‘Feud’ Casting Director Eric Dawson on Finding the Right Actors for the Series

“I would say out of the 150 people, probably 144 of them were auditions.” – Casting Director Eric Dawson

Feud: Bette and Joan, the Ryan Murphy-created limited series about the rivalry between Hollywood legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, has received six Emmy nominations for acting. It also received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special for casting directors Eric Dawson and Robert J. Ulrich. Speaking about his work on the series with Deadline, Dawson — who previously won an Emmy with Ulrich for casting Murphy’s series Glee — speaks about casting the series and why he is most proud of casting Jackie Hoffman on the series.

Dawson reveals that aside from the biggest names on the series the large cast was rounded out by auditions. He explains, “This project had over 150 actors that we hired. Some were offers, most were readings. Even Dominic Burgess, who played Victor Buono was a reading. Alison Wright was an offer, but Kiernan Shipka, who played B.D., was a reading. Jackie Hoffman, who was Mamacita, was a reading. So it’s a combination. A lot of times with Ryan, we start with lists, and he doesn’t need to see a 20-page list. He wants to see a one-page list of the people who are best for the role. After that, a lot of times he’ll say he’s not quite sure—’Should we put some people on tape?’ or ‘We should read it,’ things like that. It’s always a combination, but I would say out of the 150 people, probably 144 of them were auditions.”

One of the biggest challenges for Dawson and his team was casting actors to portray real-life individuals. He says, “I think we ended up casting over 60 people to portray real-life characters, from actors, to the president of SAG, to the ex-husbands, to the children, and all that.”

Dawson praises Murphy for working so effectively with actors. He explains, “It’s a wonderful quality that Ryan has—he recognizes talent. He also recognizes that actors can do many, many things, and doesn’t pigeonhole actors. He really understands the qualities they can bring to different characters.” In particular, Dawson praises Murphy’s willingness to work the shoot around the schedules of particular actors that he wants involved in the project — and how much that is appreciated by the talent. He continues, “Often, really good actors have other projects going on. Another thing that Ryan does, which is really great, is he doesn’t let date conflicts get in the way. People like Judy Davis weren’t available for a lot of the shoot—Stanley Tucci had date conflicts, Alfred [Molina] had date conflicts. Rather than just move on to the next choice, Ryan made it work. I think that’s something that Ryan does that most producers don’t. I think that’s why he gets the people he gets.”

One casting decision that Dawson is Joan Crawford’s housekeeper Mamacita, portrayed by Jackie Hoffman, who has since been nominated for an Emmy for her role. Dawson reveals, “She’s probably the one that I’m the most proud of in the whole cast. It was a role that was not very defined—Mamacita had literally one picture online. I think when we first got the script, we weren’t sure how big a role Mamacita was going to be. We did lists for the role and Ryan said, ‘Why don’t you go ahead and read it?’ So we released it to breakdown, and we read people. She went on tape, and she just had the greatest attack on the character. We sent Ryan over a few auditions with her at the top, and he immediately went straight to her. He called me and said, ‘She got every single line.'”