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ATX TV Festival 2019: Casting Anthologies Panel

The Casting Anthologies panel at 2019’s ATX Television Festival is one of the event’s behind-the-scenes looks at the industry that attendees love so much. The three casting directors on the panel were Sherry Thomas, Rachel Tenner and Andrew Femenella. They’ve all worked on multiple TV shows and films, but the panel was focused specifically on anthology series.

ATX TV Festival 2019
Photo credit: Tammy Perez/ATX TV Festival

Thomas has worked in casting on “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Breaking Bad,” “Gotham” and more, but the anthology she spoke about was the modern-day “The Twilight Zone.” She called it “an iconic show,” and described her main strategy in casting it as “marrying roles with people who will elevate it and get people to tune in.” It might be slightly different from other anthologies — or television in general — because they aimed to get named actors rather than unknowns.

Tenner has a long list of projects in her past too; among them are “A Serious Man,” “Review,” “Waco,” “Escape at Dannemora” and, recently, “Catch-22.” And while several of those are limited series, the anthology she was there to discuss was “Fargo.” Her approach to casting it was to “get an anchor, then build around that person.” Tenner has worked with the Coen brothers in the past, and she claims that she’s gotten to the point where she can just see someone and picture them in a Coen brothers movie.

In the past, Femenella has done casting for “Glee,” “Stranger Things,” “Power” and “Russian Doll.” But HBO’s “High Maintenance” is what got him onto this anthologies panel, and he sees casting as a “creative and collaborative position” in the industry. They get to work with showrunners, actors, directors and producers to bring a program to life. And with “High Maintenance,” he had a big role in doing just that.

It turns out that much of casting is intuition. That isn’t to say there aren’t skills to learn, but these three made it clear that, once you’ve been working long enough, those skills are a part of you and the way you see things. “Sometimes you can’t articulate why someone is perfect but you know it,” says Thomas. And, speaking mostly to showrunners and directors, Femenella added that the casting director is always “going to give you the best idea first, because that’s our job. We can see the big picture.”

So why do they think that big-named actors are so attracted to television — especially limited series and anthologies — these days? Tenner believes part of it is that “it’s luxurious, and the writing is so good.” She added that they “have access to people that you don’t have access to with a multi-year series.” Moderator Ben Travers (Indiewire) suggested that anthologies “attract bigger talent because of shorter commitments,” which may be true. Either way, we expect that it’s a trend that will continue.

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Featured image credit: Tammy Perez/ATX Television Festival

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