You’re gonna need a bigger net: How the surge in streaming affects casting

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A portrait of a man with gray wavy hair and glasses in a white shirt and dark jacket.
Five-time Emmy nominee Bernard Telsey at the MCC Theater in Manhattan.
(Anna Watts / For The Times)

With the vast surge in content created by the proliferation of streaming services, it’s never been a better — or more cutthroat — time to be an actor or casting director.

“There’s so much product happening right now,” says five-time Emmy nominee Bernard Telsey — whose most recent TV casting credits include “This Is Us,” “Schmigadoon!,” “Only Murders in the Building,” “And Just Like That…” and “The Gilded Age.” “It’s so much about juggling what actors are available to do your project. We all know there are hundreds of wonderful actors, and there’s always new actors to meet, but it’s really hard because everyone is working.”


“It’s made casting a lot more competitive,” echoes Victoria Thomas, the Emmy-winning casting director of “The Morning Show,” “Bel-Air” and “Shining Girls.” “You have to move quickly.”

Case in point: London-based Theo Park, who earned an Emmy for casting “Ted Lasso,” is thankful she found Phil Dunster to play bad-boy soccer star Jamie Tartt. “If we hadn’t nabbed him, he would be in ‘Bridgerton,’ wouldn’t he?”

Ironically, COVID-19 safety measures, such as self-tape and remote auditions, have enabled casting directors to consider more performers than ever before. “I haven’t seen an actor live in a room since March 13, 2020,” confirms New Orleans-based Ryan Glorioso, who estimates he cast more than 100 roles for “The Thing About Pam.” One of those was Renée Zellweger’s character’s husband, for which Glorioso saw 75 men before Sean Bridgers eventually emerged the victor. “In L.A., lead casting director Terri Taylor was trying to find the perfect actor for that part as well.”

A man and women eat salad at a dinner table
Sean Bridgers as Mark Hupp, left, and Renee Zellweger as Pam Hupp in “The Thing About Pam.”
(Skip Bolen / NBC)

“It’s created a lot more opportunity for newcomers,” notes triple Emmy nominee Tiffany Little Canfield, one of Telsey’s business partners. “Theater actors were our secret weapon. Now all the execs are going to the theater. Everyone knows the next TV star is coming from the theater because yesterday’s TV star is on a show already. Even movie stars are on a show already.”


It’s not just greater opportunity that delights these seasoned pros but also the relatively recent demand for authentic representation.

“There’s just a new normal,” says Sarah Finn, Emmy-nominated last year for casting both “The Mandalorian” and “WandaVision”; this season she has “The First Lady” and Marvel’s “Moon Knight.” “Audiences expect it, and we expect it — that people not only be reflected accurately in terms of their cultural heritage but also their gender identity, their diversity, their neurodiversity, their disabilities.”

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“As casting directors, we were always thinking of how to expand our knowledge. Who wouldn’t want to play with a crayon box of 64 colors instead of 36?” asks Telsey, adding that since streamers are seeking global audiences, “now, we’re not just doing it on our own. We’re having those conversations with studios, showrunners, directors and writers. It’s very exciting.”  

“Look,” says Cindy Tolan, an Emmy winner for casting “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “the world is an incredibly large place and art should always reflect the world we live in.”

A woman with short hair and glasses, seated at a table.
Cindy Tolan at her home in Brooklyn.
(Anna Watts / For The Times)


Park reveals that since the “Ted Lasso” team agreed the show needed more diversity among its regulars, the Season 2 role of sports psychologist Sharon Fieldstone was specifically written for a Black woman. It went to Sarah Niles. “I’ve known her for years, and she struggled to get work, she did a lot of theater,” Park says. “It was a no-brainer for her to play Dr. Sharon. It couldn’t have been anyone else.”

“It’s a great time to be an actor of color,” agrees Thomas. “There are roles I know young Black actresses would not have been reading for five, 10 years ago. Now they have access to parts where they’re not just being the best friend. They’re being their full, complex self.”

“It never occurred to me to cast someone other than a gay person,” says Tolan, referring to the current “Maisel” season’s Episode 4 role of Lazarus, the gentleman Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge boldly approaches in Greenwich Village to ask where she can find a lesbian bar. “That’s always my mantra. Who is the best actor to tell this story? In that particular case, I could think of no one better than John Waters.”

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Little Canfield is thrilled about this emerging progressive mindset. She recounts recently visiting a BFA drama program: “There were several young actors who identify as nonbinary or trans, who have training and who know there’s a place for them.”

As for movie stars contributing to the casting competition, while Finn doesn’t believe they’re required for a show to succeed — see “Bridgerton” — she does agree cinema celebs can attract a larger television audience, such as for the limited series “The First Lady,” on which Finn served as a co-producer in addition to being the casting director who scored Oscar winner Viola Davis and Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer. “We did want to bring that attention and level of excitement,” she says. “Wow! What would Viola do as Michelle Obama? I can’t wait to see that. And Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford!”


A portrait of a woman with red curly hair and dark-framed glasses.
Sarah Finn was nominated for an Emmy last year for casting both “The Mandalorian” and “WandaVision.”
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“Who wants to be limited in what they can and cannot do?” asks Tolan. “Any time you’re given an opportunity to do your best work, it doesn’t need to be defined by the medium.”

But for every Nicole Kidman (“Roar”), Julia Roberts (“Gaslit”) or Jessica Chastain (the upcoming “George and Tammy”) — who understands that television currently serves actresses just as well, if not better, than theatrical films — there’s a Denzel Washington who refuses to join the streaming party. “I’ve tried to get him to do it,” Thomas says with a chuckle. “He says, ‘I don’t do TV.’”

“The commingling is what’s so exciting about working in television now,” concludes Telsey. “You get to play with all the lists. It’s our job, right? To know all the actors, famous to unfamous. And now we actually get to put them on all these TV shows because we’re not forecasting, ‘Oh, she’ll never do it.’ It’s like, ‘Not true … She might!’”