If attempting to introduce Gohar Gazazyan, good luck trying to pick just a handful of credits from the heavy-hitting titles on her résumé. You could go with a long-running show like The Walking Dead or a star-studded mini-series such as The Comey Rule. Then there are upcoming projects to consider, as well. You can see Gazazyan’s casting work in two AMC+ series dropping next year: Orphan Black: Echoes and Parish. Should you want to get to know the person behind the impressive résumé, though, we’ve got you covered. Gazazyan made time to virtually sit down with Casting Networks and give insights into everything from how she works — including a window into casting the heartwarming HBO Max series Julia — to the similar life experience she shares with Mila Kunis.
It’s great to virtually meet you, Gohar, and I’d love to kick things off with the beginning of your career journey. When was the moment you knew that casting was the job for you?
It happened when I was an undergrad at UCLA studying history and mass communication. I was always very academically inclined, and the plan was for me to be an attorney, which was the perfect choice for my immigrant family. It’s a stable job, which is the type of career path they wanted me to pursue. But, I really loved film. Since I was young, I had a particular fascination with actors and their performances. Even as a small child, I had this bizarre interest in all the different projects each actor would do — I’d want to know all about their various credits and would sort of catalog them. I didn’t know that casting was a profession, though, until I was at UCLA.
How’d you find out?
I would participate in anything the film school did that was open to the general student population, and one day, I went to a screening of Big Fish. I just marveled at the interesting, unique ensemble of people who populate that film and wondered who brought them all together. Then, sure enough, I saw “Casting by Denise Chamian” in the film’s end credits. That was the exact moment I became aware that it’s someone’s job to put together the cast of actors for a film. It was like a light bulb went off, and I realized it was the thing I wanted to do.
You had a true “aha moment”!
I wanted to be an actor when I was young, and then I thought I might want to be a director. But, I also crave some stability and control, which those professions don’t necessarily offer. Casting felt like the perfect combination of creativity and consistency, though, so I was immediately taken with the idea of it. But, I didn’t know anybody in entertainment or have any connections, so I began doing research and eventually got myself an internship at a talent agency. My plan was to gain introductions to casting directors through the role, which is what ended up happening, and I went on to a casting internship. From there, I worked at the assistant level for a couple of casting directors before interviewing with Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas about 15 years ago. I started with them as a casting assistant and then just grew in their company, going on to become a casting associate and then a casting director. I was really hungry to participate creatively, and it’s been a great fit, so I’ve been with them ever since. We really love each other and enjoy working together.
That’s awesome to hear! Speaking of Sharon, she shared with us a bit about casting Julia. I’d love to hear what you can tell us about the process of assembling the cast for the HBO Max series, as well. And congrats on your Artios nom for it!
Thank you. It’s the most delightful show, which translated to our experience casting the series. It was our first time working with Daniel Goldfarb, the creator of Julia, but we’d previously collaborated with another one of the showrunners named Chris Keyser. We’ve worked with him on a number of occasions and just adore him, so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to do so again. A lot of the shows that our office casts are very dark and tense, so it was special to be a part of something that’s uplifting and positive. Julia has a strong focus on marriage and friendship, and it’s all about following your passion and your joy.
It truly is an inspiring show.
It definitely made for a bright experience casting the show. The process, itself, was pretty standard. There was initially someone else attached to play Julia, but that eventually didn’t work out so we started exploring other actresses. It was a very short list of women who were both right for the role and able to do it justice. When we started talking about Sarah Lancashire, all of us just immediately got very excited about the idea. She’s incredibly talented — I cannot say enough glowing remarks about Sarah’s work — so we were very fortunate to have her come on board as the heart of the show.
The whole process sounds quite fortuitous!
Another actor was attached to play Julia’s husband, Paul, as well. After the pandemic paused production, though, that actor parted ways from the show. We were able to go back to David Hyde Pierce, who was somebody we’d originally talked about for the role and really loved for it. And a lot of women read for the role of Avis, but we kept coming back to Bebe Neuwirth. There was something that felt so right about her for the character. Then, everyone fell in love with Fiona Glascott for the role of Judith, and Brittany Bradford was what we call a find. She’d just recently graduated from The Juilliard School before reading for the role of Alice. Even though there were a number of wonderful actresses who auditioned for the character, it was very clear from the beginning that Brittany was the one meant to play her.
Thank you for all those great insights into how the cast of Julia came to be. Now, it’s time for my favorite question to ask casting, which I prepped you on ahead of time. If someone made a series about your life story, which actor would you cast to play the role of Gohar Gazazyan?
This question was eating at my soul for some time! [Laughs] It requires you to observe yourself from an impartial standpoint, which is kind of impossible. So, I asked my colleagues at the office whom they would cast to play me. Interestingly enough, several people said Mila Kunis. Their reasoning was that she’s kind of loud, she’s fun and she has big eyes. [Laughs] It was an interesting choice, though, because I started reading about her upbringing and noticed a lot of similarities to my own. She and I were both born in former Soviet states — I was born in Armenia and Mila Kunis was born in Ukraine. There’s just one year difference between when we came to the United States, with her moving at age seven and me at six.
Mila Kunis also talks a lot about how difficult it was not knowing the language during her first year of school in the U.S. I had the exact same experience. We also both had parents who were well-educated in their former countries before having to come here and find work. There are just so many things we have in common, so if someone was going to tell my life story, I’d want it to be her because she’d understand it. I’m glad for the exercise of answering this question — I learned a great deal about Mila Kunis and the similarities between us that I didn’t know before.
I’m happy to hear it. And I have one last question for you before we wrap. From what in your life do you draw creative inspiration?
That’s a nice question. I love any kind of storytelling, which I think helps me understand the importance of getting it right in my own medium. I’m in a book club and am an avid reader, as well as a theater-lover. In addition to seeing stage productions here in LA, I also go to New York several times a year. Seeing theater performances is also an incredible way to meet new actors and learn a great deal about their range and ability. In a couple of weeks [at the time of interview], I’m going to see a stage production in New York that stars Ralph Fiennes and could not be more excited — he’s my favorite living actor.
I’m with you there, Gohar.
I’ll admit that I have a particular affinity for British thespians. The history of the theater is just so rich in that part of the world, and the actors there are finely trained. So, I end up watching a lot of British films. But, I love any kind of art form, whether that be fine art, music, ballet, or interior design. I have a nearly three-year-old daughter who has taken up all my artistic interests, and she inspires me, too.
From the casting director’s original plan to pursue a career in law to her daughter now following in Gazazyan’s artistic footsteps, this has been a window into the person behind all the credits. Those interested in learning more about the impressive list of TV and film titles on her casting résumé can find them all listed on IMDb.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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