Several years ago, I was part of the casting team for a cable comedy pilot. The script was brilliant, the dialogue was fast, very intelligent and required a set of actors who could handle it, all the while having great chemistry with each other.
Enter: the greatest mix-and-match of my career.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, a mix-and-match is when Casting assembles a group of finalist actors for different roles and auditions them interchangeably to see who might have chemistry with each other. During these sessions, an actor could read with one other actor or several to see where the yummiest chemistry may lie. (This is different than a CHEMISTRY read where one actor is already set, and we’re looking to see who has the best mojo with that specific person.)
The writer had created a scene specifically for these two characters to audition with, and WELCOMED improvisation. (Not super common.) The scene was already VERY funny, so frankly, it was a little hard to imagine how improv could actually IMPROVE it.
We started the mix-and-match session, and had about four or five actors for each role. We paired them up and began reading the groups. Now, these actors had to read in a TINY casting office (typical) that was CHOCK FULL of producers. It was immediately hot and stuffy, and the scene lasted around five minutes per group, (which doesn’t sound like much, but five minutes of dialogue can feel like a lifetime if a pair doesn’t work.)
The first group read/improvised, and MAN, they were funny. The second group went, and somehow were even funnier. We went through all of the pairs, with each group proving to be even more hilarious than the last. I was running the camera for this session and convulsing with silent laughter. I’m pretty sure I shed a few laugh-tears, too. The creativity, (hilarious) vulgarity and chemistry oozing out of these actors was mind-blowing.
After going through one round of pairs, we began to mix them up. This went on for a LONG TIME. None of us had anticipated every partnership having SO much chemistry. Every new pair came in, paid no attention to how hot and noticeably sweaty they were, or how exhausted (and probably starving,) they may have felt. They came in with a new partner and somehow raised the bar on their previous reads/improv. EVERY. SINGLE. GROUP. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
I’ll always remember that mix-and-match as the hardest I’ve ever laughed during an audition process, but more than that, how unbelievably open-minded and hard-working these actors were to AUDITION (not screen test, not shoot a scene, but AUDITION,) so many times in a single morning, without a hint of complaint, and how they gave more and more with each read.
I have no memory of how we chose actors from that group who we wanted to test. But I CAN recall EVERY actor from that mix-and-match. Even though only two of them ended up booking the series roles, we found guest star roles that season for at least a few others. To this day, all ten of those actors are forever highlighted in my memory as people I want to work with, no matter the project or role.