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Interview:Jason La Padura

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On June 29, 2007, RyanGibsonStewart held an interview via phone with Heroes casting director, Jason La Padura.

Ryan Stewart: I want to thank you for taking time out of your schedule for an interview. I know you're very busy casting for Heroes and other shows. Just out of curiosity, what other shows are you casting right now, or is it just Heroes?

Jason La Padura: Well, we're also going to be doing the new CBS series Cane. It stars Jimmy Smits. It's about a Cuban-American family in South Florida who are in the sugar, rum, and nightclub business.

I'm sure that those shows are taking up a lot of your time.

Yeah. [laughs]

Well, I know you're a member of the CSA, the Casting Society of America. I'm just curious what kind of training or education you need to be a casting director.

Well, you know, there's no set sort of course of study for something like casting . I got into casting because I had been working in the business since I was a teenager. I had originally gotten in as an actor. I started as an actor and stage manager, and then I was looking for something to do. I lived in New York when I was a kid. I had been going to the theater since I was, you know, like 12 years old.

I know you did some Broadway.

Yes, I'd been going to Broadway since from a very young age, and I'd seen a lot of actors on stage. I worked at the public theater back in the '70's as a stage manager. So I had seen a lot of actors backstage as well as on the different stages that were there, and I was looking for a place to put all this knowledge. I ran into a friend of mine who used to work at the casting department at the New York Shakespeare Festival, and she had an opening in her office and that's when I went to work for her. That's how I got into that.

There are specific requirements to become a member of CSA, but those are more like, you have to have two years online experience, you know, certain criteria you have to meet to become a CSA member.

Right, so there's no formal training, just criteria you have to meet.

There isn't formal training, no, there isn't. It's one of those things that almost anybody can say they can be a casting director, and sometimes I do think that people do kind of wake up in the morning and go, "Oh, I can do that!" We have a joke where we say that everybody has two jobs in life: their own and casting. Because everybody, even my mother, will say, "You know who'd be great for that part?..." [laughs]

Actually, that was one of the questions one of the members on our site had--What if somebody knows of somebody who's going to be perfect for the next Heroes role, then how do we get ahold of you for that?

Yeah, exactly. Like I said, everybody thinks they can do it.

Now you own your business with your sister, right? What's that like, working with your sister, Natalie Hart?

It's fantastic. We're very close, obviously. When we were kids, we moved around a lot. Our parents were artists. So we moved from place to place, and so we had a hard time setting up friendships with other people because every 6-9 months, we'd move again. So we kept leaving our friends behind. So we became very, very close. We also have two brothers.

Are they in the business also?

No, they're not. But Natalie and I are particularly close. When I was back in New York, I was in business with a man named Stanley Soble. Our assistant went home for the Christmas holidays and she never came back. I was sort of left in the lurch, and I asked Natalie if she wanted to come to work for us and she said she would. That was, I don't know how many years ago, 20 years ago? [laughs] And we're still working together.

That's really neat. I'm sure it's forged a nice relationship between the two of you.

Well it's great because it's a small family business. I mean, Keri Owens, who's the associate on Heroes, Keri's been with us now for like 8 years! Melissa, who is our associate on Cane, has been with us for four years. We pride ourselves in trying to elevate our assistants to associate positions on projects that we're doing. We like to think of ourselves, as I said, as a small family business.

That's fantastic. Now, I did have a couple of questions about casting for Heroes.


You cast for major characters and for minor characters. Is that correct?

Yes, that's correct. As long as somebody actually has something to say, we cast that role.

Okay. What's that process like for either a minor character or a major character.

Well, it's different. For minor characters, generally what we do is we put out a breakdown. Keri will read the script and she will write a breakdown for the entire script. Major characters, and the guest stars, and all the co-stars. And then what we do is, after she's written it, Natalie and I take a look at it, we approve it, we send it out--we post it to breakdown services. And then we get submissions electronically, and we go over them on the breakdown site. And we look at pictures and resumes, and we decide who we want to bring in.

When it's co-stars, we're maybe looking for a specific kind of look, or it could be something like that. So that's something you can do relatively easily online. When it comes to the guest stars, we need to really be able to see what the people have done, what they're about, we pay a lot of attention to people's training, their previous credits. We're always on the lookout for new people and new talent.

Right, of course. Now, you've had some pretty big guest stars on Heroes--Malcolm McDowell, Stan Lee was on, George Takei. How do you approach "bigger name" stars like that?

Well, again, what will happen is, like in a case like Malcolm, we wanted somebody who--we wanted a certain amount of a payoff. Because we had been speaking about Linderman for awhile, we wanted somebody that people were familiar with in some sense, but not so familiar that it would be like an Ed Asner, where they go, "Oh there's Lou Grant!" You know, you want somebody that people will go, like, "I know that guy." And Malcolm's one of those men who's been around for such a long time. You know, you go back to his early stuff, like A Clockwork Orange, that made a big impact back in the '70's. That movie is still being watched today, probably by a lot of our core audience, too. They may know him from that, or they may have seen him somewhere before. But at least there's a little bit of familiarity there, and we wanted a little bit of that there. What we had done is we came up with a long list of actors, and we circulated that amongst our producers, and entered into a discussion as to who did they like, who didn't they like. Then it became, like, who's available, and who will do it for the amount of money that we have.

