Casting director Robin Lippin has a long list of television credits to her name, but her time on “Saved by the Bell” and all of its spinoffs made her uniquely qualified to work on Lifetime’s movie, “The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story.”
In addition to “Saved by the Bell,” Lippin has cast the miniseries “Attila,” “Lizzie McGuire,” and Lifetime’s “Petals on the Wind” and “Blue Lagoon: The Awakening.” But, her work on the iconic Saturday morning series was special to her and she doesn’t take the opportunity of returning for the movie for granted.
“As a casting director, you rarely get the opportunity to work on a remake after you worked on it originally,” Lippin told TheWrap. “So, it was really nice that Lifetime came to me and I had this opportunity.”
She continued, “It was a long time doing all the “Saved by the Bells” and I got so much out of it. It was like 10 years of nonstop working. It was just great to give some people their start and it was fun. I’m grateful to the series, no question about it.”
In casting this new crew of Bayside students, Lippin began watching reruns of the series. And her search for the actors spanned both Canada and the United States.
In the end, Lippin chose Dylan Everett to play Mark-Paul Gosselaar/ “Zack Morris,” Sam Kindseth (“Shameless”) as Dustin Diamond/ “Screech,” Julian Works (“Paranormal Activity”) as Mario Lopez/ “A.C. Slater,” Alyssa Lynch (“The High Jumping Witch”) as Tiffani-Amber Thiessen/ “Kelly Kapowski,” Tiera Skovbye (“Supernatural”) as Elizabeth Berkley/ “Jessie Spano,” and Taylor Russell McKenzie (“Blink”) as Lark Voorhies/ “Lisa Turtle.”
In a conversation with TheWrap, Lippin talks about the most challenging role to fill in the movie and what aspects of the project brought her back to the days of working on the original series.
TheWrap: Were you able to read the script before accepting the job?
Robin Lippin: I did ‘Saved by the Bell,’ then ‘The College Years’ and ‘The New Class,’ so I wouldn’t have taken it if it wasn’t somewhat an homage to the show. I thought it had a lot of wonderful qualities to it. And I think the fans will really like it, because it tells the history of how it all came together. Obviously, there are other things that are kind of spicy, but basically I really liked the script.
When you took on the assignment, was it daunting at first?
I think it was to some degree, because you want the fans to be happy with the choices. You aren’t going to find clones. You have to kind of look for a similar look and a quality that was reminiscent of the original person.
Which role was the biggest challenge to cast?
I think the Dustin role was the most challenging definitely. His look was really unique and the movie is a lot more about them as people as opposed to them as their characters. I was more familiar with their characters, that side of it, then as people. So, trying to find the balance of finding someone who can represent Dustin Diamond and also be able to do the Screech-like kind of antics was the challenge. And I think the look is really specific, so it was kind of all that.
Literally, I went to temple theatre, temple groups, I contacted them and improv groups, youth improv groups. I literally looked all over the United States to find someone who captured him.
I’ve seen a lot of comments about how good the casting for Dustin Diamond is. What about the actor did it for you?
There’s a real sweetness to him I think, his voice and a lot of the way the movie was shot, he talks to the audience so I thought it was important that whomever played him was likeable and relatable. So, I felt very good about that. I felt it was a good match.
So, what was the easiest casting of the group for you?
I think with Mario, I had some really great candidates and I thought that would be really, really hard because Mario had a great body and, obviously, he’s Latino. And there was a sort of pixie quality to him. He could say whatever he wanted and would still come off really likeable. So I thought he would be challenging, but I found the choice really quickly.
Are there parts of the movie that are really nostalgic for you?
I didn’t really know about the controversial parts, only because I was really busy. The producers only wanted to see guest stars, so I was free to cast anyone I wanted who had 10 lines or less, which is very unique for a casting director. That never happens. So, I was very busy with that and I didn’t really know about some of the things that had gone on behind the scenes until I read this script. That was an eye-opener for me, because I was just separate from that.
I think that what kind of rang true was that when we were doing the series, none of us knew it would become what it has become. So, I think the scene where they’re going to a personal appearance and they’re afraid nobody’s going to show up and suddenly it’s packed. I think we all kind of went through that together. And to see later who were fans, I mean Jimmy Fallon. I think at the time there were a lot of closet-watchers and now they’ve all come out of the closet and you hear who all loved the show. It’s so interesting. We didn’t really know that when we were doing it. We didn’t know that would happen. That part I can definitely relate to.
Also, I relate to Dustin’s story. I think it was hard for Dustin. He was so much younger than the rest of the cast. And I knew a little bit about the relationships with the parents, because they were around.
“The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story” premieres Labor Day Monday at 9 p.m. ET.