This past spring, social media lit up around a very new kind of American Sweetheart: 30-year-old Ronald Gladden, a solar contractor who believed he was signing up for a documentary on the jury system and instead ended up being the adored lead presence of Amazon Freevee’s fish-out-of-water comedy “Jury Duty.” Gladden answered a Craigslist ad, the producers took a shine to him, and history was made.
“So, I wasn’t part of the Ronald process,” Emmy-nominated casting director Susie Farris told TheWrap. “Ronald is a real person, and I don’t cast reality. [Laughs] But you know, obviously, the crazy part about the show is that every single person except for one is an actor.”
And that’s what made “Jury Duty” one of the year’s most singular TV challenges: casting buoyant, quick-witted, versatile actors that the general public would not recognize to improvise against Gladden as his fellow jurors, the legal teams and even the no-nonsense judge.
“We were looking for super interesting, regular-feeling people who you would encounter on a jury in Los Angeles,” Farris said. “And we were definitely looking for actors with comedic or improv backgrounds. We read people from the Groundlings and iO and all those places. It was an amazing opportunity for me to draw on my background of casting ensemble comedies for so many years. I got to draw from my pool of actors who I’ve always cast as guest stars who haven’t made it to the series regular level yet.”
But that might change for many of them, a veritable lot of comic brio, each more endearingly eccentric than the last. One of them, the hilarious Mekki Leeper (who stars as Noah), even snagged a Emmy nomination for writing the episode “Ineffective Assistance.”
But perhaps the most impressive “get” of the cast was its most famous one: the eternally game James Marsden, also Emmy-nominated for playing an irascible, vain and completely made-up version of himself. (One of the funniest reveals early in the series is that Gladden is not terribly familiar with him at the outset, despite Marsden appearing in dozens of major films.)
But if Marsden’s performance wasn’t pitch-perfect and his rapport with Gladden not completely genuine (a rapport that at one point had him convincing him to front the blame for an unfortunate bathroom gaffe), “Jury Duty” would fail.
“James is amazing and often at the top of many, many lists,” Farris, who counts “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Superstore” and “Wanderlust” among her many triumphant casting efforts, said. “He has earned the right to be picky in his career. I had worked with James before on HBO’s “Tour de Pharmacy” that our Jake Szymanski also directed… so it was nice that there was a personal relationship that existed before. He certainly had had a lot of concerns about not wanting to punch down, not wanting our hero to be the butt of the joke, which was also super important to the entire creative team. So, in that respect, we got really lucky.”
And so did audiences who witnessed one of the most natural bromances on TV unfold, which even extended to real life, as Gladden and Marsden are still friends, and shared a congratulatory phone call on Emmy nomination morning.
Mission accomplished, as they say. But what if Farris had to do it all over again?
“I’m there. Don’t know how they’d do it, but I’m in,” Farris said. “I love this group, so yes, I’d be very honored.”
“Jury Duty” is now streaming all episodes on Amazon Freevee.