The Casting Genius Behind The Weirdos In Fav Comedies
Comedy casting director legend Allison Jones loves freaks, geeks, dorks, virgins, and most of all, nerds. “I just can’t get enough of them,” Jones told The Hollywood Reporter. “They’re pure souls and they try hard and they get shat on when they shouldn’t.”
“It’s always my favorite when Allison calls me up and says, ‘I found a real weirdo, you’re going to fall in love with this person,'” says Paul Feig, who worked with Jones on Bridesmaids and Freaks and Geeks. “And she’s always right.”
Let’s go behind the scenes and find out how Jones cast some of the biggest goofs in comedy.
Jonah HillHill wasn’t even trying to audition for The 40 Year Old Virgin -- he’d just convinced Jones to give him a chance to meet Judd Apatow.
“He was sweating profusely, but he was really sweet and very funny,” Jones says. “Judd looked at his tape and said, ‘Let’s hire him for that kid in the eBay store.’ You know, the one who wants to buy the boots with the goldfish in them? Now he’s had this colossal rise, from a part where he had only one line and he turned it into something more with his facial expressions and quick wit.”
Jenna FischerJones’ real-life assistant when she was casting The Office was Phyliss Smith (see below – this was before she became the Phyliss who married Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration).
Fischer had been auditioning for five years and was about to leave Hollywood when Jones cast her on an episode of Spin City. “I read with Phyllis. It was just three lines and when I got the role, I thanked Allison," says Fischer. "And you know what she said to me? She said, ‘The person you should thank is Phyllis. She put your audition at the top of the pile for the producers and she flagged you as our top choice.'”
Nick Offerman“I’ve brought Nick in for a lot for years,” says Jones, who also recommended Offerman for The Office. Instead, Offerman’s comic persona more or less “really became Ron Swanson. He’s just so great for a guy in that age group and that vibe. That’s the fun thing about pilots: Parts are written, but it’s fun to bring in people who see it in a new way.”
JB SmooveAuditioning for Curb Your Enthusiasm isn’t for everyone -- the tryouts are almost completely improvised. And the way Jones knows when an audition is going right? If Larry David starts giggling.
“I think going down in history, the big one was J.B. Smoove. Larry just loved him right away,” says Jones. “He could barely make it through the audition.”
“We laughed our asses off,” says J.B. "At one point, Larry walked into a corner to get his composure back. I leave the audition, and my agent calls me and asks, ‘How did it go?’ I said, ‘We had a great time. If anybody else gets that role, God bless them.’”
Phyliss SmithAs noted above, Smith was Jones’s casting assistant for many years, often reading with prospective actors for their auditions. “What occurred to me, after several auditions one day, is that I was much more interested in looking at Phyllis than I was at the actors who were auditioning,” says director Ken Kwapis. “I said to Greg Daniels, ‘This woman really feels like she should be working in a paper company.’”
“She had been in casting for twenty years,” says Jones. “She had a Midwestern and completely regular feel in kind of a pure way.”
“I didn’t believe it was real,” confesses Smith, “until I got a call from wardrobe saying they needed my measurements.”
Rainn WilsonWilson was the first actor Jones brought in to read for The Office.
“(Rainn) just was so good and just had brilliant comedy timing,” says Jones. “He was hilarious and completely believable as the most annoying guy you’ve ever sat next to in an office. He was skilled beyond belief comedy-wise.”
Christopher Mintz-Plasse“I don’t ever take credit for discovering anybody,” says Jones, “except for McLovin
Mintz-Plasse responded to flyers Jones had posted around L.A. looking for “nerdy high school boys.” After looking at hundreds of applicants, she found a camera-phone headshot and got excited. She called Superbad director Greg Mottola with the news:
“I think I found McLovin; he’s like Dill from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ You could tell he was a kid who probably had seen the inside of a locker.”
For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:
For ComedyNerd exclusive content and more, subscribe to our fancy newsletter:
Top image: Columbia Pictures