“He had been auditioning for me for ten years. I had never hired him for anything.” – Casting Director Jeff Greenberg on Modern Family Star, Eric Stonestreet
Emmy Award-winning casting director Jeff Greenberg has worked in casting since the early 1980s, and he has found success in casting for television in multiple decades. One of his most successful — and the one he won an Emmy for — is Modern Family, which will begin its eighth season this fall. In an interview with Observer, Greenberg goes into detail about how the series was originally cast and why the most important thing he looked for was chemistry.
Knowing that this was an ensemble comedy, Greenberg had to ensure that the ensemble would work well together. He explains, “When we were casting the pilot of Modern Family, you try to have ‘chemistry readings’ between characters that are gonna work together; especially husband and wife, or siblings, whenever you can… But for Jesse Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet— we had lots of different options for Mitchell and Cameron. During the audition process we had different Camerons read with different Mitchells.”
Though audiences can see the natural chemistry between Ferguson and Stonestreet, it was just a spark during the auditioning process. He explains, “Jesse was hired first and then kept looking for Cameron, so we would have (Tyler Ferguson) read with all the Cameron choices. He really really clicked with Eric. It was something you just sort of cross your fingers about; that there will be a palpable chemistry there. And they absolutely had it: the first time they read together was the first time they met. They didn’t know each other at all, they just read and they just looked like a couple. That’s something you hope for.”
In fact, Greenberg was particularly proud of finding the right role for Stonestreet after a decade of rejections. He explains, “He had been auditioning for me for ten years. I had never hired him for anything. But he said before Modern Family the longest he ever worked in anything was eight days, which is what they usually hire you for for an hour show. I just always believed in his talent: he’s awesome and it was so exciting to see him connect with this character in such a way that it just felt so original. The clown stuff was just brilliant, and he won two Emmys. When they win the Emmys it makes me feel very proud that I have a small part in that.”
Another example of chemistry that thankfully worked is one of the show’s other couples. Greenberg reveals, “Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen didn’t read together. They both auditioned, but got hired at the last minute, so we didn’t have a chance. We were just happy to get two actors. They were hired days before we began. It took eleven weeks to cast the pilot, and Ty Burrell we brought into the studio network the very first session and they didn’t approve him for two months. They just didn’t see it. We just kept trying and trying until it clicked.”
Another challenge was casting Rico Rodriguez as Manny because it was difficult to find a child actor with the right persona. Greenberg explains, “One of the most challenging roles to cast was probably Manny. It was a 40-year-old persona inside in an 11-year old body. It was a really challenging part. I auditioned 198 boys between the ages of 8 and 13. Only eight of them were good enough to bring to the producers. Only eight of 198. It was real slim pickings. Rico, who’s great in the part, he was still a raw talent. We had to work with him a bit because at 11, you don’t have the kind of experience. The other kid that was down to the wire with him was more experienced, sort of slick—he seemed like a Hollywood kid, you know? And Rico just seemed so real. He made you laugh and cry at the same time. He’s so dear, and old soul. And it was such an original character so it got a lot of attention.”