That Peacock ‘Mrs. Davis cast to suit Betty Gilpin
The cast of “Mrs. Davis” told IndieWire about a nun, a cowboy, a falafel shop owner and the rest of the globetrotting Peacock series.
Peacock “Mrs. Davis” is a juicy mix of absurdist humor, technological malaise, cheeky action/adventure, and magician con artists. Not to mention a medieval quest in the smartphone age and a bold take on the viability of pineapple falafel. At its simplest, perhaps the show is a parable about how humanity creates God and thus becomes obsessed with God, why doesn’t a nun in Reno talk to him and send him to find the Holy Grail. Really.
As much as “Mrs. Davis” tone rests on creators Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez, as well as the writing team and directors, just as much as it does on the cast to bring that manic, incredibly Reno energy to life. So Lindelof and Hernandez turned to casting director Victoria Thomas to create an audition process that could find actors who could handle the many layers of the series at once.
Both Thomas and casting associate Elizabeth Brown were excited about the challenge. “If you’re going to work on something, it’s good to have a nun as the main character, not a No. 2 lawyer saving the day for people in court,” Thomas told IndieWire. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but I mean, we’re casting a nun (for our lead role) and other nuns and some kind of Middle Eastern falafel restaurant owner, who is she? They’re vibrant characters with a point of view that makes casting a bit more exciting and fun. I mean, I think those kinds of characters make you want actors who can do it.”
The “Mrs. Davis’ creators and casting team shed light on an early idea for the nurse, who infuses the series with absurd humor, slapstick action, and honest longing and pain as technology (and religion) creates imperfect relationships with others. Specifically, Betty Gilpin’s name came up early on, but she wasn’t originally cast as Simone.
“Someone like Betty came to mind pretty early on because she can be real and she can do a lot as an actress. I know I will believe her to be a nun. I know I’ll believe him when he hops on a motorcycle and chases after a giant bug car or whatever. You’re going to invest a certain reality (in the part and the world), but don’t be afraid of the weirdness either,” Thomas said.
Gilpin already did some pretty weird, intense stuff in Lindelof’s “The Hunt.” But Thomas said her alumni status actually broadened Simone’s search. “Damon happened to not work with people twice in a row — not because he doesn’t like them, but just because, you know, ‘Let’s see what else is out there. Let’s go in this new direction.”
So the “Mrs. Davis’ team kept looking for him as he talked about it very inspired by nun movies. You know, everything from Audrey Hepburn to “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows”? Thomas said. “We saw a lot of talented ladies, but we didn’t get one that we knew (Gilpin) was going to do.”
Once Gilpin was cast as Simone, the casting team was able to begin casting the rest of the cast. One of the most interesting aspects of the casting process, however, was finding iterations of the most mysterious character: the global AI phenomenon Mrs. Davis. Since Simone refuses to contact Mrs. Davis, the AI must reach her by contacting strangers and asking them to serve as her proxies. Many bystanders are forced into service throughout the series, and the casting process meant that they were not only auditioning for that character, but also for the character who repeats what Mrs. Davis says through the earpiece.
“He wasn’t the usual character you had to read,” Thomas said. Thomas, Brown, and the casting team decided not to give directions, but to show them the concept and see what they did with it. “We let them tape it, and if they wanted, we gave them directions afterwards. We explain how it actually worked,” Brown told IndieWire.
“Some used a different voice, some just added a little inflection to their voice, others (people) had slightly different reaction times,” Thomas said. But no matter what the actors did or how robotic Mrs. Davis was, the trick was that the proxies would always portray Mrs. Davis and themselves. “(Each version of Mrs. Davis) was really two characters,” Thomas said.
And at least one of the double packages led to another. “We saw Suzanne Cryer as the teacher (in episode 1),” Brown said. “So when the fake mother came out, that was on everyone’s mind. But Kim Hawthorne, who plays the nursery school nurse, has given a firm account of what proxying will look like in general.
But the toughest nut to crack – or the HATCH to close – was the friendly falafel shop owner Jay, played by Andy McQueen. This search took months, with an evolving series of pages and finally some chemical readings with Gilpin. According to Thomas and Brown, part of Jay’s challenge was being the direct opposite of Simone’s former boyfriend, Wiley (Jake McDorman). McDorman makes a great, funny cowboy, and the enjoyment and skill in the role is matched by Wiley’s antics. “(Wiley) gives it his all,” Brown said. “And Jay has such limited scenes and is so internal that it just had to be the actor (to bring it).”
McQueen’s version of Jay exudes serenity, and with the tiniest, most subtle changes in posture and voice, Simone can go from comforting to challenging. This ability to match Gilpin’s intensity, power, seriousness, and her strange embrace defines the characters closest to Simone, albeit in very different directions. On Simone’s mother, played by Elizabeth Marvel: “She’s a big character. And he’s just tough, Brown said. “I think we talked a lot about (finding) someone to challenge Betty. And I think it takes a lot to challenge Betty.”
“Yes. We needed a force. Because Betty is strong. Betty, she holds her ground,” Thomas said.
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