Interview: How Casting Directors Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee Found the Cast of ‘Palm Royale’

The casting directors also talk about self-tape submissions and being adaptable in auditions.

With actors like Kristen Wiig, Allison Janney, Josh Lucas, Laura Dern and Carol Burnett, the AppleTV+ series, Palm Royale, is a must watch. Set in 1969, Wiig stars as Maxine Dellacorte-Simmons, a newcomer Palm Beach, Florida who makes it her mission to join an ultra-ritzy country club to hob nob with the town’s high society crowd. Casting directors Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee assembled the terrific cast and had no shortage of praise for each actor. “They bring so much to each of those characters,” Barden told me.

In this interview, Barden and Schnee, who are also the casting directors behind Stillwater, 13 Reasons Why (and many, many others) talked about finding the cast for Palm Royale, including Carol Burnett and Josh Lucas, self-tape submissions and being adaptable in auditions. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Carol Burnett is in this, and I mean, come on. When I saw her name, I was like, “Yup, I’m watching this.” How did she get involved in this?

Kerry Barden: We started making lists, as we do, and I had put her on a list and everybody got excited about it. And then Apple was like, “Yeah, she’s pretty old. Is she fragile or is she still healthy?” The woman’s doing a six city, one woman show tour, so I think she’s probably okay.

She said that when she saw the cast, which was at that point, just Laura Dern, Kristen Wiig and then Alison, she said, “Yes, I want to work with these ladies.” And then she met with Tate [Taylor, Director] and they fell in love.

For the cast, did you guys shoot for the moon and get it?

Kerry Barden: We did. We went over a lot of different options because [creator and writer] Abe Sylvia and Tate had their own ideas, of course, and Apple had their own ideas. So, we just started that process and most of the people either met or read.

Laura and Kristen came with it when we first got attached to it, and they kind of changed some of the stuff with Ricky Martin‘s character. Originally, he was supposed to be a Vietnam vet but because of his age, he became a Korean vet. And I think Tate met with Ricky for about an hour and a half once we were interested in talking to him about it. He’d done Evita on Broadway and the only television he’d really done was that Versace thing. And then everybody else read.

Paul Schnee: The old fashioned way.

Kerry Barden: Yeah, the old fashioned way of getting a job. Some people read for different roles and were cast as something else. Paul Sand, I don’t know if you’ve gotten to his episode yet, had read for the role that we ended up giving to Bruce Dern. He did not read, obviously being Laura’s father.

Paul Schnee: And being Bruce Dern.

Kerry Barden: Yeah, and being Bruce Dern, but there was a question as to whether he was going to do it or not, so we started reading actors in that age range. And Paul read for that and then was kind enough to move to another role. Which is a fun role because he’s Carol Burnett’s former boyfriend, ultimately in his storyline.

It’s always a thrill when you’re reading for one role, and you’re asked to read for something else. And that’s the role that clicks and you’re cast in. How does that work when you’re watching somebody read for one thing and then ask them to read for something else? What are you looking at when that happens?

Paul Schnee: It’s sort of case by case, you kind of you never really know. Sometimes someone will have a certain vibe at an audition that’ll speak just as well or better to a different part. I mean, it sort of depends on the actor, but it happens all the time. It happens a lot.

Kerry Barden: Yeah, and this was a fun one because it did draw a lot of interest from people who would normally be the bigger series regulars and so it was kind of fun to be able to put some of those ladies and men in roles that normally they actually wouldn’t have done probably.

Paul Schnee: We all got lucky with Kristen and Laura anchoring the cast because that, I think it’s fair to say, raised the bar immediately for other actors who, as Kerry said, might not normally even do a television show.

Kerry Barden: I don’t think Julia Duffy and Mindy Cohen have not been in these supporting roles normally but they just shine. I mean, they bring so much to each of those characters that wasn’t necessarily there on the page.

What was the hardest role to cast?

Kerry Barden: Probably Ricky’s role because it was so all over the place initially.

I worked with Tate and we had worked with Tate and Abe on Filthy Rich and those were all live auditions with input from Tate in the room and so it’s weird.

Paul Schnee: That was in the before times, wasn’t it?

Kerry Barden: Yeah, and now it’s a different story. Because we’re dealing with self-tapes and what Paul and I know about somebody’s body of work. And so, we’re sometimes having to have a bigger discussion about why we think somebody is right for a role that they may not be quite as aware of as career-wise, so it’s been fun.

But it has been a challenge to ask stuff from tapes. It’s a different world that we’ve all gotten used to it, obviously.

I feel sometimes I do a self-tape 100 times and then I’m like, “Ah! I’ll just send this one out.”

Kerry Barden: You eventually have to sign off on [laughter] and let it go. I have a friend who was a photo realist painter that worked in Pointillism and his gallery owner would just take his paintings from his studio because he would never finish. I’m talking taking wet paintings to the studio. [laughter],

Paul Schnee: I understand from the actor’s point of view for sure. Because you do miss, and this is not exclusive to Palm Royale obviously, but in the job interview part of the audition process, you do lose… at least in the initial reading just getting if you don’t know the actor yet… that part of just saying, “Hello,” and seeing what they’re like and what their personality’s like. I think a lot of actors underestimate the sort of HR aspect of our jobs, which is we’re casting a whole human, not just the actor. So, we want to make sure that you’re nice and on time and all that.