Well I think you made a great choice with Malcolm McDowell. For the short time that he was on, he had the gravitas--


--the creepiness factor--


--he really was a fantastic choice for that role.

Thank you.

And I also enjoy George Takei. I know he's returning for Season Two.


Not only does he have the Star Trek background, and Masi Oka is a big fan of Star Trek--


That's a really great choice also.

Well, you know the thing there, of course, is we needed an actor who could speak Japanese. And that is a much more limited pool of actors here in the United States. I mean, there's a small pool, and we have been really seeing them. Keri has been prereading men and women because of storylines we're thinking about and that we're currently in production with. She's looking at people who speak Japanese quite a bit.

But we came up where we had to do Masi's dad, there's only a couple of actors that came immediately to mind. Even with the help of breakdown services and solicitations from agents, that list didn't get very large. And then George just seemed like a natural fit.

And with the success of Heroes, I'm sure that some of your actors are contacting you.

Oh yes! It's become a very different thing now. I've worked on a lot of different series over the years, and I can tell you when a series is somewhere in the middle or the bottom of the ratings list, it's a lot harder getting people on. When you're doing a big hit, people are coming to you saying, "Oh, my client would love to be on your show!" "Oh, my client would love to be on your show!" Okay, great! Especially if it's a well-known actor, what we do is we let our producers know that so-and-so is interested in being on the show so that they can keep that in mind when they're actually writing roles. Or they may actually conceive a role for somebody specifically.

They would actually include that person in the script. Interesting. Now, when somebody actually contacts you, I'm curious how many of your actors do you actually audition?

Well, it depends. We may, in prereads for a role, read dozens. But generally, we only bring a few actors to our producers. If it's a moderate sized guest role, we probably bring...six. Maybe eight. But if it's a major guest role, we may show them twenty. It'll all depend. That doesn't mean that only twenty people were seen or considered. We may have actually seen many more. When you're introducing a new series regular, you really have to see who's out there. You really do have to see a lot of people. So we spend a lot of time prereading people, but we only show a few people to the producers.

Right, you whittle it down, then.


Who actually has final say, then? Is that you, the producers, the directors?

Final say? Final say is -- [chuckles] -- you know, it would be nice if there was real, honest to God final say, but there isn't. [laughs] It's more of a joint decision. It is ultimately Tim Kring's decision. But Tim can get resistance from the studio or the network on something. And then he has to explain why he wants this person. If somebody at the studio or network is so dead set against something, we may not be able to get somebody we want. Even Tim may not be able to get that. Sometimes the studio or network will have to cave. Sometimes Tim will have to make a compromise on something. It's not casting, though. We are not the final say. That's for sure. It's the producers. Generally it's Tim Kring, in consultation with his other writers/producers. Jesse, Jeph, Michael, Dennis, Allan, Greg. These guys all together look at the tapes, and there's a consensus as to who it is. Tim is the final word on that.

He's very collaborative in his process.


I'm curious, what were some of the toughest roles to cast, and some of the easiest ones to cast?

Oh, I don't know, let's see... Well, you know, early on, one of the toughest things to cast was the role that eventually went to Milo, because Milo and Adrian, those two characters were originally conceived as twins. And what happened there was we found that to make the character old enough that the character could be running for Congress, you have to be a certain age to run for Congress. If you made the character too old, it made the character that Milo plays seem pathetic. So we had to stop--we were seeing men who were in their early 30s for this role. But the dilemma that Milo had in that pilot seemed almost pathetic in a man his age. It didn't make sense. So during the casting process, we realized that the character really needed to be the younger brother to a successful older brother.

And Adrian does have the maturity needed to believe that he's running for Congress.

Right. But that was a very difficult role to cast. Milo's role is one of the last roles cast. Whereas other roles there were very easy to cast.

Yes. I know Greg Grunberg came in to--

Greg came in for one of the brothers, and right away we went, "Well that doesn't fit at all. But he'd be great for..." But even that role wasn't conceived for somebody like Greg. The prototype on that was Ryan Phillippe in Crash. So it was a younger cop, actually, than Greg. But when Greg came in, it was like, "Wow, he'd be great as this if we change that character."

I'm sure glad you got him, he's one of my personal favorites.

That's the great thing about casting--it really informs the project in a lot of ways.

And one of the easiest roles to cast?

Oh, actually one of the easy ones was Masi. You know, because, there, again, I did not have a large group of actors to go to. Keri and I did not see dozens and dozens of actors for that. There weren't dozens and dozens of actors to read. We were very lucky in that Masi came through the door. We went, "Oh, he seems ideal." And when we brought him to our producers, they went, "This guy's terrific." [laughs]

Well, and he is terrific. And he's such a fan favorite--he was nominated for a Golden Globe, too.


That's a nice payoff. And again, you've got that small pool of actors that speak Japanese.


