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CD Seth Yanklewitz on Casting Fox's Emmy-Nominated 'New Girl'

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CD Seth Yanklewitz on Casting Fox's Emmy-Nominated 'New Girl'
Photo Source: Getty Images

Actors Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield have both earned their first Emmy Award nominations this year for their roles in the new Fox comedy series "New Girl." But how did the movie star and unknown actor end up on screen together?

Casting director Seth Yanklewitz, who cast the pilot, says that series creator Liz Meriwether ("30 Rock," "No Strings Attached") wanted to find what he describes as "gritty, real characters," who are "super funny, like the new crop at UCB and the Groundlings" to fill out the cast of her new show, which at the time was titled "Chicks and Dicks." Yanklewitz – who had previously cast comedies like "The Hangover," "Eastbound & Down," and "Blue Mountain State" with his partner Juel Bestrop – was apparently so successful in his search that before the pilot had even been picked up to series, now with the title "New Girl," he was named VP of Casting at Fox.

Yanklewitz says Deschanel signed on to star as Jess almost immediately upon reading the pilot script, and explains how Greenfield and the rest of the "New Girl" supporting cast come together:

Max Greenfield (Schmidt)
I had met Max while I was an executive [as manager of feature casting at Fox] eight years ago, and had seen him around town and auditioned him sporadically. He was on my list, and nobody knew who he was. I put him into the second producer session and everyone kind of looked at me like, "Who is this guy?"

Liz [Meriwether] and the producers, having worked on "30 Rock" and "United States of Tara," I think in their heads there were people who were elite comedy actors that they were expecting, and so they scratched their heads and looked at me. I knew in my gut that Max Greenfield was this part, and he came in the room and nailed it. I think at that moment everyone looked at me like, "Okay, we totally have the right casting director." They saw how passionate I was about him, and that I didn't back down. I just put him in the session. It wasn't necessarily pre-approved.

Jake Kasdan, our director [who is also nominated for "Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series" for his work on the pilot], happened to be out of town for the first few weeks so he was watching everything on tape, and he fell in love with Max instantly, too. I mean, the room fell in love with him. I just think they didn't know him. Although he had been on "Ugly Betty" and other shows, he wasn't coming out of UCB or Ben Stiller movies or Will Ferrell movies.

Jake Johnson (Nick)
Juel and I had been auditioning Jake for about two years, and we could never find something for him. He had just auditioned for me for a movie that was trying to get set up at Lionsgate, but the movie never wound up happening.

Jake had done Liz's movie ["No Strings Attached"], so she knew him. Once I knew Liz liked him and sort of wanted him, I knew she and I could get everybody else there.

Hannah Simone (Cece)
Juel and I did a pilot for Fox a couple years earlier called "Nevermind Nirvana," which was based on an Indian family. We had auditioned her and liked her, but she didn't get the part, and then the show didn't wind up going.

I knew she had been a model, and I knew how gorgeous she was and how funny she was. I auditioned a lot of different types for that role. The whole premise was that [Cece] is a model. But sometimes models don't necessarily translate – especially in comedy – because it's so hard to land jokes, and they just don't have the training or the experience. It's rare that a Heidi Klum walks in the door and can just land a joke. It's very hard. I read tons of models and commercial girls of every ethnicity. At the end of the day, I was like, 'Guys, this is the girl.' I fought for her. She didn't have comedic experience like Jake or Zoe, but she nailed it.

You always pick your battles. You want an actor in a part, and you do everything you can to get them the part, and one person who has more of a say says "no" for whatever reason. I've learned that with evidence and a body of previous work, you state your case. "In this movie, when they did this scene, they actually are portraying a part of this character that you want. Do you see the similarities? They can do this character." Through showing two or three clips of previous work, you can get them to see how that actor can play the character in their script. And sometimes you lose the battle.

(Damon Wayans, Jr. played a roommate named Coach in the pilot episode, but had to drop out of the show when his ABC series "Happy Endings" was picked up for its second season. Wayans was replaced by Lamorne Morris as Winstop Bishop in the second episode.)

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