From Masi to Hayden: Heroes Casting Director Talks About Choosing Roles

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Jason La Padura is the casting director on Heroes. Over on Heroes Wiki, the man with one of the coolest jobs in Hollywood spoke on choosing roles for the NBC series...

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.

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?
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."

Our Favorite Cast
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.

I 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.
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.

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 Ventimiglia], 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."

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.

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.

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.

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Heroes Quotes

Mohinder Suresh: Evolution is an imperfect, and often violent process. Morality loses it's meaning. The question of good and evil, reduced to one simple choice: Survive? Or perish?

Claire: My dad lied to me about my entire life; my biological parents, my ability, you can’t just hide things like that! There’s got to be something on there.
Zack: If your dad’s the guy you’re describing I don’t think he’s gonna keep his secrets on the family computer.

Heroes Music

  Song Artist
Song Road to Joy Bright Eyes
Song Mustang Sally Wilson Pickett
Song I Want It That Way Backstreet Boys