Mad Men casting directors Carrie Audino and Laura Schiff spoke with AMCtv.com about the show’s casting process and the trials of picking Don Draper’s fiancée.
Q: Who was the hardest character to cast this season?
Schiff: Probably the role of Megan. We always knew what Matt [Weiner's] intention was when we started casting that part, but there was no material written for her yet.
Audino: And of course we couldn’t tell anyone else what the story was. We couldn’t tell [talent agencies] this was going to be Don’s future wife. We needed to just tell people that they’re really going to want to come in for this part.
Q: What were you looking for when you cast that role?
Schiff: I think we wanted to find someone that didn’t feel like any of the other women we’d ever cast. I think Matt really wanted warmth from her, and a feeling that she accepted Don for who he was and was very supportive of him.
Q: What is the typical process for casting a new episode?
Schiff: We get the scripts and … we have what’s called a concept meeting, where we talk about what the script means and what Matt’s looking for. All the department heads ask different questions, and we ask about casting and what he wants out of each actor. Then we go out and try and find it for him. We do what’s called breakdowns, which are descriptions of the characters that get sent to agents and managers. In the case of Mad Men, because we don’t want to give anything away, we give very vague descriptions. Then the agents and managers send us suggestions and we go through them. A lot of times they’re very wrong because we’ve been so vague, so we have to go through them more carefully. Then we choose people who we think look like they might be a good fit, and we do auditions.
Q: Was it fun casting Playboy bunnies?
Audino: The bunnies were fun because we’d never had a role like that before. It was nice to be able to showcase a whole different group of actresses… They really had to be the best waitress you had ever, ever had.
Q: You’ve had a lot of Brits on the show. What do you look for when casting these characters?
Schiff: A lot of times in television or movies they cast British actors to play Americans, Americans to play Brits, etc. We really like to cast real Brits as Brits and real Americans as Americans. There’s many times when Brits do a good American accent, but Matt can always hear it.
Q: Since this show is set in the ’60s, are you ever wary of casting actors who might be too well-known from contemporary roles?
Audino: We definitely are wary of that. It would really take you out of the period if you had someone too famous and recognizable, certainly in pop culture but even in the TV world. We’re trying to keep to a very specific reality and time. And I think as far as personalities, we look for good actors that have a feel for doing material that is based in reality.
Q: What’s the most outrageous ’60s outfit someone has showed up in for an audition?
Audino: Before the show aired we got lots of hippies. But then it aired and people realized what period and time it was.
Q: Do you think casting is an under-recognized art?
Schiff: I don’t know if it’s under-recognized. A lot of people in our business really do appreciate it and they understand how important it is. Sometimes people on the outside think that casting just kind of happens, and they don’t always think about how many people are newly introduced in each episode.
Q: How many new characters do you typically cast per episode?
Audino: Anywhere from 2 to 20.
Schiff: I think 20 is the highest, but on average it’s 10 or 12. That’s new characters. Then there are recurring characters where we have to coordinate their availability, renegotiate deals, do all those administrative details.
Q: Which episode had the most new characters this season?
Audino: The first episode, because we were establishing a new agency, many of whom became recurrings. We no longer had Kurt and Smitty and Hildy. We no longer had all those people populating the office, so we had to have new people populate the office.