×

‘Catch-22,’ ‘The Act’ Casting Directors Talk Finding Christopher Abbott and Calum Worthy

While Hulu drew attention to its most recent series by casting A-listers such as George Clooney in its “Catch-22” adaptation and Patricia Arquette in “The Act,” it was the younger actors in both of these series, Christopher Abbott and Calum Worthy, respectively, who took center stage and became breakout stars in the process.

During Hulu’s “Art of Casting” panel at Variety’s TV Summit Wednesday, casting directors Sharon Bialy (“The Act”) and Rachel Tenner (“Catch-22”) both admitted that casting the leading roles in their respective limited series was more streamlined than usual.

Tenner, who was responsible for finding the right man to portray the iconic fictional character of Yossarian, noted that Clooney and Grant Heslov are both extremely decisive and knew that Abbott was the right man for the role immediately.

“We wanted someone grounded, funny but also a leading man – all these great qualities,” she said. “And I was like ‘Oh, it’s Chris Abbott.’ He came in and auditioned, we had like two days of auditions, and we did our whole process but the guys knew right away —  when they see it, they see it. And that was it. And it’s not always like that.”

The process was similar for Bialy, who was tasked with finding the right guy to play Nicholas Godejohn, the real-life boyfriend of Gypsy Rose Blanchard who convinced and helped the young girl kill her mother in the Dee Dee Blanchard case. Because the role was so nuanced, Bialy said the casting team didn’t even consider making preemptive offers, but instead decided to go through a traditional auditioning process. Ultimately, Bialy said Calum Worthy was the only actor who was able to find the simplicity and humanity of a character that was villainized in the media, and was immediately cast for the part.

“He was so extraordinary, I literally said, ‘We have the producers and directors coming this afternoon,” Bialy said. “Normally I would say, ‘Go home and think about it.’ I said, ‘Don’t go home, don’t think about anything. Just come back in again in an hour.’”

Finding the humanity in Godejohn was the most important aspect of playing him on-screen, Worthy said. Because the real man, who is now serving a lengthy prison sentence for his role in the murder, struggled with autism, Worthy said he felt a lot of pressure getting the character right.

“The process of being in the press dehumanized him, so my goal with this character was to find the humanity in him and to find who he was the rest of the time,” Worthy said.

In order to do justice to the infamous character, the young actor said he worked with specialists, read real letters written by Nick, and studied the smallest aspects of his character, such as what he ate and liked to do in his spare time. Michelle Dean, the investigative reporter who wrote the original breaking news story for Buzzfeed in 2016, was also a helpful hand on set, answering any questions he had about the case.

Abbott also had to find redeeming qualities to latch onto while playing Yossarian, the trapped WWII bombardier from the Joseph Heller novel known for his attempts to be relieved from his duties.

“Yossarian, at his core, is an existentialist and just questioning his higher-ups and asking ‘Why? Why this mission? Why this mission? Why this mission?'” he said. “And so in that sense, I can relate. I can justify it.”

Tenner noted that Abbott’s empathy for the character was apparent in a way that it wasn’t for most of the other actors she judged for the part. “Sometimes you have a visceral reaction when you read it or see it or you get in a discussion and you flip on,” she said. “It doesn’t happen all the time but it did for Chris.”

More TV

  • MAKING IT -- Season: 1 --

    TV News Roundup: NBC Announces 'Making It' Season 2 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, NBC announced the “Making It” Season 2 premiere date and HBO Max greenlit a new docuseries from Brad Goreski and Gary Janetti. DATES Hosts Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman will return with the second season of “Making It” on NBC Dec. 2. After the show’s holiday season premiere, the show [...]

  • Luis Fonsi Erika Ender Latin Grammys

    The Second Latin Explosion: How 'Despacito' Ushered in a New Generation of Stars

    Music is an ever-evolving art, and for the Latin Recording Academy, that’s meant riding multiple waves of attention. The most recent arrived with the stratospheric success of “Despacito,” which kicked off a second Latin Explosion with full force in 2017. The Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee hit, later featuring verses by Justin Bieber, made Latin [...]

  • TV Review: 'Catherine the Great' Starring

    TV Review: 'Catherine the Great' Starring Helen Mirren

    For some, “Dame Helen Mirren playing the Catherine the Great” is all the convincing they’ll need to watch this new biographical limited series, which is perfectly understandable. The casting of Mirren in the role, which follows the Russian empress in the embattled latter years of her life, is a smart choice that proves its worth [...]

  • Ricky Martin Celia Cruz Gloria Estefan

    From Idea to Legacy: Latin Grammy Awards Mark 20 Years of Global Recognition

    The idea of creating a separate organization to honor the diversity of Latin music was a discussion that took place for years before it actually happened, but an event driven by one of pop music’s most important crossover artists solidified it. During the 41st Grammy Awards ceremony, a young Ricky Martin was scheduled to perform [...]

  • Science Fair

    Disney Plus Fleshes Out Nonfiction Slate, Including 'Howard,' 'Science Fair,' Mickey Mouse Docu

    Disney Plus further fleshed out its nonfiction content slate at an International Documentary Association showcase event Friday, as the streamer, preparing for its Nov. 12 launch, continues to flesh out its programming strategy. Among the announcements: The streamer has acquired the global distribution rights to “Howard,” the Don Hahn-directed documentary about “Aladdin” and “Beauty and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content