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Brett Greenstein on Casting Outside His Wheelhouse for 'Chasing Life'

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Brett Greenstein on Casting Outside His Wheelhouse for 'Chasing Life'
Photo Source: ABC Family/Claire Folger

Brett Greenstein and his casting partner Collin Daniel have an impressive list of half-hour comedy credits (“Hot in Cleveland,” “Sean Saves the World”), but they were excited to have the opportunity to stretch their casting muscles on ABC Family’s touching new drama series “Chasing Life”, which premieres June 10. “It was kind of out of our wheelhouse,” Greenstein says. Mixing comedy and drama, the show centers on a 20-something journalist who is on the cusp of her career when she learns she has cancer. “[It] may sound a little heavy and depressing, but it’s actually really light and life-affirming. It seemed like a really cool voice [for] kids this age and the challenges they go through when they get sick.

“A good thing about a project like this [where big names are not necessary] is that it enables you to do lots of readings,” Greenstein says. They were able to bring in many actors with whom they were familiar, but also had the opportunity to see actors who might not normally come in on their projects.

With so much of the show depending on the lead role of April, it was important to find the right actor. “Italia [Ricci] was probably one of the first girls we saw," Greenstein says. "I remember specifically the first time we were like, ‘Wow, that one really makes it work.’ Didn’t make it too sad and found the comedy and the fine line. I just remember everyone being drawn to her.” They had a a few more weeks of sessions to find other choices to take to the network. “It’s always a crap shoot…but it was very clearly hers going in, and fortunately the network saw what we did.”

The role of Dominic proved more challenging to cast because he was the love interest. “And everybody has a specific idea of who that should be and how that part should be played,” Greenstein says. Greenstein saw Australian Richard Brancatisano on an American commercial for the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas in which he popped off the screen so impressively that they tracked him down in Sydney. Greenstein wasn’t sure they were going to be able to fly him in for the test, but “he wanted the part so badly, he just volunteered and said ‘I’m going to come out on my own dime,’ and he did, and luckily it paid off and he got the gig!”

Another challenge was the role of Uncle George, which was recast because it was initially written as a younger character, but that didn’t end up working with where the writers wanted to go with the storyline. The recast ended up being great in the long run because they were able to get Steven Weber. The rest of the family came together easily. Mary Page Keller “came in really early [for the role of April’s mom], and we all just fell in love with her, and she just nailed the part, and was exactly what they wanted in that character,” says Greenstein. “Then we just ended up finding a girl who was very believable, look-wise, as Italia’s sister. She had some heavy stuff to do in the pilot, and Haley [Ramm] is just a really good strong actress, and it was just evident this is the girl.”

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