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Interview with Casting Director Marci Liroff on Auditioning for Comedy

Marci Liroff’s extensive credits as a casting director span more than 50 films. While working at the renowned casting office of Fenton-Feinberg Casting, Liroff, along with Mike Fenton, cast such films as Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story and Porky’s; the Academy Award-nominated Poltergeist; Steven Spielberg’s E.T.- The Extra Terrestrial and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. After establishing her own casting company in 1983, MARCI LIROFF CASTING, Liroff cast the smash hits Footloose, St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink, The Iron Giant, The Spitfire Grill, Untamed Heart, Freaky Friday, Mean Girls, and most recently,Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. This year, Liroff makes her foray into television, casting the NBC series The Paul Reiser Show.  She recently launched, alongside Bonnie Gillespie and Mitchell Fink, Your Actor MBA, an online course offering creative and business tools for the working actor.

How has the landscape of comedy changed in the last 10 years?

Since I mainly work in features, I’m going to speak to that.  What we largely see in film (television follows suit here too), is when a film becomes a hit, everyone tries to grab that magic formula, and they just keep trying to make the same film.  You can see how these trends rise and fall by looking at the successful films over the last several years and see how everyone else tries to copy that same formula. In the early 2000s you saw a lot of broad family comedies like How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Big Momma’s House, Legally Blonde, & Nutty Professor – which sprang us into the more extreme comedies like American Pie and Scary Movie. Then we hit the wave of sweet and funny movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Elf, and Meet the Parents. That produced an edgier and hilarious group of comedies like Wedding Crashers, 40 Yr. Old Virgin, and The Hangover. Everyone is trying to duplicate what works and ride that wave.

That said, I get really excited to see the gems like Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, 500 Days of Summer, and Slumdog Millionaire be successful in a sea of HUGE tent-pole, sequels, and franchise movies. It gives me hope to see a movie like Juno, which cost $7.5M to shoot, and made $227M worldwide(according to IMDbPro).  It shows that there is definitely room in the marketplace for the “little guy”.  As long as you have a unique story, and tell it well….everybody wins. When I get burned-out by the grind of my job (yes, sometimes it gets hard!), these movies serve to remind me why I do what I do.

Besides relying on agents & managers, how do you find new comic talents? Do you see stand up, improv shows, theater in LA? Any favorite spots?

Yes, I seek out all the usual places – The Improv, The Comedy Store, Groundlings, Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Second City, IO West.  But now, with the Internet, I can do SO much research online through YouTube. Facebook also helps me track great and funny people that are breaking through on the web.

Have you ever called in someone after spotting them on a web series?

I’m getting ready to – can’t tell you who yet!

What are the best ways for non-represented actors to get your attention to come in for a particular project?

When I’m casting a film or television I make a wish-list of actors that I’d like to bring in. Then I go through all the agent and manager submissions and add them to that list. Then I meet and pre-read actors that look interesting from these submissions whom I don’t know – based on their credits and demo reels.  Then I like to think outside the box for ideas that don’t necessarily fit in with how the character is described, but would be really interesting to see play the part because they bring something to it that’s not on the page and will be unexpected. For me, those are usually the most exciting casting choices.  If we still haven’t found what we’re looking for, we’ll open it up to submissions on Actor’s Access and I’ll bring in actors who fit the description and pre-read them.  In terms of getting on my radar if you’re not represented, you can either send a postcard for a specific role in a specific project or submit yourself through Actor’s Access when you see a role you’re right for.

What advice do you have for actors who have done more dramas who want more access to comedy auditions?

I really can’t bring you in if you don’t have comedy training and/or have done some comedy films/tv shows.  Having training and actual on-set or stage experience in comedy is going to put you at the top of the pile. There are so many funny and well-trained actors in town, there’s really no reason to bring in someone who doesn’t have the experience or timing yet.  On the set or in the audition room is not the place to “find your chops”.  SO, if you don’t have the training – go get some!

Who are the new & upcoming comic talents you expect to see lots from in the next couple of years?

I just cast two very funny guys in my pilot, The Paul Reiser Show, which is got picked up for series (mid-season). I think Andrew Daly is just hilarious and could be the next Steve Carell. He comes from UPC and Mad TV, and was on the HBO Series Eastbound & Down. I also cast Larry Dorf as a guest star, which will recur on the series playing Paul Reiser’s agent.  He’s kind of a mix between Jack Lemmon and Tom Hanks.  I just love this guy.  He also comes from a big comedy background – The Groundlings.

Anything else you’d like to tell our readers about auditioning, casting and/or comedy?

What I’m seeing a lot of these days are actors mistakenly taking a Casting Director workshop for actually training.  I see them put the workshop on their resume as “training”.  It’s really not.  You’re really just doing a paid cold-reading for a Casting Director – and maybe getting some insight as to how their office works.  So I urge everyone who’s starting out to take some legitimate classes.  Find an acting teacher who’s method syncs with yours and train.  Don’t forget that your training doesn’t stop when you start working.  I just shot an episode of my web-series, Your Actor MBA, and talked to 3 working actors in their 40s and they were ALL still taking class. Another thing I’d like to see actors do is to use the Breakdowns as a reference only. Don’t approach your audition as “What are they looking for?” or, “How can I make myself into a square and get it through this round hole?”  Rather than trying to fit yourself into what you think we want, make some character choices and bring in a fully fleshed-out character that shows us who YOU are!

To learn more about Marci’s new venture Your Actor MBA, click here.  She describes it as “an eleven week on-line video course that gives actors the opportunity to learn the business from industry professionals about their craft. It was designed to make you feel like you were at a wonderful dinner party and were able to ask all the questions that you’d like to talk about with our guests.  My partners and I have been working on this since January and we’ve come up with a very exciting line-up of guests for our weekly episodes which will show actors what they need to succeed in this business, in a very entertaining way – but not just talking heads or a boring interview!”  The program features guests from all aspects of the industry, from showrunners to stylists, from acting coaches to financial experts.

  1. Ingeborg Riedmaier on Tuesday 17, 2010

    Great interview…congrats on YOUR ACTOR MBA Marci, all very exciting and a huge help to us actors :) Thank you!

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  3. Jeffrey Marcus on Tuesday 17, 2010

    Marci Liroff is the best! Her love for actors comes through in everything she does.