The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman in February 2014, days after the original pilot was ordered to series, was an emotional blow to all involved that could have easily tabled the project for good. After some time passed, however, creator-exec producer Shalom Auslander realized he still wanted to work in the world of “Happyish.”
Just as it was a long process in setting Hoffman in the challenging role of a mid-40s advertising executive facing a multilevel midlife crisis, recasting the part was no easy feat. The process involved outreach and inquiries made to “a lot of people,” Auslander says, without confirming any names.
One of those actors was known to have been Jim Carrey. Sources said the actor had “discussions” with Showtime last year about joining the project, though it’s not clear if the role was formally offered to him.
Others who were said to have been under consideration include Will Ferrell, Edward Norton and John C. Reilly. British multihyphenate Steve Coogan landed the role of Thom Payne last October — to Auslander’s delight.
Coogan’s versatility as an actor allows him to do much more with the character, particularly in the show’s out-there fantasy sequences. Plus, Coogan brought the cachet of being fresh off an Oscar nomination for screenwriting for his work on 2013’s “Philomena.”
Given Coogan’s track record as a writer and producer of features and his own U.K. TV series — notably the “Alan Partridge” franchise and “The Trip” — it says something about his esteem for Auslander’s work that he would make the commitment to “Happyish.”
Showtime president David Nevins praises Coogan’s ability to bring “gravitas” to the role that grows deeper and richer through the first season’s 10 episodes. “It’s an interesting combination of a very big character, some startling comedy and real heart and soul,” Nevins says.