Casting director Susie Farris got the unique opportunity to participate in the meticulous process of jury selection, choosing all but one of 12 jurors — but it was for an entirely made-up court case.
Even with over two decades of casting experience and credits in “Elf,” “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Speechless” and “Mr. Robot,” she had never been met with a task quite like casting Amazon Freevee’s viral series “Jury Duty,” a hidden-camera, “Truman Show”-esque comedy.
In the weeks after its release, “Jury Duty” has been applauded for its outstanding cast of actors, improv comedians and one Ronald Gladden, the lone, non-actor who believed the entire, absurd court case was real.
Farris spoke with Variety to share her process behind selecting television’s favorite petit jury.
Most casting directors don’t work with improv actors, so what was it like for you? Had you ever done anything like this before?
I’ve never cast anything like this before, in that when we started casting, I didn’t have any material. I didn’t have a script. I didn’t have a treatment. I didn’t have anything. It was very much a blank canvas. I think that the writers probably had a rough idea of some characters in their minds when we started doing this, but it certainly didn’t translate to the casting process. We basically started seeing anyone, any man or woman. I put out a breakdown, just male 18+ could be a juror and the same thing for a woman. And I think that they started to frame some of the characters around what actors were bringing to the table instead of doing it the other way around.
It kind of was like a real jury process for you.
It really was in a casting sense, yes. You need to make sure it’s balanced, you need to have all shapes and sizes and colors and ages. And once they had a couple of people, then they started to throw me some ideas and then I could try to get a little bit more specific, but that wasn’t until at least halfway into the casting process.
What were the odds of the show failing if you didn’t cast correctly on your end?
Listen, I think the whole show was a big crapshoot and we got really lucky. You can only try your best when casting actors who you think seem real and funny and then you put them in this situation where they have to stay in character for three weeks, which is unheard of. With a scripted show, you get a sense of who can memorize their lines. But in this, they then have to be really quick on their feet. They had to be able to pivot according to Ronald.
Throughout the process, were there times when you realized, ‘We need to cast more people than we thought?’
As it went on, they were adding more people. They would say, “We need two lawyers, and we need a judge, and we need a plaintiff and the defendant.” They developed scripts, or maybe you’d call them treatments because they didn’t actually have dialogue, and once they started to work on beats, they would come to me and say, “Susie, we need you to cast somebody who works at the restaurant, or we need to cast this expert who’s going to take the stand in the case.”
How did you cast James Marsden?
He was really great. I mean, he was everything that I had hoped that he would be for this show. Dave Bernad, one of the producers, Jake Szymanski, the director, and I had all worked together years ago on a show called “Tour de Pharmacy” that James was in. Then, we started out with a list of lots and lots of names and started talking about the pros and cons of each person, and James just kept coming up with lots of pros. Luckily, we already had that relationship with him.
How would you approach casting a “Jury Duty” Season 2?
This show is ripe for casting, it’s just whether or not they can come up with another idea and pull it off. I have so many actors in my back pocket but also so many more who I would love to meet and learn about. The one order of this show is to cast actors that people are not familiar with, so that’s the fun part for me, finding the fantastic, funny people out there who the world doesn’t yet know.
Who was a standout casting choice for you?
Alan Barinholtz, who played the judge. His sons, Ike and Jon, are both successful comedy actors, so it was amazing getting to cast him. He was living in Chicago and has since moved out here to L.A., and I got to cast him two other times. It’s fun when you get to find someone new like Alan. He blew me away with how natural and funny he was. He was really one of one of the highlights for me, because how often does that happen, where someone’s had an entire successful career as a lawyer, and then they get their shot at acting?
Producers have said they looked to the “Joe Schmo Show” for inspiration when creating “Jury Duty.” Was that true for you as well?
I can’t speak for the producers, but when they came to me it was sort of like “Joe Schmo” meets “The Office.” So that was exciting to hear, because both of those shows had a lot of people who were undiscovered talent at the time. “The Office” had a lot of actors who I was familiar with, but they weren’t all Steve Carell. So, yeah, it was a good reference point for me, otherwise, there wasn’t much else for me to go off of.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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