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Jill Anthony Thomas on Casting Apple TV+’s ‘Loot’ Season 2, the Importance of Making Bold Choices During Auditions

Jill Anthony Thomas, a renowned casting director with a remarkable 33-year career, has cast iconic shows like Gilmore Girls and beloved animated series such as Futurama.

Along with her casting partner Anthony J. Kraus and their casting associate Katrina Wandel George, the team recently cast Season Two of the Apple TV+ series Loot. This streaming series stars Maya Rudolph as a woman navigating life after an $87 billion divorce settlement, re-engaging with a charitable foundation she forgot she started.

In an exclusive interview with Casting Networks, Thomas discusses the process of introducing new characters to Loot‘s second season, the importance of making bold choices during auditions and shares casting pitfalls actors should avoid.

After casting Loot‘s first season, what were the priorities for the second season?

Season One was about establishing our ensemble cast and servicing them so the audience could get to know them.

In Season Two, we had several recurring characters, so it was fun to add new people into this world including O-T Fagbenle as Sophia’s love interest, Ana Gasteyer as Grace and Hayley Magnus as Willa. We also had some cameos like Benjamin Bratt playing himself as a love interest for Maya Rudolph in one of my favorite episodes of the season, the one at the yoga retreat.

O-T is known for The Handmaid’s Tale. Ana, of course, is from Saturday Night Live. Do actors at that level have to audition for the show, or is it more about having a meeting and then making them an offer?

That’s a great question. It’s different in different scenarios. For Sophia’s love interest Isaac, O-T was the first name I wrote down, but it took us a little while to get there. He was working on something else, so we held auditions for the role.

We showed the producers demo reels of some ‘offer only’ people, but we did hold actual auditions. Then O-T’s schedule opened, so we went back to him. In casting, sometimes the first name you write down is the person who gets it, but in this case, it was six weeks later!

With Maya and Ana both being Saturday Night Live alums, are we wrong to assume that it was Maya’s relationship with Ana that brought her in?

You are wrong. The producers came to us over the summer, before the new season, and told us we were going to have a particular arc with a new character, Grace. My partner, Anthony Kraus, and I made lists, checked availabilities and then the producers all got together and narrowed it down to the top three.

Ana Gasteyer has great chemistry with Maya, but we did generate a sizable list and it was fun to make a list of comedic ladies in that age range.

When you have a show that stars someone like Maya Rudolph, who is beloved not only by viewers but also by her peers, is it easier to get your first-choice actors because people want to work with her?

Maya Rudolph has so many fans. Ben Bratt loves Maya Rudolph, so that was how we got him for the cameo. He was talking about how he and his wife love her so much in an interview.

Stunt casting, in general, is not as much fun because not only do we have to make lists, check avails and approach a lot of celebrities, but at the same time we have to back it up with casting in case we don’t get one of those names. Essentially, we need to cast the role twice. In this case, we had a great time casting Maya’s love interest for the yoga retreat episode.

It does seem like a fun show to cast because all characters, no matter how big or small, each one is entertaining to watch.

Showrunners Matt Hubbard and Alan Yang created such a fun world with interesting characters that are so much fun to audition because the writing is so funny.

There are so many day players and co-stars in this season, like the photographer and the “73 Questions” interviewer and the fashion models in the New York Fashion Week episode. We have a blast casting all of those.

For day player roles, I’m sure many actors come in and give very different interpretations and any number of those versions can work beautifully. What is the deciding factor?

It’s funny because just the other day an actor asked me, “How do you know which one is the one when you’re casting something?” And I said, “To be honest, there’s usually more than one.”

Several people could play the role, and factors do come into account like, what is that person going to look like in the scene with the other actors? Sometimes it’s a height thing. Sometimes we have three blondes in this episode already. There are a lot of arbitrary factors that come into play. A lot of times what it comes down to is a vibe, a look, a type.

How should an actor approach their audition in this type of situation, when it’s so arbitrary?

What always impresses me is when someone makes a part of their own and it stands out, or makes me think, “Oh gee, I didn’t think of it delivered that way, that’s so funny.”

I like having different choices to give the producers. I would never give them three people who all do it the same way, or who look the same. I give them options.

One of the episodes we cast this season was the one where Ron Funches’ character, Howard, starts a wrestling society. We cast wrestlers who came in and had to insult us. Anthony and I are doing these auditions and these big scary guys are just saying the most ridiculous insults to our faces. Seeing those deliveries was hilarious.

Were there any specific challenges this season?

The love interest for Sophia (played by Michaela Jae Rodriguez) was a challenge. I’m glad we ended up with O-T, but it wasn’t easy getting there.

I do feel like, in Season Two, we fell into a groove. We had a better idea of what would work and what wouldn’t. In the first season, you’re finding the voice and the tone and what actors are working. There were so many co-stars in Season One, so we blew through a lot of our go-to favorite comedy co-stars. But in Season Two, it was great meeting new ones.

