There are three factors involved in casting a role for a TV series:
- Personality, and
- star appeal.
This is one factor that’s often ignored in Hollywood, but not so much in Britain.
How often have you seen a female police officer in real life bearing any resemblance to a runway model? Not often, I’ll bet, if at all. They wouldn’t pass the physical entry requirements for the academy.
And yet, every police drama made in Hollywood is wall to wall ex-models winning footraces against bad guys while wearing spike heels. And once they catch these six-foot-seven hulks, with their spindly arms and legs flapping about, they proceed to thrash said hulk into submission. Not even remotely believable from a physicality point of view.
In England, actors cast as policewomen have a reasonable musculature and not one wears heels. That’s casting for physicality… not to mention a sensible wardrobe department.
As for miscasting in the opposite direction, look at Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall. The novel by Philip K. Dick described the character as short and slight and when you consider the story is about a guy who has trouble believing he can take on six attackers and come out on top, the movie casting would have made more sense if they’d tapped Woody Allen for the role… not that we’d wanna put up with his whining for two hours.
There’s a myth that’s been forever floating around Hollywood (and a lot of other places) that claims any actor can play any role. This is complete nonsense.
Just for the sake of illustration, let’s recast The Big Bang Theory with:
- Vin Diesel in the role of Leonard Hofstadter,
- Brad Pitt as Sheldon Cooper,
- Mark Walberg as Howard Wolowitz, and
- Russell Peters as Raj Koothrappali.
Ignoring physicality and lack of comedy experience (except for Peters) for a moment, none of these guys would make sense in these roles, not as written. To see why, let’s dig deeper.
Personality style, according to some research, is something we’re all born with. Each of us is either bold or retiring and either formal or informal. It’s obvious in every human being in every interaction. When these two scales are overlaid onto an x-y chart, we get the four personality styles:
- Retiring-formal, and
Numerous theories and systems of labeling have grown up around these personalities, but since we’re talking about TV here, let’s give them easy-to-remember names from the medium:
- bold-formal: Spock,
- bold-informal: Kirk,
- retiring-formal: Sulu, and
- retiring-informal: Chekov.
Now let’s look at another show where these personalities crop up.
In The Big Bang Theory:
- Leonard is a Chekov,
- Sheldon is a Spock (he’d like that),
- Howard is a Kirk, and
- Raj is a Sulu.
And just to show the contrast, here are the personality styles of the miscast actors I came up with earlier:
- Vin Diesel: Spock,
- Brad Pitt: Kirk,
- Mark Walberg: Sulu, and
- Russell Peters: another Kirk.
If you look closely at any popular show, you’ll be able to spot these personalities with a little practice.
And another interesting thing about personality styles is that the most enduring shows of all time have at least one of each personality in the main cast: M*A*S*H, WKRP, Cheers, Star Trek (any of them), and Barney Miller. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which. It’ll be a good mental exercise.
Most TV shows will cast at least one actor who’s already known to TV audiences. In The Big Bang Theory, it was Johnny Galecki. We might have stumbled while pronouncing his name, but we knew him from Roseanne. I’m sure I don’t have to cite any other examples because you know which shows you tried based on who in the cast you already knew.
A well-cast show will have actors who fit the roles in two ways, personality and physicality. And if the producers can find one star we already know who also fits those other two criteria, most of us will be willing to at least give the show a chance.