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Photos courtesy of Allison Jones and Emily Buntyn.

Casting Director Allison Jones and Associate Emily Buntyn Reveal Larry David’s Wild Audition Process Behind ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

Take one look at Allison Jones’ filmography, and it’s clear that she is an absolute legend when it comes to comedy. If it were just the movies she’s done, that would be enough. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Bridesmaids, Lady Bird, and Barbie are just some of the movies on her filmography, but as spectacular as that is, her real genius is casting sitcoms.

Before winning her first Emmy for casting Freaks and Geeks, she had already done Family Ties, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Boy Meets World, and since then? Jones has cast hits that include The Office, Parks and Recreation, Veep (for which she won two more) and Curb Your Enthusiasm, for which she has been nominated twice more, and deserves a third nod for this brilliant final season.

Don’t take our word for it. Parks and Rec and The Good Place creator Michael Schur says of Jones that “she’s a genius.” She spoke to us from Foxboro, Massachusetts. Her associate, Emily Buntyn, who helped cast the final season of Curb, also joined the conversation from Los Angeles.

What got you into casting?

Allison Jones: I went a circuitous route. I grew up in Massachusetts, went to college out here, went to business school out here, got an MBA degree, went back to work in New York City and advertising for a year, and was miserable. A very good friend from business school had gone to AFT (the American Film Institute) after business school because she wanted to be a writer. She said, “You should come to this school, AFI. It’s a blast and you can get a loan pretty easily.” I did.

After film school, I enjoyed the casting part. Those are the days we had to write letters type them and mail them off. I got a job in casting. That was my whole story.

I started in sitcoms, it was Family Ties, Golden Girls and Benson. I stayed in comedy and have loved it. Emily is of the generation where you knew what casting was. I had no idea it was a job back in the 1980s. I had no clue. But Emily knew.

Emily Buntyn: I have an interesting story with it. I learned what casting was when I was 17, watching The Office. I knew that that’s what I wanted to get into as a teenager, which I found out later on was very unusual. After school, I met a producer who put me in contact with Allison’s office, and that was a little over nine years ago now.

In talking to so many casting directors over the last year, Emily’s path is much less common than Allison’s.

AJ: My poor nephew. So many Gen Z-ers feel guilty they don’t have a life path. I said, “you guys, I didn’t frickin’ know anything about what I was doing.” And I still don’t, but it just worked out.

Allison, your career has almost entirely been comedy, and, interestingly, it feels like an even mix of movies and TV.

AJ: If I can bend your ear a little bit… when I first started, sitcom was the bottom of the barrel in everything. Everything. An actor was like, “Yeah, I don’t want to do a sitcom.”

The first show I did, I worked with Thomas Harris. We were doing Family Ties, Benson and a show called Condo. I was thrilled to be doing that. My favorite job ever still is Family Ties, which was the first job I worked on because the people involved were so good. The business was so different back then.

For 10 years, all I wanted was to do a movie, and not until Judd Apatow came along did I get to. He was loyal after Freaks and Geeks and hired me for The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which led to The Office. Judd and Leslie Feldman, who is the woman who hired me for Freaks and Geeks, I owe them everything. I lucked into two people who were generous enough to hire me for movies.

Which is funny because now, TV is where it’s at.

AJ: Everything is back to TV again! Which I enjoy so much. Because, like, 12 years ago, I used to start saying, “sorry, TV is the new film.” So guess what? There’s no movies anymore.

All the good stuff, it’s all in streaming. When I started in half-an-hour, and anybody who worked that way, you are wedged. “Oh, she’s a comedy actor. She’s a comedy person, she’s a comedy this,” or “She’s a half-hour person” or “She’s a television person,” and it drives me crazy. Now, when people still say “He’s a TV actor,” or when an actor says “I don’t want to do TV,” that doesn’t even exist anymore, as you know.

It has been an amazing evolution because now everybody will watch TV. Comedy has changed. Everything’s changed.

Emily, how has the business changed for you over the last decade?

EB: It’s even changed since I started. Especially with all the streaming services, and thankfully not HBO yet, but they’ve now created all these departments, and departments within the departments that are, “supposed to make our jobs easier,” but that is not the case.

It slows down the process. We have to get approvals, write up a whole thing and wait for them to approve. It’s all very top-heavy. There are algorithms for everything.

I want to talk about Curb Your Enthusiasm, which went out with a bang, the best season it’s had in years. Allison, you came on the show for Season Four, and Emily, you started in Season Nine. Are there any auditions or casting situations that especially stand out for you over the years?

AJ: You know, JB Smoove’s audition, it was just it-plus. Larry has everybody audition unless they’re playing themselves. Ben Stiller, for instance, did not have to audition. Larry just needed to see what you’re going to do with a role. He knew I would only bring in good improvisers, but they create their role and he needs to see.

When you audition for Curb, you come into the room and you improv the scene with Larry David, Jeff Garland, Cheryl Hines, whoever’s there that day or whoever’s in the scene. They gave 100% every time so it was like watching the show. Larry loves to be cracked up. Jeff cracks up constantly.

When JB Smoove came in, the second he came in, because he was tall and bald just like Larry, physically, it was hilarious. He came in character and he just went to town. It was so funny. It was just a joy to watch. Emily would tell you about what it was like for actors who would come in.

EB: They were ecstatic just to audition. A majority of them would say, “We don’t care if we get on the show. We’re just happy to do this.” Either some of them had already been in the room before or they had heard.

Larry, like Allison said, goes 100% for every audition, so he is full-on Larry David from Curb with every single person. I came on when it came back in 2016, and I would sit outside with the actors and listen to them because they didn’t get anything to prepare beforehand, which was also very unusual.

They literally would come in, we’d give them maybe a little blurb, like, a waiter in a Beverly Hills restaurant. You wait on Larry David, he’s rude to you for this reason. And you start arguing for this reason. Go. So that’s why he wanted to see what actors came up with. The genius of the show, a lot of it came up in auditions for sure.

AJ: I don’t want to be rude, I only mean this in a good way, but the show and Larry were so funny it’s almost actor-proof, but not quite.

I would tell actors the minute they came in, “Don’t make a joke, don’t try to be funny, and less is more.” Half the time you wouldn’t even laugh in an audition, but it was a great character that they created. It was like, “This is fabulous.” Larry just wanted someone who could move along the story and come up with really good twists, even in the tiny parts.

What piece of advice or wisdom would you give to an actor coming in to see to audition for you?

AJ: Don’t chew gum unless it’s in the scene. I know that’s stupid, but don’t chew gum unless it’s in the scene. Mostly, prepare and don’t chew gum. It’s shocking how many people are not prepared for their auditions.

EB: I would say prepare. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

AJ: Yeah, ask questions!

EB: If you feel like you need to do it again, that’s fine as well. Sometimes people get a little nervous. On our side of things, we want you to do the best job possible, because that’s going to help us as well. Asking questions is always welcome, and be prepared, because Allison’s right. It’s shocking how many times people don’t even know what the project is.

AJ: A lot of people. It’s unbelievable.

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