06/05/2013 05:38 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2013

Casting an Indie in Hollywood: Overweight Is Beautiful, But It's Not Easy to Convince Everyone That's True

Hiring the right actor in any film is often a challenge. One of my most interesting moments during the making of the romantic comedy Finding Joy was casting the character of Marshall, the overweight big brother in a marital crisis. The three producers, the casting director, and I agreed on six leads for the film, yet it was Marshall who eluded us. We needed someone who wouldn't play up his good looks and have the gravitas to bring the turmoil to the screen in a funny way.

Then my friend Tyler Bunch sent in his audition tape with the three requested scenes. The first two were as good as many others I had seen, but it was the third where Marshall opened his heart to his wife, Patsy, at the end of Act Two in our movie, tha was impeccable. I don't wish to spoil it by giving details, but -- in that one scene -- Tyler delivered such an honest, endearing, yet pathetic reveal that he made Marshall both very funny and extremely touching. His timing was flawless. Every line was spot on. Even the beats I knew would be hard to pull off and possibly had to be rewritten, were there, present, living, smiling, breathing. By the end of that tape, I was as high as Seth Rogen and Quentin Tarantino put together. I knew I had found Marshall.


Filmmaking is an expensive collaborative art form. You learn which battles to fight and which ones to let go. After viewing Tyler's tape, I tempered my excitement at finding the right actor for the role. I showed it to another producer to get his reaction, but he didn't share my sentiment. Now, I am Italian and nobody does excitement like the Italians. (Did you see Roberto Benini at the Oscars?) These are the moments I thank George Lucas for Yoda. Playing it cool. I'm glad I didn't make a fool of myself.

Because after the other four decision makers watched the tape, only one other producer thought Tyler truly embodied the character of Marshall. The rationale? Tyler is too overweight and the audience would not buy into Marshall being in a 20-year-old marriage with his pretty college sweetheart. "But he is going to make them laugh more," I said trying to squeeze in as many zen vibes as possible. As if overweight people can't have attractive spouses!

This is Hollywood, though. We are doing a comedy and what prevails is "attractiveness." Two of us were in for the heavier actor to convey the comedy and the drama necessary for the role. The rest were all-in for an attractive actor named Charlie, who, well, is attractive.

My ally began to doubt her decision to band with me on the Tyler-wagon. She decided she wanted to join the "attractive" squad. It was now, four against one. I was clearly losing the battle, but made a point to show no disappointment. I remained open to possibilities. I went back to looking at more actors. I started working one-on-one with Charlie (our attractive almost-Marshall) on several call backs. But Charlie was not quite right. He's a good actor, yet his approach was too dramatic and not comedic enough.

After spending time with Charlie as Marshall, I realized that casting is very much like dating. Sometimes, we need to go out a few times to really know the person we wish to get into a relationship with. After looking at Charlie with me, the producer who had left the Tyler-wagon, decided that being funny was more valuable to the script and supported the idea of casting the heavier, comedic actor. Slowly, the rest of the team came around and decided to trust that Tyler could bring Marshall to life.

Now that we finished putting the movie together, they all see Tyler had been the perfect choice from the beginning. When we ask audiences which character they prefer in the film, Marshall always comes out first.

For this, I rejoice.