And speaking of actors who speak Japanese, you've got James Kyson Lee who plays Ando, but James is actually Korean and doesn't speak Japanese.

Well, no, he's actually half Japanese, half Korean. And he does speak Japanese.

Oh, I thought he said he used a language coach for his role.

He probably does have a language coach, but he does speak Japanese.

What would you say would be the most surprising story--something the fans would find out of the ordinary that perhaps you didn't expect, but it just seemed to work out.

Oh, gee, I don't know, that's a hard question. [laughs] So much of it's a surprise, even to us. You don't know how--well, again, going back to Masi. We were very nervous about that because we knew we weren't going to have a lot of choices. So Keri and I started on that role, and we saw pretty much everybody that had been submitted in three days. We were worried about it, but as soon as we saw Masi, it was like, "Oh. It's done. Here's a guy that can play this role." [chuckles] You know?

I mean, another thing I guess would also be like what happened with Sendhil because Sendhil was supposed to be a much older man. He was supposed to be a man around the age of 50.

He was actually supposed to play the part his father was playing.

That's correct. But again, what happened there was we didn't find older Indian actors that were as charismatic as Sendhil. When Sendhil walked in the room, he was so much younger. But listening to him, he's got this beautiful voice and he's beautiful to look at, and it was like, "Well, he seems like he belongs on TV." So we brought him to our producers and we said, "Now don't think we're crazy when we bring this next guy in because I know it doesn't seem like what's on the page." But we brought him in an they went, "Oh! He's a TV star!"

That's great, and another great role you cast there. Was there anybody you were really excited to cast, or excited to contact or to see audition?

Uh, Hayden. You know, Hayden is somebody that I've known over the years--I'd never met her, but I certainly knew who she was and had tried to get her in on projects. But she was pretty much based in New York or she was doing all sorts of things. She was doing features, she was doing the lead in a Lifetime movie, she was always unavailable. And then Marc Hirschfeld at NBC had said, "You know who just came in the office and is looking to do TV is Hayden Panettiere." And we brought Hayden in on the first session and we immediately went, "We've got to get to network for approval on this" because she seemed perfect.

Yes, and she brings such heart to her role.

Yeah--as does Ali. You know, that's another thing. Because I don't think there anything honestly in Ali's past work that would give you the idea that she can do the kind of work that she's doing on this, which is just terrific. She's warm. She's a mom. She's protective. She's hard-nosed. I mean, you know...

She's a bear when she needs to be.

Yeah! You don't see any of that in--I mean, I was not a big Ali Larter fan before this. I thought, Yeah. Nice looking, good. Got certain limitations. But here, she's just--I mean, she's just terrific.

She's really grown into that role, hasn't she?

Yeah, yeah. She's really good. She's really good in the role.

When you were talking about Hayden, I think the chemistry between her and Jack Coleman, of course--that to me is the essence of Heroes.

Yeah. Right.

I know that chemistry also helped bring Jack Coleman on as a series regular.

Yeah. Jack is somebody that Natalie and I have been big fans of. He's part of what we call the "La Padura and Hart Players." Our little core group of actors that we always go to. And Jack has been the lead in Disney movies that I've done. I've brought him in just last year on a movie for the Disney Channel called Cow Belles that had the Michalka sisters in it--he played their father. He was in Angels in the Endzone, which was a Wonderful World of Disney movie that we did--he played the dad in that. I mean, Jack's one of those guys that I always go to because he's so reliable and so good and I just--I love him.

When we had this role, the character was called HRG. It was just a guest role. We knew that the role was important, but it wasn't even a series regular. It was just a guest. And Dennis Hammer is also a fan of Jack's. When we talked about Jack for this, it was like, "Oh yeah, he'd be perfect for this. So let's just cast him."

Well he has such a presence, too.

Yeah. Jack's great. Jack has great respect for Hayden, and they get along great. He has great respect for her talent. He's in awe of what she can do. He's talked to me about that.

That's great. So what would you say would be your proudest moment in casting for Heroes?

Our proudest moment in casting. Well, I don't know, I guess just the way that it's taken off. I mean, everywhere you look, the cast in on the cover of this magazine, that magazine, and the other magazine, you know? It's pretty nice to know that those are the people you helped put on television, and that people are responding to them so well.

And it's only getting bigger with Heroes: Origins. Are you involved in Heroes: Origins?

We will be. Nobody is at the moment except for Tim. [laughs] It's all in Tim's head at the moment. But yes, we will be involved with that. We've been working with Tim for--this is like seven? No, six years now. We did Crossing Jordan for Tim as well.

Well Jason, thank you so much for your time. One last question: I'm not sure what you can tell me, but can you give me any information about Season Two?

I can't. [laughs] I'm not allowed! ... I will say this: there are new heroes emerging that you will be seeing in the first few episodes.

That's very exciting.

Yes, through Episode Four, certainly.

Alright. And honestly, Jason, thank you for your time.

Okay, Ryan. Sure, no problem.

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Adam Armus and Kay FosterYule CaiseZach CraleyNate GoodmanChuck KimTim KringJason La PaduraDebra McGuireJoe TolericoKevin Tostado

Graphic Novel Crew

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