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FROM THIS EPISODE

Crazy Crazy

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day. He's casting a show right now and has a tough decision to make.

The trouble with casting is that it's in many ways the most important part of what we do here in Hollywood -- casting really can make or break a hit show or movie -- but it's also the thing that we do totally in the dark.

A script can go through five, six, endless revisions before the project is a go. Different ideas and endings can be tested out. I know a writer who wrote a really great, really gripping cop action drama. Four times. It was what we call a two-hander -- a movie about two people, two cops, a buddy picture. Two names above the title, in other words. But since no one knew which two names were the way to go, he ended up writing it four ways, with four hypothetical casts, and four distinct versions of his movie. Once for DeNiro and Robert DuVall. Once for Will Smith and Jamie Foxx. Once for Topher Grace and Queen Latifah. And once for Frankie Muniz, the young man who plays Malcolm in the Middle and a Saint Bernard.

Honestly, and I'm not just saying this, but the Frankie Muniz version was the best. First of all, because Frankie Muniz is a really good actor and has great comic talent. But I also liked what he did with the Saint Bernard. I'm not sure Robert DuVall or Queen Latifah could have really sold that material as well.

The movie didn't go, of course -- I mean, most of them don't -- but it was a great exercise for the writer because he got to see up close just how important casting is. Plus, he got paid to see it up close. The most successful and meaningful experiences in Hollywood, I've found, are the ones you get paid for.

But you can't really do that with casting. Stars, even teeny tiny ones you've never heard of, won't audition. Stars -- even ones who really aren't stars but have ambitious managers and somewhat delusional agents -- won't even read the script unless you offer them the role. So you really don't know what you've got, not just talent-wise but temperament-wise, when you commit to hiring an actor.

Back to my friend, the one casting the TV show. He called me to ask about an actress they were considering. He knew that I had worked with her before, and he wanted to know what I thought.

"Is she crazy?" he asked. "Or is she crazy?"

I knew what he meant. He meant is she zany, is she larger than life, is she kooky and basically okay? Or is she crazy. Is she a screamer, or a tantrum-izer, does she have a creepy manager or a sociopathic agent or a history of odd, destructive behavior. Does she hit people, or cry for no reason, or do anything else to slow down and gum up the stately, expensive process of filming 22 episodes of American television.

Because we were on the phone, I answered him this way: "Oh, no, no, no. She's crazy. But she's not crazy. She's crazy crazy. Not crazy crazy."

And I was telling the truth, by the way, which I know by now I need to specify. Casting her in his show will be a smart move. In fact, if we were speaking in person, and I had wanted to say that she wasn't just crazy but crazy, I wouldn't even really have said the word. I would have sort of half-mouthed, half-whispered it. Like, she's crazy.

Because we all know that pretty much the lower the volume, the bigger the impact.

Crazy? Crazy? Or c-r-a-z-y?

Difficult? Difficult? Or d-i-f-f-i-c-u-l-t?

Once you've mastered that, you've mastered casting. And once you've mastered casting, you've got a hit on your hands.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll talk about how to dress. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.

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