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Maggie Lunn, casting director who ‘so bright, funny and mischievous’

Tributes to ‘extraordinary life force’ who gave many actors their start in TV, theatre and films

03 March, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Maggie Lunn: ‘An extraordinary woman, incredibly funny and generous’. PHOTO: LINDA NYLIND

MAGGIE Lunn, a leading casting director who had held key roles with the Almeida Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, has died aged 56.

In a career spanning almost three decades she cast West End hits Flare Path and Noises Off as well as productions for the National Theatre. Her screen credits included Hustle, Pride and Prejudice and The Hollow Crown for the BBC, as well as the 2006 Oscar-nominated film Notes On A Scandal starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett.

Ms Lunn, who lived in Highbury New Park with actor husband Paul Jesson, died on February 19 following a battle with cancer. Her funeral was held on Monday. Born in Newcastle, Ms Lunn’s love of theatre began when she saw Judi Dench in Much Ado About Nothing at the Theatre Royal in her hometown in the 1970s.

She read English at the University of Newcastle before moving to London, where she found a job as a research assistant at The Daily Telegraph, later moving to Private Eye. There, she befriended Peter Cook, the actor and satirist who provided financial backing to the magazine at the time.

Her move into casting in the late 1980s was unusual. She was often found at the theatre and when a friend told her of a casting director who was looking for an assistant, she decided to apply. She made her hobby into her profession and was extraordinarily good at it.

Her first TV credit was Gone to the Dogs, a comedy drama for ITV starring Alison Steadman and Harry Enfield, in 1991. A few years later she landed a job with the Royal Shakespeare Company as a producer and casting executive.

Her friend, Ginny Schiller, who was mentored by Ms Lunn when she joined the RSC a few years later, said: “Maggie’s great strength was not only finding and advocating for new talent but putting companies together, putting people together, because it’s partly an alchemical business, what we do.

“She was an extraordinary woman, incredibly funny and generous. She gave so many people their starts at both sides of the industry, whether it was in acting or casting. She was incredibly supportive of people she rated and liked.”

Ms Schiller added: “She was tough with people with lazy thinking. She wanted people to be absolutely clear about finding the best actors and really cared about the work.

“She was an extraordinary life force and it’s the hardest thing that somehow she’s not with us anymore.”

Ms Lunn was instrumental in increasing diversity on stage and screen. She cast David Oyelowo in the RSC’s 2001 Henry VI production in a major landmark for colour-blind casting. Oyelowo was the first black actor to play an English king in a major production of Shakespeare. And in 2009, she cast David Harewood as Friar Tuck in BBC One’s Robin Hood.

She left the RSC in 2000 to join the Almeida, where she worked alongside artistic director Michael Attenborough. She later worked at Chichester Festival Theatre and the National Theatre while continuing her TV work.

Ms Lunn married in 2008. She had cast Paul for Henry VIII in 1997 and they had known each other professionally for many years before their relationship blossomed.

She was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and received treatment but the illness came back.

Francis Wheen, deputy editor of Private Eye, said: “Saddened by the death of my former colleague Maggie Lunn, who after a dramatic career change went on to become a hugely admired casting director for theatre and cinema.

“When the BBC brought her in as casting director for my own brief foray into writing TV drama I knew we’d have an unimprovable cast despite the tuppenny-ha’penny BBC4 budget, and boy did she deliver: Gina McKee, Kenneth Cranham, Celia Imrie, Neil Dudgeon, Patrick Ryecart…

“She gave her job description as ‘creating opportunities’, and actors loved her for it. She was so bright, so funny, so mischievous. RIP, dear Maggie.”

A memorial service will be held in the spring.

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