Tales From the Shooting of Casino

Oscar Goodman and Robert De Niro in Casino.

Oscar Goodman and Robert De Niro in Casino.

Las Vegas has been the setting of hundreds of movies, but few have captured the aura of Sin City like Casino. Not only was it based on a true story, but it was filmed almost entirely here, with a largely local cast and crew, many of whom still have fond memories of those eight months in 1994 …

Pre-production: Las Vegas, Summer 1994

Dave Courvoisier (actor): For the whole city at the time, it was quite a big event. They were shooting all over town, there were big-name actors and, of course, Scorsese brings that whole ambiance with him.

Maggie Mancuso (location assistant): The script for Casino came through, and Dante Ferretti, who was the production designer, came to Las Vegas to take a look at it. I had been in Las Vegas singing during the ’60s, so I had a passing knowledge of that era they were looking for.

Marilee Lear (locals and extras casting): We placed 246 local actors and several thousand extras in the movie. I scored points with Scorsese because on the blow-up of the car, I found the actual EMT who was first on the scene, so he was able to tell Scorsese where the door was and where the top of the car went. [Scorsese] loved that. On the casting, every session that we had, Robert De Niro and Scorsese were there. They made the decisions. Whether the person just said, “Yes, sir,” or, “I’ll see to that,” they were both there.

Mancuso: They wanted to do the whole movie here, so there were 136 locations. … I went out with Dante every day and showed him what I knew about the town, and Martin Scorsese would come on the weekends and we would show him what we’d found. I had quite a bit of influence simply because I had been here in the ’60s, and I knew a lot of the places they didn’t know. They were very open to suggestions, and Martin was very interested—he’s just a very curious person. He knows a lot about a lot of things. I never saw anybody listen like Martin does.

Dave Courvoisier as Newsman #2

Dave Courvoisier as Newsman #2

Courvoisier: They came down to the TV station where I worked and asked if we would audition. Scorsese was at the second reading. … He looked like he had just come out of the desert where he was doing some scouting. He looked kind of blanched and tired and a little sweaty. He was probably plenty busy, and this was such a small part. But he said, “There truly are no small parts in my movies. I take great care with all of the details.”

Kim Houser (picture car manager): They contacted our car club about casting some cars. I brought over a ’64 Corvette and my ’70 Oldsmobile Cutlass because they were looking for period cars. They said, “Oh, this is cool,” and they wanted the Cutlass for Joe Pesci. They asked if I would be interested in finding cars to use for background cars. I went out and hit all of the car clubs and all of my contacts, and I ended up with about 140. They said, “Wow, OK, that’s a lot more than we expected.” Then they hired me on as the picture car manager.

Lear: The casting director from New York had gotten Scorsese a judge. I had heard that Scorsese always wanted real people, so I had a guy on standby. And Scorsese stops the scene—”Cut! Are you a real judge?” “No, but I’ve played a judge in a number of films.” “I told you I wanted real!” I said, “I’ve got a real judge, and he can be here in 20 minutes.”

Randy Sutton and Sharon Stone

Randy Sutton and Sharon Stone

Randy Sutton (actor): One afternoon I got a call from a casting director, who said, “There’s going to be a movie filmed in Las Vegas, and the director wants realism for the part of a police officer. They saw you on Cops.” So I went to this audition at the Riviera. I walk into the room and who was sitting there but Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese—I’d had no idea what the movie was. My audition consisted of me telling them war stories from being a Vegas cop. I told them some pretty funny shit, and they laughed their asses off and said, “You got the part.” That’s how I became an actor.

Shooting Begins: Las Vegas, Fall 1994

Lear: I located so many real mobsters and retired FBI agents. You know what was interesting? Watching them sit side by side on the sidelines talking to each other like old friends. They were mortal enemies back in the day, but on that picture they
were friends.

Mancuso: The hardest location was the Rosenthal house. We looked at thousands of houses until I finally got the idea to go in a golf cart around the golf course side, and we found a terrific house. The people who lived there—they sent them to Acapulco, and Dante totally redid it. We used the Hartland Mansion for one of the banquets that was supposed to be in a hotel—it has a swimming pool and swans and a lot of decoration. The Moulin Rouge—we used that. The Von Tobels had a house on Sixth Street, and it’s full of wood, moldings and details. They used that for Joe Pesci’s house.

Houser: On Sundays, I’d usually sit down with Scorsese and De Niro—De Niro wanted to be involved in every aspect of the cars that were used. He was very involved in the movie. I’d have the vehicles in binders, and they’d look through them: “Oh, I like that. I’d love to have that one pass by,” or, “Oh, we’ve seen this one too many times, it’s time to send her home.”

Monique Long (assistant to costume designer): Casino was a huge movie for extras. There were a number of scenes where there were just hundreds of extras—wedding scenes, party scenes, and they all had to be hand-dressed from head to toe in period clothing. That was intense. We had vintage Pucci dresses on people, and trying to pull that much vintage from that era is quite a feat.

Michael O’Toole (extra): The costumes were incredible—we were like kids playing dress-up. I had this suit with the big Johnny Carson tie and the wide lapels. Then they had me in this striped Peter Brady shirt playing the one-armed bandit. It was like fantasy camp.

