Casting An Emmy Nominated “Modern Family” – Casting Director Jeff Greenberg
As a child, Jeff Greenberg loved watching the Emmy Award shows. He would sit with his nose pressed against the television, eager to see who would walk away with a gold statue in their hand. This year, the “Modern Family” casting director has received his sixth nomination for the show and his 14th Emmy nomination in his career. Despite walking away with the statue once in his esteemed career, for “Modern Family” in 2010, Greenberg remains humbled and excited to be recognized for doing work he loves.
Greenberg credits his success to learning from the masters of television. His first job as casting director came on the hit television series “Cheers.” Working under creators James Burrows and Glen and Les Charles, he learned important lessons about type casting in urban comedies.
“A former casting director (the creators had worked with) had made too many similar choices,” said Greenberg. “They wanted to make sure they weren’t getting the same look every five minutes.”
After the conclusion of “Cheers” Greenberg continued to refine his style on series including “Wings” and “Frasier”, which presented him with his first six Emmy nominations. The approach he developed has remained consistent through the years and continues to this day on “Modern Family.” He reviews a general outline of the episodes, and meets with the producers to discuss some specific characters they have in mind for the episode.
“We’ll go over age, style and vide, how these characters fit into the story of our main characters,” said Greenberg. “As we go through the discussion, ideas start swimming around in my head.”
Greenberg ‘s pitches are pulled from a file of actors he’s maintained over the years; a file that is constantly growing. He is always on the lookout for fresh new talent, attending local theater on a regular basis and taking regular trips to New York to view both new and old plays. During his last visit, he attended 15 shows in eleven days. He views this emersion in the theater going experience as “a freshening of the palette that is invigorating”; it is something that exposes him to both new and seasoned talent that are presenting options he can reflect upon.
Greenberg also sources actors through auditions. This is an arena where he feels technology has really enhanced the process – he’s able to see submission from anywhere, and this has been a great accept in speeding up the process. Aware that even the most seasoned actor can bomb in an audition, he assesses them with an open mind. He’ll often rely on past work he’s seen the performer engaged in to help inform his decision.
Greenberg has made a name for himself in television casting. While he’s never turned his back on feature casting, he’s happy to continue to focus on the niche he’s found himself excelling in. While he feels a great deal of satisfaction with every episode he’s completed, there are some stand out casting moments from his Emmy nominated season of “Modern Family” that he feels particularly pleased with.
“Steve Zahn as the Dumphy’s next door neighbor had such a great energy and the right flavor. Tawyne Daly was great,” said Greenberg. “I was also so happy about Oliver Platt. He is one of my favorites, I’ve been looking at him for years.”
Now in its seventh season, “Modern Family” remains a casting challenge for Greenberg. There are always new situations and challenges that emerge through the course of the story line. Greenberg takes the difficulty in stride.
“It’s the nature of the beast; there are always deadlines and a variety of needs that just keeps changing,” said Greenberg. “Occasionally I’ll have those days that are really problematic but know when not to sweat the small stuff. I just get so much satisfaction out of my job.”