That’s the catch-22. With a new show, you don’t know if it’s going to get renewed or not. Do you stack all your favorite players in that first season in case the show doesn’t go any further, or save —

Yes! You do! (laughs) But, even though I prefer in-person casting, the benefits to this self tape culture that we have right now is that between my partner, my associate, and I, we can see hundreds of people a day.

In the past, for these smaller co-star roles, we could see maybe 30 or 40 people a day in the office. Now, we are taking chances on talent that is getting pitched by agents that in the past I might not have had time to see. Now I’m like, ‘Sure, send a self-tape!’ We’re meeting and seeing so many new people, and we added a bunch of cool actors to our comedy stable in Season Two.

With a comedic show like Loot, is improvisation part of the audition process?

Usually in the auditions, we stick to the script. However, knowing I’m putting them on set with actors who are adept at improv like Maya and Joel Kim Booster and Ron Funches, we want to find actors who can hold their own if that comes up. Sometimes if we’re doing a Zoom audition, I might say, “You can do one fun take,” but producers usually like to see the audition scripted as is.

Let’s talk about the casting process in general. What are some dos and don’ts actors should take into consideration when seeing you?

One of my big no-nos is don’t start an audition with an apology. As in, “I just got the sides” or “I haven’t had much time with this” or “I don’t have it memorized.”

We’d never ask you to memorize, by the way. You’d be surprised how many people come in starting the audition with excuses, which means I’m watching the audition with that excuse in my head. Maybe you aren’t prepared, but you can sell it to me. 

What’s a pet peeve of yours when actors audition for you?

When people come in they have no idea of what the show they’re auditioning for is. It’s so easy in this day and age to go on YouTube and look at a clip of Loot to see what the tone is. Is it broad? Is it grounded? It surprises me when people come in and don’t do their homework.

When I go in for an interview with a producer, I familiarize myself with projects they’ve worked on. I look at the cast lists of those projects to see the actors they like. I’m getting a sense of their taste. As an actor, why wouldn’t you go, “I have an audition for Loot, I better watch an episode, and if I don’t have time for an episode, maybe I’ll watch a couple of clips on YouTube?” Or, “if I don’t understand how to pronounce this word, I’ll look it up.”

We want the next actor who walks in the room to get the part. We are rooting for every person who comes in to be the piece to our puzzle. We’re happy to answer questions and do what we can to help, but some come in and ask so many questions that it’s frustrating because they should have prepared a bit more.

What advice do you have for actors who are auditioning?

Make a strong choice with the scene. If it’s wrong, we’ll adjust you. Something that I find lacking is when people come in and play it safe and don’t do much with it. Make a choice. 

When the audition is under five lines – a waiter, Juror #1, or receptionist for example – how should the actor approach those types of auditions? 

The most important thing is that it comes across as real. People make the mistake of trying to stand out with their one line, but the truth is those roles are usually driving a scene or setting someone up for a cue. Trying to make that too big with your one or two lines is a mistake actors make. It just needs to be real.

When you look back on your three decades plus career, are there any castings you’re especially proud of?

Certainly, Gilmore Girls, because in addition to the series regulars, we created (the fictional town of) Stars Hollow, filling it with residents that ended up recurring for all the seasons. We set up this whole town of fun offbeat characters, so that’s a show I’m super proud of.

Also, King of the Hill, the animated show, which I did with my old partner, Julie Mossberg. That was our first foray into animation, and wow, did it come out great! That was one of those tables reads where you hear these actors doing these voices and you just get goosebumps. 

Is there a show that you feel was a game-changer for your career?

Different shows put us in different (stratospheres).

When we did Mad TV, suddenly, we started getting offered all these sketch comedy shows. I was the casting associate on the pilot for the first season, and that show propelled me to be offered my first casting director job with Fox on a show called Deadline Now, which was with some of the writers from The Onion. It was a fake news show.

Mad TV did help me get that first offer. Also, working on Mad TV cemented that comedy was the direction I wanted to take my career in. Then we did King of the Hill, and along came Futurama and Baby Blues, and we got all these animated shows. 

Any showrunners that had an impact on your career?

Working with Victor Fresco moved my career into a sort of offbeat, smart, weird comedy territory. The first project that we did with him was The Trouble with Normal. I’ve done seven shows with him including Andy Richter Controls the Universe and Santa Clarita Diet. Working with Victor helped me find my voice as a casting director.

Working with the same showrunners on multiple projects is a testament to your work as a casting director, but also must be very rewarding for you as well.

It’s the best. I’ve done two shows with Alan Yang, but with Matt Hubbard, I’ve done five. When we jumped into Loot, we already knew what Matt liked or didn’t like and where his tastes go. Same with Victor Fresco. His writing has such a musical rhythm to it that I know the kind of actors who are going to be good for his shows.

I’ve also done several projects with David Windsor and Casey Johnson. We just did Not Dead Yet for ABC. There’s a shorthand, and comfort level that already exists – something that with new people takes time to develop.

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