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    Dark Knight Rises vs. Inception: Same Cast, but What Does It Mean?

    Michael Caine, Christian Bale, The Dark Knight Warner Bros.

    Half of the Inception cast is in the new Batman movie. Is that normal for a director to just keep casting the same stars in everything?
    —Gabriel, New York, via the inbox

    If by "everything" you mean two movies (way to add your own level of drama there, kid) then, hey, sure. This year, Christopher Nolan has pretty much singlehandedly rescued Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy from abject obscurity, at least through 2012.

    But Nolan's not alone in picking his faves and sticking with ‘em ...

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    And I'm not just talking about, say, Judd Apatow, who has cast Seth Rogen in "everything," meaning The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Anchorman, Knocked Up and so on. Nor am I solely talking about Martin Scorsese and his insatiable appetite for Leonardo DiCaprio.

    Many directors revisit the same cast on multiple occasions, because said directors know the actors' work and whether they're reliable on set. Michelle Dockery, she of the fabulous kabuki eyebrows and high Lady Mary bitchiness on Downton Abbey, has just wrapped her scenes from Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, her second collaboration with that director.

    Scarlett Johannson has been cast by Woody Allen twice. (Allen also has had multiple muses, including Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow. He once said, "The simplification of working with the same actors and same crew also enables me to work in a healthy atmosphere and continue to be prolific.")

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    And acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog is known as pretty much the only boss who was willing to put up with the late Klaus Kinski multiple times, working with the mercurial actor on Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu the Vampyre and so forth.

    If you're wondering why some directors revisit their casts more than others, I give you veteran filmmaker Barry Levinson, who once said, "You understand one another better on the set, and it makes for braver work."

    (And quicker. Nolan essentially recruited Hardy to play Bane in the new Batman flick with a single phone call.)

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    As for David Mamet, who has cast William H. Macy in several of his projects, he once cited geography.

    ''We form companies for ourselves and stick with them. Most of the actors I work with intimately go back to Chicago in the early '70s, either to my own theater company, St. Nicholas, or to the Organic Theater Company or the Goodman Theater.''

    After all this, you may ask why every director doesn't just keep hiring the same folks; I give you Levinson again: "The repertory system is difficult for most directors. It would be for me since I'm not writing all my screenplays. That makes it harder to carry a rep company with you.''

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