The Women Who Cast “Mr. Robot”: Casting Directors Susie Farris, Beth Bowling and Kim Miscia
By Marjorie Galas
Susie Farris knew Rami Malek was her man. Farris, the casting director behind numerous films and television series including USA’s “Covert Affairs” and “Royal Pains,” was brought on by the network to round up their cast of characters for a pilot called “Mr. Robot.” While creator Sam Esmail and his producers had some ideas regarding the prototypes for key characters, she was in charge of building the cast from the ground up. This included finding the perfect actor to fill lead Elliot Alderson’s shoes. Cue Malek.
“He came in on day one and was amazing,” recalled Farris. “He had the full package, from the look to the talent.”
Charged with the responsibility for finding the perfect options, Farris continued to audition actors for the role. A casting director always has to provide multiple choices to the producers, director and creator, so she spent weeks auditioning a wealth of individuals. Throughout the process, she could not move past what Malek brought to the table. She called him back several time and gave him increasingly challenging sides, focusing on opening scenes.
Casting directors focus on securing the lead first, noting the bulk of the story rests on this person’s ability to deliver. Once the lead is set they can focus on the chemistry between this person and the supporting cast. Esmail was on board with Farris’ recommendation of Malek for the lead, but was not so easily swayed by her first choice of Carly Chaikin to play Darlene, a rough around the edges female hacker. He was familiar with the actress’ work playing more of a valley girl type character, as seen in series including ‘Suburgatory.’ In the pilot episode, Darlene had little development. Knowing the flavor of what Esmail was looking for in the character, Farris worked to convince him that Chaikin had the qualities that were perfect. Fortunately, she won Esmail over.
A character that proved particularly challenging for Farris to cast was Tyrell Wellick. Esmail specifically requested the chosen actor have an “authentic Danish feel.” Adding to the difficulty of finding the perfect actor for the part was the character’s minor appearance in the pilot; a role that would eventually grow in presence as the season continued. In looking for the essence that would match Esmail’s expectations, Farris sent out a wide net.
“The internet, tapes, casting in person, I saw hundreds of people for this part. It became an extra job,” recalled Farris. “Martin Wallstrom was cast from tape.”
With a tight schedule for a pilot, casting directors often have to look beyond the lead as they await confirmation on the scheduling of specific actors. For “Mr. Robot,” Farris had a standard period of roughly ten weeks and hired cast from her Los Angeles based facility. Once the pilot was picked up as a series and was relocated to New York, an LA based facility was no longer practical. Farris passed the casting reigns over to NYC based casting directors Beth Bowling and Kim Miscia. Farris had worked with Bowling and Miscia on the 2009 Nancy Myers comedy “It’s Complicated” and respected the duo’s abilities to secure talent. They not only shared the skill of finding the best actors for a role, despite a script’s development for that character, they would be cheerleaders for the actors they knew could bring a character to life.
“In certain instances it is so clear; for example when we saw Jon Hamm for the role (of Don Draper),” said Miscia, who did the original casting for “Mad Men.” “As a casting director, you can see things in an audition that others may not see. You really have to go to bat for them.”
Throughout the first season, Bowling and Miscia remained conscious of finding a diverse cast that reflected a true vision of the population of New York, looking for a variety of nationalities, personalities and looks. Working within the confines of a television budget, they limited their casting net whenever possible to the New York region. Just like Farris, they have a wide database of actors that they reference. They pull from a variety of sources when looking for fresh talent as well, including the internet, new actors on television and film, and on stage.
“We are lucky to be in New York, there is lots of theater,” said Bowling. “It becomes part of our research, having a broad knowledge of established and emerging talent.”
Bowling and Miscia took on “Mr. Robot” while simultaneously casting on “Gotham” – a New York centric series that follows the pre-Batman days of young Bruce Wayne and noble minded detective James Gordon. Not only do the casting directors enjoy casting a wide variety of characters and projects simultaneously, but they also find it a benefit to every project’s need.
“It’s really helpful. The whole office keeps track of every actor’s schedule,” said Miscia. “It helps us keep our finger on what every actor is doing, and who’s available at what time.”