Robert De Niro as George Bluth Sr.? Aida Turturro as his daughter Lindsay? Josh Radnor as Michael?
“Arrested Development” creator Mitch Hurwitz told TheWrap that those were some of the early castings he considered when the show shot its pilot a decade ago. He also said he’d love to include Ricky Gervais in a future installment.
“I’ve been dying to get Ricky Gervais in forever, but I’ve been trying to find the right thing for him,” Hurwitz said.
Casting is always a puzzle, Hurwitz explained: The actor he picks for one role affects who he can pick for another. He couldn’t cast “How I Met Your Mother” star Radnor as Michael Bluth, for example, because he would have been too young to have a son Michael Cera‘s age.
At one point, Hurwitz said, he thought most of the cast would be in their fifties. He said at a New York Television Festival panel Monday that he considered Jeremy Piven as Michael, before Jason Bateman knocked him out with his audition for the role. Jeffrey Tambor eventually got the role of Michael’s jailbird father — but almost didn’t make it past the first episode.
We spoke to Hurwitz after the panel about some other big Bluth roles — and who almost got them.
LINDSAY BLUTH FUNKE (ultimately played by Portia de Rossi)
The only one I went against my instincts on, and I’m so glad I did, was Portia. Because in my mind, I was plagiarizing from “The Sopranos” a little bit, and in mind it was going to be Aida Turturro. Not necessarily exactly that physical type, but that was the character, you know: “You don’t understand about herbal healing.”
Just kind of a mess. And her daughter, Maeybe, the joke was going to be that she rebels by driving her mother crazy by saying, “I think I want to be a born-again Christian. Or I think I’m entering a beauty pageant.”
But that storyline kind of didn’t make sense anymore because Portia was great but she’s not messy, hippie, clueless. She’s composed. She’s much more like her mother. So it changed the casting for Maeybe. Now Maeybe’s got to be a little more on-the-nose rebellious than opposite-rebellious.
TOBIAS FUNKE (David Cross)
Believe it or not, I wrote Tobias for Jeffrey Tambor. I thought of him as kind of a therapist. And then someone we’d both worked with said, “How old do you picture these people?” I said, “I was picturing them all in their fifties.” He said, “You don’t want these people in their fifties.” Right, of course I don’t.
GEORGE BLUTH, SR. (Tambor)
At the time I remember thinking, he wasn’t going to be part of the show. We were going to send him to prison and that’s going to be the end of that father figure.
So I was going to go to [executive producer] Ron Howard and say, ‘What really, really high-level guy can we get? Do you know Robert De Niro from ‘Backdraft’? Will he give us a day?” And then eventually it felt dumb to do that. It just felt weird. So I ran into Jeffrey and said, “Oh s—. This day part. Would you possibly do it?”
And he said yes, and the next day he was shooting, and at the end of the day he said, “I want to be in all of these.” And I said, “Yeah, that would be amazing.” But I immediately had a problem: “Wait, so I’m going to have a character in jail?” But of course, all those weird things become the series. … You have to stay flexible.
MICHAEL BLUTH (Jason Bateman)
When I finally got David Cross on the phone, I was desperate not to do a traditional show, and I wanted to use somebody I thought was funny, so I said, “Any part you want. I would love to have you on this, any part you want.” And I had my fingers crossed — I was very worried he’d say Michael. I was very worried he’d just be an actor and say, “Well, I want the lead.”
And then I thought, well I guess he’s the magician. He’s going to go for the magician. And he said, “I actually like the other guy. The guy who’s not even in the family.” Perfect. Thank you for being a comedic actor willing to play a comedic role as opposed to saying this is my chance to be a bigshot in the pilot or whatever. It was perfect. His style of acting would have been weirder in the middle of the family. It made sense as the outsider. It was a little arch, a little disconnected.
And then I really liked, I really liked Josh Radnor, who had not done “How I Met Your Mother” yet. And I auditioned him for every part. Like, “This guy’s great. He’s so likeable.” But it’s a 23-year-old Michael. He doesn’t have a kid. That’s a big thing. He’s got to have a kid. Could he be Gob? Well now Gob’s the younger brother — not as interesting. You want the older brother to be pissed off at the younger brother: “I should be in charge.” That one I wasn’t flexible on. He needs to have an older brother or he really is just the great guy who takes care of everybody.
I tried him for everything, and finally it was like, “Josh? I don’t think I have a part for you.” … I was so relieved when I saw he had a big hit show.