Because of budget constraints and other factors, many film, theater and television production companies cannot afford to hire an entire cast of recognizable A-list performers. In order to afford the services of a famous actor or actress in a leading role, supporting roles often go to lesser-known performers willing to work for minimal union salaries, or scale. An all-star cast, however, usually features a number of A-list actors and actresses in both leading and supporting roles. A benefit performance of a well-known play or a special live event for public television will often interest enough established actors to form an all-star cast for a one-off production.
The benefits of an all-star cast for an audience are readily apparent. Attending a performance featuring one or two favorite performers can be exciting enough, but a performance featuring a dozen famous actors would be exceptionally memorable. Venue owners can also expect to benefit from the appearance of an all-star cast, since their individual names and reputations have already proven to be box office draws. Promotion of a play or film featuring an all-star cast can be much more effective than standard promotional campaigns because of increased public interest in the individual performers.
An all-star cast could also be considered the ultimate ensemble cast. When actor Dustin Hoffman agreed to perform the leading role of Willy Loman in a television production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, other roles were soon filled by other famous actors and actresses, including John Malkovich and Charles Durning. James Cameron's epic movie Titanic also featured an all-star cast playing real life characters from all passenger classes. Using established actors in supporting roles often keeps the production's energy level balanced. Without this particular supporting cast for Dustin Hoffman to play against, for example, his performance as Willy Loman may have come across as over-the-top or intimidating.
During the studio days of motion pictures, many films were promoted as having an "all-star cast," primarily for the sake of potential audiences. Many famous actors and actresses were under contract to perform in a certain number of movies during their employment. Occasionally a script would call for a large cast of actors capable of performing strong lead and supporting roles. Movies such as The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind featured all-star casts largely out of necessity, since the scripts included numerous demanding roles which would have overwhelmed inexperienced or unknown contract players. The cast of The Wizard of Oz, for example, would need to be strong singers and dancers as well as comedic actors.
Assembling an all-star cast for a modern television or film production can be a monumental challenge, but many times the performers themselves will become so interested in a proposed project that they will agree to waive their standard performance fees or make other accommodations for the producers. Sometimes unknown actors on a television program such as Friends will eventually become an all-star cast after the series becomes an established hit. Many modern Broadway productions, especially dramas, now feature an all-star cast in order to give established actors an opportunity to work on their craft and audiences to see a dream cast of recognizable performers in a more intimate setting.