Fred Roos, Casting Director and Coppola Collaborator, Dies at 89

Fred Roos, a casting director and producer who championed the early careers of A-list actors like Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson and Carrie Fisher, and whose long collaboration with Francis Ford Coppola and his family, stretching from “The Godfather” (1972) to this year’s “Megalopolis,” earned him an Oscar and an Emmy, died on Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 89.

His death was announced by his family in a statement.

Many in Hollywood said that Mr. Roos had the best eye for talent in the business. He championed the young, relatively unknown Mr. Pacino for the role of Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” when the studio executives at Paramount wanted a better-known actor, like Robert Redford or Warren Beatty. And when his friend George Lucas was leaning toward Amy Irving for the role of Princess Leia in “Star Wars” (1977), Mr. Roos suggested he cast Carrie Fisher instead.

Mr. Lucas listened — after all, it was Mr. Roos who had assembled the cast for his breakout film, “American Graffiti,” in 1973, including then-unknown actors like Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss and Mackenzie Phillips. He later did something similar for Mr. Coppola’s 1983 adaptation of the novel “The Outsiders,” bringing together the future stars Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.

Mr. Roos was particularly taken with Mr. Ford, whom he met while the young actor was doing carpentry work on his home. After getting him the uncredited role of Bob Falfa, a wisecracking drag racer, in “American Graffiti,” he cast him in small roles in Mr. Coppola’s films “The Conversation” (1974) and “Apocalypse Now” (1979).

But when he suggested Mr. Ford for the role of Han Solo in “Star Wars,” Mr. Lucas balked. He said he only wanted to cast actors he had never worked with.

“I was, from the get-go, pushing him for Han Solo,” Mr. Roos told Entertainment Weekly in 2016. “‘George, you saw him right under your nose in “American Graffiti,”’ and finally it clicked.”

As his career progressed, Mr. Roos moved away from casting and toward producing, almost exclusively for Mr. Coppola and his family, including his wife, Eleanor, and his daughter, Sofia. (Eleanor Coppola died in April.) He was old school, interested more in assembling the parts for a film — the crew, the location, the equipment — than in its financing.

On set, he played the role of an all-purpose fixer, not all that different from the character Tom Hagen, played by Robert Duvall, in the first two “Godfather” films, to whom he was often compared.

“My job was to calm things down during shooting,” he told Duane Byrge for his book “Behind the Scenes With Hollywood Producers: Interviews With 14 Top Film Creators” (2016). “If someone was ranting or raving one day about something, I would handle it.”

Frederick Ried Roos was born on May 22, 1934, in Santa Monica, Calif., to Victor Roos, a physician, and Florence (Stout) Roos.

He attended Hollywood High School and studied film at the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating in 1956. In college he stood out among the aspiring actors and directors for his goal of working behind the scenes, as a producer.

“I knew how to put things together,” he told Mr. Byrge. “I knew how to recognize talent.”

He served two tours with the Army in South Korea, where he befriended Garry Marshall, who would go on to a long career as a writer and director. He later worked with Mr. Marshall on the casting for the 1970s sitcom “Laverne & Shirley” — he pushed for Cindy Williams, who had been in “American Graffiti,” to play Shirley.

Mr. Roos’s first job after leaving the military was with the talent agency MCA, where he did odd but interesting jobs, like driving Marilyn Monroe around town. He later joined a casting company, where in the 1960s he worked on TV shows like “That Girl” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”

He also began casting films, typically low-budget affairs with unknown actors. He had an option for a script called “Flight to Fury,” and with $800,000 from his boss, he hired a young man named Jack Nicholson to play the lead and his friend Monte Hellman to direct. The film, shot mostly in the Philippines and released in 1964, was Mr. Roos’s first screen credit.

He developed a reputation as calm, quiet and hard to get to know. But, once one knew him, he was loyal to a fault.

“It’s difficult to make Fred Roos laugh,” the journalist Eve Babitz, whom he dated, wrote in a 1975 profile of Mr. Coppola in Coast magazine. “But once you’re on his A-list, you’re allowed to once, sometimes twice a day.”

His relationship with Mr. Coppola began when he worked as the casting director for the first “Godfather” film. He became a producer of the second, and of “The Conversation” — both of which were nominated for best picture in 1975. (The Godfather Part II” won.)

Mr. Roos reprised his role for “Apocalypse Now,” a loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” set during the Vietnam War. Using his connections in the Philippines from making “Flight to Fury,” he arranged for the film to be shot there — Vietnam was out of the question at the time.

And he kept things relatively calm during the famously tumultuous filming process: When the film’s star, Martin Sheen, had a heart attack while jogging, Mr. Roos rearranged the shooting schedule to give him time to recover.

His work with the Coppolas was a family affair. When Sofia Coppola was young, he would babysit so her parents could get a night out. Later, he was a producer on all of her films, including her latest, “Priscilla” (2023). He also produced “Hearts of Darkness” (1991), Eleanor Coppola’s documentary on the making of “Apocalypse Now,” for which the two of them won an Emmy in 1992.

Mr. Roos also worked occasionally with other directors, including Carroll Ballard on “The Black Stallion” (1979) and Barbet Schroeder on “Barfly” (1987).

He is survived by his wife, Nancy Drew, and his son, Alexander Roos, who was also his production partner in later years.

Mr. Roos’s final credit, as both a casting director and a producer, was for Mr. Coppola’s latest film, “Megalopolis,” which was first screened this month at the Cannes Film Festival.

“Fred Roos was determined to never retire from the film business and to go with his boots on,” his family said in its statement. “He got his wish.”

Check Also

Zack Norman, Actor Who Juggled Multiple Professions, Dies at 83

Zack Norman, who made his mark as an actor in films like “Romancing the Stone” …