A casting director known for his work on high-profile blockbusters, with Power Rangers, Fast 8, and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk among the latest, John Papsidera recently elected to do something different, moving over to television for Hulu’s single-camera comedy series Casual. The show, from creator Zander Lehmann and producer/director Jason Reitman, stars Tommy Dewey as bachelor Alex Cole, the charming, yet lonely founder of an online dating site who shares a roof with his divorced sister Valerie (Michaela Watkins) and rebellious niece Laura (Tara Lynne Barr), with the three commiserating over their shared failures and frustrations with modern dating over the course of ten episodes.
For Papsidera, the chance to re-team with Reitman following 2014’s Men, Women & Children was only part of the project’s charm. “Once I read it, the material was just really unique. You cared about these people in a very subtle way,” he says. Much as he is excited by the discovery of new acting talents, Papsidera relished the opportunity to work with Lehmann, a fledgling show creator with a distinct vision; and the experience thus far has encapsulated so much of what Papsidera enjoys about his profession.
“I’m never going to die a multimillionaire, but what is worthwhile for me—what’s rewarding for me—is to help people have their creations come to life,” Papsidera says.
The offer to mold this comedic ensemble came at the right time for Papsidera, who felt the absence of comedy in his recent repertoire and wanted to flex those muscles. “People forget that I did the original Austin Powers, which created a whole franchise of comedy,” he notes.
With Casual, the real work came down to an exploration of the contemporary TV family—how to find a family dynamic that stood apart from the rest. “Our first and foremost thing was, ‘How do we form this family that you care about, where you empathize with them, yet they’re still funny; where they’re grounded in reality and it doesn’t feel sitcom-y at all?”, he explains.
Some of the puzzle pieces connected immediately, as actors from previous projects came into play, including Michaela Watkins and Fred Melamed. Tara Lynne Barr was an easy choice for her intelligence and dry wit, and with the two leads bookending the series cast, the final, essential challenge of the process was finding Alex. “With Tommy (Dewey), he has such great comedic timing, he’s got great instincts and had a swagger that Alex had that really was what we were looking for,” Papsidera says. “I think the tendency is that you could make this material feel too neurotic and too self-conscious, and Tommy had a bravado about him that was just very different than most other reads.”
When it comes to finding the right actor for the part, Papsidera doesn’t stereotype. “I don’t really create a world between comedic actors and dramatic actors. I think actors are actors, and people have instincts that lead them to one or the other, or opportunities, but just like there used to be a big division between film and television, I think that wall has been blurred,” he says. Indeed, Casual is a dramatic comedy—yet another comedy that may struggle to find its correct category in awards season—and the show’s actors are equally versatile in both genres.
Though Papsidera doesn’t distinguish between ‘comedic’ and ‘dramatic’ actors, when it comes to medium, the casting director does recognize a certain divide, giving some credence to the notion that there are actors who are filmic, and there are those who are not. “I think the demands are different,” he says. “We were just talking about this with Fast 8. Can an actor hold that big of a project? There are different kind of volume settings that you need for actors, and intensity settings. You’re dealing with bigger emotions in certain things.”
Certainly requiring this level of intensity and commitment is Christopher Nolan’s upcoming World War II picture Dunkirk, which has been a topic of conversation since late last year. The internet was set ablaze in March when news broke that a role in the historical actioner had been offered to Harry Styles from boy band One Direction. While Papsidera wouldn’t comment specifically on that offer, he did suggest that it is reflective of an effort, on the part of Nolan and himself, to mix things up. “Since Memento, all of the films have been about established, well-known actors, and our objective in this was to find new people. I’m excited by what the film will be and how it’s put together,” he says.
Casual will return for a second season on June 7, with Nolan’s Dunkirk expected to bow in July of 2017.
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