With NBC's jackpot Friends entering its 10th and final season, network execs have been actively searching for their next Must-See hit. The answer, they hope, will come with the launch of Coupling, a new comedy series that focuses on the relationships of six friends. While the show was originally a British hit, NBC brought on new writers to Americanize the popular series. Brett Goldstein, who had been working in New York and cast many episodics, including Homicide, several episodes of Ed, and most recently, Third Watch, was faced with the daunting task of recasting several of the actors in Coupling. He came out to Los Angeles for pilot season. "I didn't even think I was going to get work this year, and I ended up working on the most incredible show out there," he said.
Working On Chemistry: Although the pilot had already been shot by the time Goldstein came on board, he was asked to recast several of the lead roles. As with many pilots, actors are often fired and hired even after the final product is completed.
"The luxury of having the pilot process is that you get a chance to do it over," said Goldstein. "In a show like this, it's so much about the physical chemistry and the potential for chemistry down the line of the principal players. They had some really terrific actors in the first version, but some things just didn't click."
After an extensive search, Goldstein found Sally (Sonya Walger) and Jeff (now played by Christopher Moynihan)
The CD admitted, though, that while it can be disheartening, often the decision to recast has nothing to do with the capabilities of the actor. "Sometimes it comes down to what seems to be some pretty random stuff," he said. "I'm always trying to comfort actors when they don't get a job, explaining to them that often it has nothing to do with talent. We had two actresses here who were both unbelievably capable and vying for the role of Sally. One of them had hair and complexion that was almost identical to Susan (Rena Sofer). Ultimately the role went to Sonya; we needed a blonde to balance things out, and although the other woman did a terrific job as well, she was just too similar-looking."
Holding Out for the Good Stuff: While execs were putting pressure on Goldstein to find that perfect balance and sexual chemistry between the core cast, he said that finding quality actors was not the problem. "Of course a lot of actors want to do pilots, but the better ones are going to hold out and see if they can get on something that is really worthwhile," Goldstein explained. I was blessed with casting for a show that had a lot of buzz and a lot of attention. It helped tremendously because I was able to audition some enormously talented actors. We had an embarrassment of riches."
Future Casting Expectations: Goldstein doesn't expect a plethora of guest actors at first. "At least in the beginning it's going to be a pretty intimate show; we really need to establish how these six characters are related to one other and explore their chemistry," he said. "Many of the episodes are adaptations of the British version, so I expect that much of the show will focus on the interrelationships of the core cast as opposed to people from the outside." But, he added, as the show continues, there will always be a need for romantic interests: "Of course there will be character roles, but I expect we will really need very attractive people who also have very strong comic chops." And he said, especially as most of the guest actors will be good-looking, it's even more important for them to have a unique personality. "Because all the actors needed to be attractive, we are really looking for people with a very unusual comic voice. Their comedic sense has to really stand out, even if their looks are generically sexy."
He also promised that the need will arise soon. "We have a show coming up that is an original, written by our American writers. The episode is called "The Nipple Effect," and that is going have some amazing roles for gorgeous, funny people."
Turning Him On: Like most casting directors, Goldstein has very clear ideas of what he needs to see from actors who audition. He easily ticked off three of his priorities: "First, preparation is key, and that doesn't mean off-book. I just expect actors to come in with a really thorough knowledge of the beats of the scene. I like to see people who understand the technical challenges in performing in a half-hour episodic. There's an energy level and a way of making internal choices and transitions that is very specific to this medium. It's so important to me that actors show me they have an understanding of pacing. Comedy can be very technical, but it should look effortless. It's a tall order, but that's what I'm always looking for.
"Second, I'm looking for someone who never takes the most obvious choices," he continued. "Chris and Sonya got cast because they found a completely different way to read the lines, but it still made sense in the context of the scene. If you can take a different spin on it and make it work, I'll be impressed.
"Third, actors must be flexible and open to change," he said. I always give actors adjustments. I want to see how much they are listening to me, and if I sense that someone has a preset idea of how they should perform a scene, I'll ask them to do it completely different. Because I read with them most of the time, it's clear when actors are really present and listening to me, or if they are on their own track and rattling off a completely prefabricated set of choices. I want them to be free and open. If I see nothing change, I have no choice but to assume they are not really paying attention to me or they don't know how to be adjusted. You have to have the technique to make changes, you can't be locked into one reading."
Staying Away From Lily: While Friends got a lot of heat over the years for its lily-white depiction of New York City, Goldstein promises that diversity is addressed with Coupling: "I don't think it's in response to Friends, so much as that our producer [Ben Silverman of Reveille Prods] has really made it a personal mission to diversify the cast. It's so important to everyone here to be truly colorblind, not just with lip-service, and yet also make that organic to the material. I'm so excited that everyone involved on this show supports putting actors of colors in roles they don't often get to play. Real genuine diversity will come when we're not concerned with what we're casting certain ethnicities as but when we're just casting them based on talent." BSW
Brett Goldstein/Sharon Soble
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