Before he even finished reading the script for the pilot episode of Fox's "New Girl," casting director Seth Yanklewitz said to himself, "I have to have this job." And he had someone uniquely "adorkable" in mind when he presented his list of potential lead actors to the network and series creator Liz Meriwether.
"You basically cast a show before you get the job," Yanklewitz says. "Zooey [Deschanel] was on my list, as she was on all of my lists, because I'm a huge fan." She signed on in the first week, and her male co-stars quickly came together after that.
"New Girl" hadn't been picked up when Fox announced last April that it had hired Yanklewitz as its vice president of casting. He says that while he's been excited to take on a new role at the network, as an executive he sometimes longs for the daily work of an independent casting director -- as he did during this year's busy pilot season.
"I love actors," Yanklewitz says. "I love the process they go through, and I love watching auditions. I miss every day being in auditions. Going through pilot season, overseeing nine different shows, it wasn't that hard. The hard part was watching the auditions and just knowing how much fun they had in those rooms with their director, producers, and the actors."
Like many casting directors, Yanklewitz thought he would be an actor. He enrolled at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts to pursue that dream, only to realize after one semester that he didn't want to be an actor after all. "But I couldn't go take a math and science class," he laughs. "So I stuck it out. I took an internship at Liz Lewis Casting, and I never left."
After working his way up the casting ladder with Lewis in New York, Yanklewitz left to cast independent films and commercials on his own. As an East Coast casting assistant for the Disney film "The Kid," he argued on behalf of a boy he remembered from commercial auditions and convinced casting directors Marcia Ross and Donna Morong -- who Yanklewitz says became his "mothers" in casting -- to hire child actor Spencer Breslin.
His conviction impressed them enough that they recommended Yanklewitz to casting director Bonnie Timmermann, with whom he spent the next three years casting large ensembles for such films as "Pearl Harbor" and "Black Hawk Down." He went on to become manager of feature casting at Fox, but says "I didn't groove on the executive jam" at the time, and he left shortly thereafter to begin what would become a long and productive partnership with Juel Bestrop.
Yanklewitz says that Timmermann trained him to be a casting director, while Bestrop taught him how to cast comedy. Beginning with the Vince Vaughn-Jennifer Aniston film "The Break-Up," Bestrop and Yanklewitz worked together to cast such projects as "The Hangover," HBO's "Eastbound & Down," and the recent faux-found footage movie "Project X."
At the same time Yanklewitz was casting "New Girl," he and Bestrop were in the midst of the months-long casting process for this summer's film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical "Rock of Ages," Yanklewitz's first musical project and something he calls "a lifelong dream."
Broadway musicals were "why I wanted to be an actor my whole childhood life," Yanklewitz says. "At 6 years old, I saw 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,' and I was hooked. ['Rock of Ages' director] Adam Shankman made it an even more amazing process. It felt like I was casting a Broadway show. It was like the best of both worlds."
In addition to his gig at Fox, Yanklewitz has taken a leadership role among his peers in the Casting Society of America. He joined CSA's Los Angeles Board of Directors and acts as a liaison to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
"I was among the first generation of casting directors to benefit from the women and men before me who fought for union representation and medical coverage," Yanklewitz says, "and I want to be part of what's next."
Daniel Lehman is a staff writer at Back Stage. Follow him on Twitter: @byDanLehman