I’ve always thought that one of the most important jobs in the entertainment industry is that of the casting director. We experience magic when an actor is perfectly matched to a role (think Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln). The nature of the film industry and its final product, the movie, allow actors to play different roles throughout their careers with little or no negative dissonance for the audience. Denzel Washington can be a railroad engineer in one movie (Unstoppable), and an airline pilot in another (Flight), no problem.
Television actors, on the other hand, get hired to play the same role week after week for an entire season, sometimes for several years if the show is successful. That’s why, in television, casting is not only about a good role/actor fit, but also about timing. It’s essential for TV actors to take an adequate break between roles and for television casting directors to keep this in mind.
I’ve seen two recent examples of, what I call, SCT (sloppy casting timing) which I hope do not signal a new trend. The first concerns Sarah Ramos who plays well-adjusted Haddie Braverman on Parenthood. Ramos appeared in one of the last episodes of Private Practice as Holly, a long-term psychiatric patient of Violet’s who has come to the end of her therapy and is contemplating a move to Paris. Wait, Haddie is in college, and she never had a boyfriend who died in a car accident. OK?
But an even better example of SCT is that of actress Constance Zimmer who can be currently seen as, both, Dr. Alana Cahill on Grey’s Anatomy and as journalist Janine Skorsky on House of Cards. Although it’s true that the confusion from seeing her in two current shows is somewhat diminished by the fact that she basically plays the same role in both, that of a bitchy, somewhat embittered and hard-to-like professional; as far as I’m concerned, the only person who can get away with being a journalist and a doctor at the same time is Sanjay Gupta.
Besides the obvious gripe, that it is disturbing to see the same actor playing in different shows, I also have another problem with this practice. There are droves of talented actors waiting on tables as they wait to catch a break. There is no need to cast them away in favor of someone who already has a job as a regular (or semi-regular) in a TV series.
Just like all actors are not created equal, neither are casting directors. I am painfully aware that we do not always get the caliber of those who cast Idris Elba as Stringer Bell on The Wire or Eric Stonestreet as Cameron on Modern Family. But is it too much to ask that an actor not appear on two current series? Or that when casting an actor who has played a certain role for an extended period, casting directors wait an adequate amount of time before casting him/her in a new TV series? Is it too much to ask casting directors to cast a wider net in order to give new faces a shot?
Apparently, it is. The latest rumor concerns John Noble who brilliantly played Walter Bishop on Fringe for 5 years. He will be on The Good Wife, in about a month, “where he’ll play one of Alicia’s former clients in, appropriately, an episode that jumps back in time.” Come on! Seriously? Well, at least I’m grateful that two months will have passed before
Dr. Bishop John Noble appears on The Good Wife and that it’s a guest appearance not a recurring role.
We watch television to momentarily escape our reality by living the reality of those we watch on tv. Harvey Specter is a kick-ass lawyer at Pearson Hardman in New York, Olivia Pope is the best crisis manager in Washington D.C., Walter White is cooking meth under a laundry facility somewhere in Albuquerque. When casting directors practicing SCT remind me that I’m really just watching actors playing a role, they cast me back into my reality kicking and screaming where I find myself writing this post.