The saying “90 percent of directing is casting” has been attributed to everyone from John Ford to Robert Altman to Martin Scorsese, but in the case of the much-talked-about Netflix romantic political drama “The Diplomat,” , you might even be able to bump that number up to 95, especially as casting director Julie Schubert puts it, getting your first-choice leads is the ultimate Hail Mary pass.
“Keri Russell was on the first list,” says Schubert, who can barely contain his excitement for the versatile actress. “She is truly one of the best human beings you will ever meet in your entire life. Her and her one of the hardest working people you will ever meet in your entire life. She is from top to bottom: pure joy.”
As written, ambassador Kate Wyler checks a lot of boxes for Russell’s abilities (strong willed, great manner with funny repartee, unforced sexiness), but for the role of Hal, the roguish, charismatic, rising husband with benefits of Kate, there’s The role could have taken a few directions, but Schubert knew, as a longtime fan, that Rufus Sewell was the one.
“Rufus was also number one on the list,” gushes Schubert, who also cast the British actor in the Netflix heist miniseries “Kaleidoscope.” “The thing about Rufus, I think a lot of people haven’t necessarily experienced it necessarily, is that he’s fun. So cleverly funny. And you saw a bit of that when she guest-starred on ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.’ [in Season 2]. He’s always a bad guy, he’s brilliant at it. But there is such charm in him.”
“The Diplomat” has one of the most unusual overtones in drama television (imagine if “House of Cards”—also starring Schubert—written by a combination of Greta Gerwig and Amy Sherman-Palladino, speaking of “Maisel”), and The supporting cast was just as important, so Schubert and his partners (including Lucinda Syson and Natasha Vincent) turned to the London stage for those roles, played vividly by actors as varied as Ali Ahn, David Gyasi, Nana Mensah, Celia Imrie and Ato Essandoh. (WHO TheWrap legitimately composed a symphonic poem for this season.)
“President Rayburn was the one that I think we all had a point of view of what we thought he would be,” says Schubert. “And I remember emailing everyone, saying, ‘What do you think of Michael McKean? Literally the first thing I said in an email. And then the conversations went on and on. And while Rayburn is incredibly important to the story, he’s a character that goes in and out and then about two months later someone said, ‘What about Michael McKean?’ do it.'”
So what was showrunner Debora Cahn’s (“Homeland,” “Fosse/Verdon”) casting directive? “Really good actors, pardon my French,” laughs Schubert. “Everyone was very, very protective of the script and nobody really read it. [in the early phases]. The only time they can read it is if they get an offer. Eventually, they all got script pages, but, for example, the agents didn’t really have them at the beginning. But everyone who read said they wanted to be a part of something special.”
Schubert is thrilled to be working on Season 2, which is already underway, but calls for silence as to where Kate, Hal, and their tireless team are headed.
“I’ll be killed if I talk about anything, so I’ll politely refrain from answering,” Schubert says with a smile. But the diverse and witty cast of actors certainly adds a touch of joy to their profession. “When you have a creative team that has a real point of view and people with a real understanding of who these characters are, it makes it so much more fun because you can really dive into the nitty-gritty of what the actors are going to do. bring to the table.”
“The Diplomat” is now streaming on Netflix