Oscar Goodman (actor): The first thing I did was go to the wardrobe room—they had a warehouse. I walked in and, as Yogi Berra would say, “It was like déjà vu all over again.” I saw this fella with his back turned to me wearing a suit, his left arm jutted out and, if I had been placed under oath, I would have sworn I was looking at Tony Spilotro. Turns out it was Joe Pesci. They fitted me with the clothes for the first scene. We started to film. Of course, Mr. Scorsese was directing. He’s a perfectionist, and he had never come across anybody like me in his lifetime. A scene that, with the care Scorsese put into it, should have taken about three to four hours—took three days with me. He was very kind. De Niro was more than kind. Sharon Stone was more than more than kind, and I was able to work my way through it. When the movie came out, I got a phone call from my mother. She said, “Oscar, I saw your movie. It’s a good thing you’re a lawyer.”

Sutton: It turned out to be a much better scene than originally written because Robert De Niro and I wound up hitting it off pretty good, and we ad-libbed the scene. We didn’t do it as it was written—we just winged it. Martin Scorsese loved it, and that’s the scene that they actually kept in the movie.

Houser: The car we used for Joe Pesci was actually my father’s car. My dad had passed about four months prior. I brought it to Nevada from California, and they picked it for Joe Pesci. It’s a 1970 Olds Cutlass Supreme. It’s a great car; I love driving it. It’s still got the dice hanging in the window and Joe’s cigar on the dash. Joe was a character. He kept giving me trouble about leaving his car alone because it was his car.

The cornfield scene

The cornfield scene

Mancuso: The cornfield—that wasn’t in Las Vegas but they wanted to shoot it here. We went up to Overton and planted some corn, but that didn’t work out. They finally flew in some corn from somewhere and planted it in a field out on the northeast side of town, and they shot that horrible scene out there in the made-up cornfield. They had to hurry up and do it before the corn died.

Lear: I had to find a woman who could steal chips while everybody’s watching. So I called the police department. I said, “I need a beautiful woman who can steal chips and get away with it.” The gentleman I talked to said, “Well, we’ve got two. One’s going to be here awhile, but we just released the other one.” She was gorgeous: Blond, 6 feet tall. I introduced her to Scorsese: “Here’s the girl who can steal your chips.” He said, “Well, can we try that out?” The guy who’s responsible for the chips is standing at the table, and she was able to do away with those chips without him even seeing her. Scorsese says, “You’re hired. How much?” She said, “I get $1,500 a day.” He wasn’t used to paying that, but she said take it or leave it. He said OK. Then Scorsese asked me, “What does she do for $1,500 a day?”  I said, “You’ll have to ask her that. I just got her here for the chips.”

Sutton: I was walking by Joe Pesci’s dressing room. He’s standing outside wearing pink bunny slippers and a bathrobe and smoking a big cigar. You know he’s about 5 feet nothing. It was a very amusing look. As I’m walking by I start laughing: “Nice bunny slippers.” He goes, “Oh, yeah? Fuck you!” I got a New Jersey “Fuck you!” out of Joe Pesci. That’s my favorite memory of the whole movie.

Long: The movie as a whole was brilliant in costuming … the way the thread ran through it, how it went from the beautiful glamour of what Vegas was. It brought me back to when my parents used to come out here with their furs and their long dresses. Then you get to the end, and it shows you Vegas with the fanny packs.

Martin Scorsese, Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro on set

Martin Scorsese, Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro on set

Casino opened in theaters on November 22, 1995 

Goodman: I think that doing it in Las Vegas, the cast caught the spirit of what Las Vegas is all about. Wherever they went, people in Las Vegas would show their appreciation for the fact that they were making the movie here. The real actors—everybody except me in the movie—they became the part. And I think they all felt that they were the parts they were playing while they were shooting here.

O’Toole: Pulp Fiction was playing at the Cinedome on Decatur, and I saw Joe Pesci in line. He’s chatting with people, talking about Casino, but not giving too much away. That spoke volumes, that he was so comfortable just hanging out with people in line.

Courvoisier: It’s not like there hasn’t already been a lot of movies and TV shows shot in this town, but somehow this one took on a greater importance, maybe because they put so many Las Vegas people in bit parts and small roles. … They brought the culture of Vegas into the movie that way.

Long: Even though the movie was talking about the end of an era, so, too, was Vegas at the end of another era. They imploded the Landmark for that movie. The one scene with Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone in the trailer—that trailer was actually on the land where they were getting ready to build the Texas Station. Vegas was just starting the boom. That was a whole different time.

Sharon Stone (actress): It was an extraordinary pleasure to work in Vegas in a biographical film about people and events from the town. We are all proud of the film and believe it stands the test of time.

Sutton: The movie resonated with people, and I think a big part of that was it was as authentic as it could have been. It’s surprising: That movie was 20 years ago, and I’m recognized more now than ever before from that little shitty scene.

Goodman: People say, “I saw you on TV last night.” “Was it Casino?” “Yes!” “Every time you see it, I make 13 cents.”