Right mix births Emmy contenders
THE STAR CATCHERNICHOLS SNAGS MORGAN & JAKE
By CHRISTINE CHAMPAGNE
It's the classic chicken-and-egg conundrum: Is it an actor who makes a show successful, or is it the overall quality of a show that turns an actor into an Emmy nominee?
Would "House" be "House" without Hugh Laurie? Would "Rescue Me" be the same show without Denis Leary's smarminess? Could anyone else have played Tony Soprano besides James Gandolfini? And is it the concept of "Monk" that makes Tony Shalhoub an Emmy fave, or is it Shalhoub himself and what he personally brings to the role?
"Being that I'm in casting, I'd have to say that the actor makes the TV show," says Dawn Steinberg, senior VP of talent and casting for Sony Television, adding with a laugh, "Somebody who works as a writer may think differently."
In Steinberg's estimation, the abovementioned actors are irreplaceable performers who must get credit for star turns that make their respective shows what they are.
"Perhaps somebody else could have played Tommy Gavin," Steinberg muses, "but it wouldn't be the role that it is without Denis. It's the same for Gandolfini and his role as well."
Steinberg stresses, however, that she doesn't discount the value of great writing in elevating an actor's performance.
"The beauty comes in when the writers actually listen to the actor and his tone and his inflections and what he does best and start writing toward that actor," she says.
Citing "Friends" as an example, Steinberg relates that while some of the actors were more natural comedic performers than others, the writers did such a good job of playing to each cast member's strengths that everyone "wound up looking like a comic genius." (Ultimately, five of the show's six stars were Emmy nominees and/or winners.)
As for three-time Emmy winner Shalhoub, Jeff Wachtel, exec VP of original programming at USA Network, says there is no denying that "Monk" creator Andy Breckman gave the actor the role of a lifetime in the obsessive-compulsive private detective. But then Shalhoub ran with it, Wachtel says, putting an imprint on the role that only he could and rising from well-respected character actor to lauded leading man. "I like to say that Andy builds the diving board every week, and Tony jumps off," Wachtel says. "So it's really a marriage of the writer and the actor, and I think in the best of the marriages -- ("House" creator) David Shore and Hugh Laurie, Andy Beckman and Tony Shalhoub, David Chase and James Gandolfini -- you find somebody who has created an extraordinary and original voice and then somebody who can really bring that to life."
August 15, 2007 -- POWERHOUSE direc tor Mike Nichols has two major proj ects lined up for next year: a revival of "The Country Girl," Clifford Odets' biting backstage drama from 1950; and "Farragut North," a new play about presidential politics that's to star Jake Gyllenhaal.
Nichols and his producer, Bill Haber ("Spamalot"), have lined up two major stars for "The Country Girl" and are searching for a third.
Morgan Freeman looks set to play Frank Elgin, the washed-up alcoholic actor trying to make a comeback in a new Broadway play, while Oscar winner Frances McDormand is in talks to play his long-suffering wife, Georgie.
For the role of the hot-shot young director, Nichols nearly settled on Tony Shalhoub, of "Monk" fame. But casting offices were buzzing this week that Nichols is now looking for a sexier, younger actor. A hunky William Holden played the director in the 1954 movie, in which Grace Kelly memorably described him as "crisp as lettuce."
It's hard to see Shalhoub playing crisp lettuce, but that may be because he's so damn good as the neurotic Monk. .........
".....looking for a sexier, younger actor"