‘Mr. Robot,’ ‘Superstore’ CD on the Audition Mistake That’s Still Surprising

Photo Source: Trae Patton/NBC - Nico Santos, Colton Dunn, Ben Feldman, America Ferrera

Los Angeles casting director Susie Farris has been busy casting on several successful television series pilots, including the Emmy-winning “Mr. Robot,” the “Wet Hot American Summer” reboot, and NBC series “Superstore,” starring America Ferrera and returning for its second season on Feb. 2.

Nominated for Artios Awards for all three projects, Farris (who also cast “Elf,” “Dr. Ken,” and “Hot Tub Time Machine”) chats with Backstage about how she approaches the casting process, the challenges of finding both a compelling standalone dramatic actor and a lead for an ensemble-driven comedy. She also offers an easy way for actors to get a leg up in the audition room!

How did you go about finding such a diverse cast for “Superstore”? What did you enjoy and what were the challenges?
I love when I read a pilot like “Superstore” because it’s basically—in my mind when I’m reading it—it’s a cast of misfits. It’s the most fun I can have casting. It’s not a family, they’re not all one color, they’re not related. It’s a group of strangers who come from all walks of life and what they have in common is their place of work. It allowed us to read anyone and everyone. There are parameters when you read it of course—it describes the kind of person you’re looking for—but the producers were great about us seeing all different types and seeing what worked.

For me, all roles inform another. It’s like a painting: You use a color here and you pick one that coordinates. But you start somewhere. And I started with the biggest role, but it took us a long time to find that America was our girl. We were putting the pieces together around that role and searching for the lead the whole time. In a show like that, you need her to be able to carry the show. Even though it’s an ensemble, you need her to be likeable as the lead…. She was sort of the straight man in the piece and didn’t have the jokes on the page, but as an actor you have to think of the bigger picture. She’s the lead of a half-hour. We have to root for her.

Check out all the NBC auditions on Backstage here!

In an interview, Sam Esmail said he knew Rami Malek would be Mr. Robot/Elliot on his first audition. What was your impression?
Sam’s only mandate [for candidates] was, “I don’t want a TV cutie pie.” I didn’t know Rami well, I knew his work, but I didn’t know him extremely well. He came in in his hoodie and he just did it. His cadence, his timing, his voice, his eyes—everything about it was really special. We had a lot of material and asked him to come back, and when he left I was really excited. He came in on the first day. He was the third person on the first day. We did test a few other people, but you always have your favorite.

What are some of the common mistakes you often see in the audition room? How can Backstage readers avoid doing the same?
People need to understand the tone before they come in. And if they don’t know, ask questions. It always surprises me, especially during pilot season, that so many people aren’t given the pilots; the agents just give them the sides—for better or worse. Some people literally have no idea if it’s a drama, if it’s a comedy, if it's multi-cam, single-cam. These are things that should be determined before you work on the material, not when you walk in the room. It’s a multi-cam? That should change your performance!

Anything else you want to say to all the working actors out there?
Coming in the room is a good start. There’s a big [thing of], ‘My agent said I shouldn’t come in for this,’ but unless you have something better happening there’s no reason to maintain an offer-only status just for the sake of what your agent wants you to do or some sort of persona you want to have. Come in and fight for a job. Let me know you better. Let me see the funny side, the serious side, all the different things you can do. The better we know you, the better it’s going to serve you.

Last question: Do you prefer actors to introduce themselves when they get in the room or just jump right into the material?
That’s an actor’s choice. Whatever makes them most comfortable to do a good job is totally fine with me, but when you come in say, “Hi, how are you?” [No matter what], you have to slate, but I’m OK with just starting with a performance, and if I’m intrigued, I’m happy to have a conversation.

I do think it’s important for actors to make choices and to come in and be the one who does something different. That’s the great way to be noticed. The person who gets it is someone who found a different angle and something interesting beyond the text. Let me see who you are. It doesn’t have to be such a character. Bring yourself. You’re going to be right for something. Do a good job so if this one isn’t right, I can find out what is.

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