This story about the casting of “Shrinking” first appeared in the Comedy Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
Say you’re casting a thoughtful comedy about the world of psychotherapists, and you need a seasoned veteran to support the sharp young cast in a potentially scene-stealing mentor role. And then you land one of the biggest movie stars in the world, an icon who has been in two of the largest movie franchises in the last 50 years.
This was the reality for “Shrinking” casting directors Debby Romano and Brett Benner when the AppleTV+ comedy was being put together. It still seems surreal to them that they landed Harrison Ford for the pivotal supporting role of Paul, a senior member of the practice where Jason Segel and Jessica Williams’ characters work as therapists.
“We would love to take credit,” Romano said, noting that the character was once known as Phil, a nod to Jonah Hill’s famous therapist Phil Stutz, who ended up getting his own Netflix documentary. “But all we did was put his name on a list, which is a great thing in and of itself—to be able to put that name on a list and not be laughed out of the room.”
Romano credits “Shrinking” co-creator Bill Lawrence with being the main reason why Ford signed on, with Lawrence and Ford living on the same street in Southern California. And the final stroke of luck came when the actor was working on “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” at Pinewood Studios outside London, where he was able to meet up with “Shrinking” co-creator and “Ted Lasso” star Brett Goldstein. Their rapport proved a done deal.
“We were going in like the Harrison thing was underway. Jessica, I believe by that point, had already been set,” Benner said. “And Christa Miller we knew was going to be the neighbor. With any casting situation, you can only hope that what you’re putting together is going to work and I think it really comes down to luck. And we lucked out.”
“Shrinking” is the truest version of an ensemble series: Every single cast member has scenes with every other cast member at some point. During the casting process, which took place largely on Zoom, Romano and Benner had to hope that they’d get what they were hoping for when actors who’d only met virtually were finally in the same room together.
“We had a bunch of people read with Jason, but again, on a Zoom,” Benner said. “So you can pull out what chemistry there might be, but it’s totally different when you’re in person. I remember when we saw Michael Urie (who plays Segel’s best friend). It was one of those moments where the role was coming to life and then watching him do it was so perfect. It completely exceeded our expectations.”
Romano and Benner have high praise for their younger upstart finds, including Lukita Maxwell as Segel’s teenage daughter and Luke Tennie as a patient dealing with anger management. Both were thrilled to finally be able to cast “Married… with Children” vet Ted McGinley, also a stealth scene stealer as Miller’s character’s husband.
“I hope we see more of Ted, he’s just so good,” Romano said. “Brett and I have a long history with Ted. He was this close to being Dr. Cox in “Scrubs” (played by John C. McGinley, no relation). “We’re always excited to bring him in for whatever we’re working on.”
Benner loves the improvisational nature of Shrinking, which sometimes yields comedic gems. “It feels a little messy and real—like having a conversation where you interject or you burst out laughing or whatever it is,” he said. “There seems to be a lot of spontaneity going on in this group.” “I really want to see a blooper reel,” Romano said. “We must have so much good stuff.”