Jon Comerford won an Emmy this year for his casting work on the sixth and final season of Schitt’s Creek. The show itself collected a record-breaking nine Emmys at this year’s awards show and became the first comedy series to win the four main comedy acting categories in the same season. The feat was made even more impressive by the fact that the Pop TV show hadn’t received one Emmy before its final season. We spoke with Comerford and his associate Sara Dang about their experience casting such a record-breaking series, as well as what it’s like to be a part of their New Life Casting team. Keep reading for a window into the casting people, including their stories of where their careers began.
I always like to hear how people got into the profession of casting. When was the moment that you knew it was the career for you?
Comerford: I was in love with television from an early age, and I would spend hours every night watching it with my mom. It was our family thing to do growing up, and I became fascinated with TV. So I was an actor from the time I was about 17 until I was about 23, just trying to make a living. I remember being unemployed, and a friend of mine asked if I wanted to help work on some short films for the National Film Board of Canada. He figured that since I knew a lot of actors, I could help get them to be in the shorts. There were four shorts all together, and I cast Kathleen Robertson in one of them when she was just 13. And the head of CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] casting came when they were screened at the National Film Board. After the screening, she asked me if I had cast the four shorts. I replied, “I’m not sure, but I got all the actors for them.” Then she asked if I’d done it by myself, and I told her I had. She said, “Well, how would you like to come in on Monday morning to my office?” So I went that Monday morning, and she offered me a job as a casting assistant at CBC. And that was the moment I knew that casting is what I wanted to do.
What a way to break into the business! What about for you, Sara?
Dang: My story is a little different and starts when I was working as a receptionist at a salon while planning to go back to school. At the time, Jon was working with Lisa Parasyn, and they were looking for an assistant. Lisa asked me about the position twice, and I had turned her down both times. The third time she asked, though, for some reason I said yes without even thinking about it. I don’t know what changed my mind, but I came in for the interview and they hired me on the spot. I was shocked because I didn’t have any previous experience. And I’ll say that prior to working in casting, I was very timid and shy and didn’t want to go out of my comfort zone. This job actually made me the person I am today. Now I stand up for myself when things aren’t right, and Jon has played a big part in all of it. He’s shown a lot of trust and belief in me, as well as provided endless opportunities to grow my career. I will never forget the things he’s taught me along the way.
It’s inspiring to hear about the genuine care and mentorship that’s happening with your team.
Comerford: We are a team, which includes [New Life Casting assistants] Tannaz and Camille. Sara calls us a little family, and I agree. I also want to add that Sara is going to be a really great casting director. She started as my assistant and is now working as an associate, putting casting sessions together. There’s this amazing ability she has for names and for putting lists together of actors that would be right for certain parts. And I think it’s important to note that we’re always on the actor’s side. It’s the grandest job in the world to be able to work with actors to get the take that they’re happy with and that we’re happy with — that’s the one we use.
Speaking of how your team is very pro-actor, are there any inspiring stories from casting Schitt’s Creek that you can share?
Comerford: Well, before booking the role of Alexis, Annie Murphy hadn’t worked for around two years. So the day she was cast was unbelievable because she had been about to give up and leave the business. And then I already knew Emily Hampshire, who plays Stevie, from casting her when she was 16 in a movie of the week called Every 9 Seconds. When she came in to audition for Stevie, she didn’t give a great first read for the role. After she finished the scene, Emily pulled the top part of her sweater over her head and ran out the door. I went and got her, and she came back to do the scene again. From there, it was such a slam dunk to cast her in the role. It was amazing finding the core cast members, but casting additional roles on a weekly basis was exciting in a different way. That all works in a very structured way like a puzzle, which was something we had to learn.
You learned it very well, according to your recent Emmy win for Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series. How did it feel to win for the show’s sixth and final season?
Comerford: I mean, it was an unbelievable feeling to receive it after six years. Sara and I had won a CSA [Canadian Screen Award] for it, but to win an Emmy was … I still pinch myself. It was very exciting, and I think the first person I called was Sara because she’s been with me on the show for almost its entire run.
Dang: I joined toward the end of season one, and it’s been so fun to cast the characters because of how good the show is. We were always so excited to read the scripts when they’d arrive. But when I heard that Jon had won, I just couldn’t believe it. It was so unreal.
Amongst other new projects, Comerford and Dang are casting the upcoming BET mini-series entitled The Porter. And knowing the New Life Casting team, it’s sure to be an enjoyable experience. “Because if it’s not fun, we’re doing something wrong,” Comerford noted. It’s a fitting work mantra for someone Dang likens to Ed O’Neill due to a physical resemblance and Comerford’s sense for comedy. “Sometimes Jon doesn’t mean to be funny, but he is a very funny person,” Dang shared. Comerford added that if a project were made about his associate, it would be a stand-up comedy piece that would star Ali Wong as Dang. “It would be called ‘What the Heck?’ because that’s her office line when things go wrong,” Comerford said with a laugh. The casting director and his team demonstrate that a fun approach to casting can lead to great things, demonstrated by his recent Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series win for Schitt’s Creek.
This interview has been edited and condensed.