Kerry Barden: We cast Dominic Burgess in Ma with Tate. Eliza Johnson directed a few episodes of the original Feud about Betty Davis and so I had seen him in that, and I introduced him to Tate when we were doing Ma and then Tate cast him in Breaking News in Yuba County and now in this.  James Urbaniak, Paul and I have known forever, he plays the man that runs the country club. He doesn’t have a lot to do, but he’s just so present when he is there. And then, Aqeela Zoll, who plays the Prince of Luxembourg’s supposed sister is somebody that we had cast in a really big role in, Filthy Rich. We called her and said, “Do you want to do us a favor and have some fun?” [laughter] and she’s like, “Yep.” She has three or four scenes with just two-word lines or something,

Casting Directors Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee on Auditioning for Period Shows and Films

I love watching shows that are set in different periods of time. Do you have difficulty finding actors who can fit into different eras?

Kerry Barden: With this age group in Palm Royale, I think it’s not such a difficult thing. I think with younger kids that have been on cell phones their entire lives and, God love them, they have a different outlook on what the world is, I think. This world is very social and disconnected and at the same time, immediate… but disconnected because you can’t be talking to someone all the time on your cell phone.

Paul Schnee: I was just saying this to my wife just the other day because we were auditioning something that had a flashback that took place in the ’50s, and this show took place in the ’60s, obviously, and it took me three or four years to realize that there was no uptalk in the ’50s and ’60s until a lot of younger actors [laughter] had fallen into that tick, just because of generationally. I really hear it now.

Casting Directors Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee on Casting Josh Lucas in ‘Palm Royale’

I want to talk about casting Josh Lucas. I’ve talked to him a couple times and he’s just the nicest guy. How did you find him?

Kerry Barden: I’ve been working with Josh for 30 years, back in New York when I first started working on independent films there and we cast Josh in a little film that never came out. I’ve forgotten the name of it but it was about farmers in Pennsylvania. And then he’s one of the bros in Mary Heron’s, American Psycho. So, we’ve known Josh forever.

And then when they were saying the 1940s, ’50s Paul Newman type, it was like, that’s Josh, he has those Paul Newman beautiful blue eyes. So, he read the script and was interested, and Tate drove up to his place and they had dinner and probably a few drinks and Josh signed on. He’s just exactly what this part is.

Paul Schnee: He looks like those posters of a dashing airline pilot from the late ’60s, sideburns and everything.

What Do Casting Directors Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee Look for in a Self-Tape?

When you’re watching self-tapes, what do you wish people would stop doing?

Kerry Barden: I think people have gotten pretty good at it. When we first started getting self-tapes, as opposed to just FaceTime auditions, which we’d done for 10 years before COVID started, I think it was just the sound and lighting that were not so great initially. And then a lot of people would shoot in their kitchen and have distracting things in the background [laughter] If you’re focusing on something other than the acting it’s not good.

Paul Schnee: I think to Kerry’s point, everyone’s so used to it that it’s kind of leveled out and everyone knows how to do it. And there was much more, I don’t want to say people are unforgiving now, but there was a lot more forgiveness in the early stages, like your room behind you was messy or there’s a pile of laundry or whatever. And I think everyone has gotten pretty savvy about plain backgrounds and head and shoulders shots.

I think thing that one thing that happened, we were seeing a lot of advantages being taken unnecessarily, in my opinion, about people micing themselves or getting really good wardrobe or if the scene took place in a car, they’d go out to their car and they’d film it there, and then they’d edit it.

Honestly, you’re either good or you’re not, that that stuff doesn’t really make a difference. It can look better, but we’ve never heard a director say, “Oh, that guy was not great, but he was in his car and he was wearing a suit. Let’s call him back.” So that’s gone away.

Demo Reel Advice from Casting Directors Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee

I want to ask you about demo reels. Are you guys still watching those or are you more into specific clips of the kind of character type you’re looking for?

Kerry Barden: The thing I’ve been noticing is that people have put their demo reels into different categories. So, I’ll see a drama reel and then a comedy reel and then a commercial reel and it’s fun to see different kinds of aspects of an actor, so I like that.

Paul Schnee: And if you’re starting out, I don’t know honestly the sort of moral or legal aspects of this, but a lot of reps and actors will share self-tapes from other projects, which if you don’t have a ton of experience, you don’t have a ton on your reel yet, those are hit and miss in terms of how helpful they are, but it’s better than nothing.

In my opinion, there’s nothing better than to see you on a set. Even if it’s a student film set or a short or something, just so we can see a real piece of work, for lack of a better word.

Kerry Barden: This one kid sent in a monologue, and he was really good and I’m watching the monologue for about a minute or so, and then I thought, “This sounds so familiar.” And then as I got through the monologue, it’s like, “Oh, this is Anthony Perkins from Psycho.” But he wasn’t trying to do Anthony Perkins, he was doing his own version of Norman Bates but I was like, “This kid’s a really good actor.”

That’s a ballsy move to do that.

Paul Schnee: You better be really good if you’re going to make that move.

Kerry Barden: It’s dangerous to do something that iconic but, he did make it his own.

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