Taking a cue from the theater and the old Hollywood studio system, Netflix has built up an impressive stock company of actors since getting into original programming. But interestingly, it is more coincidence than intentional creation of a repertory company.
The streaming giant does not have a dedicated casting department at the network level. Instead, Netflix originals work with a variety of casting directors, and the repetition in hiring talent is more hard work on the actors’ parts, as well as a byproduct of the seemingly never-ending river of content across a variety of genres that the service produces.
That’s not to say actors on other streaming services do not appear in more than one show. For example, “Pen15” co-creators and lead actresses Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle have popped up on “Casual” and “Ramy,” respectively. Meanwhile on Amazon, Bryan Cranston has starred in and executive produced “Sneaky Pete” and “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams,” while Rufus Sewell has been in both “The Man in the High Castle” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
But what makes Netflix’s crop of talent stand out is the volume.
Actors who appear in multiple Netflix shows and films include Julia Garner, Rob Morgan, June Diane Raphael, Keith Jardine, John Early, Will Arnett, Kerri Kenney-Silver, David Cross and Billy Magnussen.
Alexa Fogel, who has cast such Netflix series as “Chambers,” “Ozark” and “The Politician,” says her job is to be on the lookout not only for roles that actors may be ready for now, but also what they could do in the future.
“Sometimes somebody is right for something in their 20s and then they’re right for something again in their 30s and 40s,” Fogel says. “I think it’s just that if you’re a good actor, you will be good for different roles at different times.”
Fogel specifically recalls working with Garner, who first auditioned before her for a role in the film “The Sitter” and then for HBO’s “The Deuce” before eventually landing her role as Ruth Langmore on “Ozark.”
“It’s a long game,” Fogel says. “It’s not about just that project. It’s always about their careers and, ultimately, working together over time. It’s about being good and consistent. All I need to remember is that Julia was a good actress when she was 15. It’s my responsibility to see what that grows into.”
There is perhaps no actor more omnipresent on Netflix than Morgan. To date, Morgan has been in nine Netflix series and two films, including Marvel’s “Daredevil,” “The Defenders,” “Iron Fist,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage” and “The Punisher.”
“It’s one of those things where I can walk the streets and people will run up to me and be like, ‘Wow, you’re the king of Netflix!’” Morgan says. “And I have to tell them, ‘I’m not the king of Netflix, Ted Sarandos is.’ And they’ll be like, ‘Ted who?’”
Morgan is likely best known for his role as gangster Turk Barrett in the Marvel-Netflix shows, but has played a range of roles for the streamer, including Hawkins police officer Powell on “Stranger Things” and Civil War veteran John Randall in the Emmy-nominated limited series “Godless.”
He believes his near constant presence on Netflix is due to the streamer’s attraction to projects that are draw on his natural energy.
“I’m a real brother,” he says. “I’m an East Coast dude. I have the experiences that I feel a lot of people who identify with me can relate to. A lot of people refer to me as somebody that they know. I think that kind of energy resonates with the programs on Netflix.”
A former investment banker, Morgan says he spent eight years working at Bear Stearns while trying to find steady work as an actor, something he credits with giving him confidence when he went on auditions.
His first credited role came in the early 2000s, long before Netflix was even a blip on the originals radar. And although he has yet to be a series regular on Netflix, the streaming revolution provided many more opportunities for Morgan than he had had in the past.
“It opened the market for actors like me that may have a little more edge than typical networks are interested in. It allows us to have a voice,” he says.
Jardine, who also had roles in “Godless” and “The Punisher,” as well as “Chambers” and “Bird Box,” was initially famous for MMA. A former pro-fighter, most notably in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, Jardine says the notoriety he achieved in the octagon got his foot in the door in Hollywood — but now he is in the trenches with everybody else.
“I try not to tell anybody [I was a fighter] because that’s held me back before,” he says. “Casting directors have said, ‘Oh man, you’re good, but it’s not that kind of role. He’s not a fighter.’ Then I have to show them my reel and prove I’m a real actor. I have to cross that bridge a lot of times.”
According to Jardine, he had ambitions of being an actor even before he became a fighter. But it wasn’t until his MMA career was winding down around 2012 that he began to take it seriously.
“I just had the epiphany that acting is way more competitive than fighting,” he says. “There’s way more people that I have to compete against for roles. And at this point I was training for acting like once or twice a week. That’s where I said, ‘I need to train for this like fighting.’”
Even though his days in the cage are behind him, Jardine still draws parallels between his former profession and his current one.
“The hard part is walking into an audition,” he says. “That’s the part that’s most similar to fighting. The whole process — the warm up, getting your mind right. And everyone is together in the warm up room, like a locker room. It’s all very similar. Except in fighting you can go out and start horrible and take time to recover. A lot of times in that audition room, you get one shot.”