Donna DeSeta

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You've got to hand it to Donna DeSeta; she can spot someone who is destined to become a major presence. Even if that someone is so cute and precocious that it makes your teeth ache. Yup, you can blame DeSeta for that Pepsi-pushing moppet, little Hallie Eisenberg.

But before you start tossing your empty soda cans at her SoHo office, keep in mind that DeSeta, who casts for stage, film, TV, commercials and music videos (see, has also spotted other less groan-inducing cuties: Brad Pitt, Aaron Eckhart, Christina Ricci, Kirsten Dunst and Seth Green, to name a few. Eckhart, in fact, who's fast becoming one of Hollywood's hottest, was discovered by DeSeta at Sundance - driving a van.

DeSeta knows the perils of trying to get started as an actor; she began her career as a Broadway and television actress (if she looks more than a little like Bernadette Peters, it's no coincidence - the two are sisters, though DeSeta has never had the opportunity to cast Peters in a role). One day when she found herself between jobs she decided, somewhat spontaneously, to give casting a shot. "It wasn't really a conscious decision," she says. "It just happened naturally. Life takes you on journeys - this is mine." This journey has led her to work with most of the biggest names in the ad industry, including Ridley and Tony Scott, Tony Kaye, Herb Ritts, Joe Public and Michael Bay. Joe Pytka's executive producer, Tara Fitzpatrick, says that DeSeta is the only casting agent Pytka will work with when he's shooting in New York.

DeSeta's experience - all she'll say on the subject is she's been in business "a very long time" - as castee comes in handy when she's casting. She points out that all but one of her casting directors is a former actor. "It really helps to have that experience because you know how to communicate better - you know the key phrases that will help get a great performance." Empathy helps, too, she adds. "You know their angst and how they're feeling. When you're first auditioning, it's a daunting thing and it's good having someone on the other side of the camera helping along." In the early days of her casting career she focused on model management, and at one point she was executive VP of four corporations under the Stewart Models umbrella. From there she started Contemporary Casting before settling in at her eponymous shop.

DeSeta doesn't pigeonhole herself or her business into one type of casting - she'll find you someone old, young, hip or just someone able to burp the entire alphabet in under 60 seconds. In fact, she can find you a few - as she did when she was casting for the 1999 DeVito/Verdi campaign, directed by Jesse Dylan. "I was shocked to find how many people could do that," she says. How about the spot in the same campaign where another kid goes for flaming flatulence? "I didn't run an audition for that one," she laughs.

In trying to find the secret to DeSeta's casting choices, several people offered the same answer: "She just gets it." One of them was DeSeta herself, who says the magic moment just happens. "You know it when the person walks in the room, you just know it." Paul Ure, line producer for Joe Public at Headquarters in L.A., has worked with DeSeta for years, and, like Pytka, will turn only to her DeSeta when casting in New York. "She listens and understands and sfor. More importantly, she doesn't mass cast; she only brings people in who are right for the role. She just makes a director's job easier."

Ure's favorite DeSeta casting choice is BBDO's 2001 Super Bowl spot, "Touchdown Dance School," for Cingular. Felix is an octogenarian dance instructor who teaches football players how to celebrate scoring a touchdown - in classical dance style.

Not that it sounds as if it happens often, but what if the client isn't as thrilled as Ure is with DeSeta's casting choice? "They win," she says simply. "It's their dime and they can choose who's going to sell their product. I'm more tuned into the talent and that isn't always what they're looking for. They have their reasons and they know their target, so the client is always right."

DeSeta's Zen-like approach to her job boils down to one basic thought. "I like what I do and I have a great time," she says. That's even sweeter than a Pepsi.

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