The success of a comedic character is often more connected to an actor’s performance than the scripted words he or she is saying, which makes the job of a casting director arguably the most unsung gig in the business. For instance, can you imagine anyone else but Nick Offerman playing the burly, meat-loving outdoorsman Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation? Neither could the excellent Allison Jones, who worked a bit of well-played magic in order to get Offerman on the show.

When the Parks and Recreation pilot was being cast, Jones had Offerman in mind, being a big fan of his work as both a comedian and an actor. Unfortunately, the network execs weren’t quite as impressed with him whenever Jones brought him in to read for the role. Rather than cut her losses and switch her sights on other actors, Jones bided her time for a few weeks and then coyly made it seem like the producers were totally into Offerman the whole time.

“Your instincts about Nick Offerman were good,” she told them. “Let’s bring him back.” And what do you know? They agreed to meet with him again, and the fictional fight against small town government would have its new poster child manly man. And as Jones puts it to the New Yorker, this was hardly an isolated incident.
They forget that shit, they see so many people. I do that all the time.

It’s no mystery that network producers are sometimes the most creatively stifling part of a TV series, and that their decision-making skills are more guided by logistics than artistic instincts. But Jones, who frequently works with Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, just takes that and works with it, always trusting herself. As another “for instance,” take Offerman’s Parks and Recreation co-star Chris Pratt.

Before becoming one of the biggest and most charismatic stars in pop culture, Pratt was known for his work on teen-centric dramas like The O.C. and Everwood. But once Jones met him, she figured out that his comedic side was a huge draw, and once she introduced him to show creator Greg Daniels, they had to completely reimagine the role of Andy Dwyer. Here’s how Daniels put it.
He was so good in the audition we had to rethink everything. The character was meant to be a complete asshole who was only around for a few episodes, so we had to rewrite all season long to take advantage of him.

Granted, that first season of Parks and Recreation wasn’t exactly comedic gold, but it didn’t take long for Season 2 to make the show feel like a future classic, thanks in large part to Offerman’s stoic demeanor and Pratt’s manic dimness. And we have Allison Jones to thank for both of them.

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