in the often-frenetic and city-based world of film and television, Susie always thought of herself as a country person at heart. Towards the end of her career, she realised her dream and moved to a property in the Bathurst district with partner Mario where she put her considerable talent and energy to good use developing her farming property, Acacia Downs, which brought her great pleasure.
She loved sailing, her father having taught her to sail on his yacht. In later years, she crewed on yachts in twilight races held every Wednesday on Sydney Harbour. She would have loved to have owned her own boat to skipper those races — even to sail in a Sydney to Hobart — but competitive sailing wasn’t compatible with her work and she eventually gave it up.
Susie loved the outback and discovered the bi-annual rallies run by the South Dubbo Rotary Club in aid of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. She went beyond the back of beyond to the border country and on to the gibber plains country, hammering too fast across the corrugated tracks, then sitting beside the Diamantina at Birdsville at dusk, sipping a red. No matter how rough the camping was, Susie was always elegant.
Anthony Buckley and Tim Read