Interview: Casting Directors Courtney Bright and Nicole Daniels on Putting Together a Superb ‘Ratched’ Ensemble

Fans of actress Sarah Paulson will likely find her presence in Netflix’s Ratched, the origin story of the sadistic nurse from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, reason enough to watch. But there is an incredible assemblage of talent supporting her onscreen, from juicy supporting parts to recurring roles that leave a lasting impression.

Awards Radar had the chance to speak with casting directors Courtney Bright and Nicole Daniels about working with Ryan Murphy and his band of regulars, finding the perfect actors for particular roles, and more Murphy projects on the horizon.

Q: When did you first see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and what did you remember most about it?

Courtney Bright: Oh god!

Nicole Daniels: I don’t remember how old I was, maybe in high school. Definitely what stuck with me the most was after Jack Nicholson got the lobotomy, walking through the halls of the ward. That definitely stuck with me a lot, and of course, all the characters. That scene particularly.

Courtney: I also can’t remember. I may not have seen it until I was in college. We didn’t specifically re-watch it before we worked on this, because this is its own beast, so separate from the original. I don’t know, I guess how crazy Nurse Ratched was. I don’t have a specific memory that sticks out.

Q: How did you both become involved with this project, and what appealed to you about it?

Nicole: We had just finished American Crime Story: Versace for Ryan. We saw him at an event, and he said, I have a new project coming up, it’s the origin story of Nurse Ratched.

Courtney: We saw him at the Emmys. Nicole’s being coy.

Nicole: We had just won our Emmy. I’m not kidding. We did. He said, I have a new project, I want to send you guys the script. Take a look and let me know if you’d be interested. We didn’t even have to read the script. We knew, of course we’d be interested based on what he had said. We’d do anything for Ryan, we love working for him. Then we started really soon after that. Sarah had been attached as Ratched, and I think Finn Wittrock and Jon Jon Briones were attached also, but the rest of the cast was open.

Q: Working with Ryan repeatedly, he tends to use a lot of the same people. How much of a search is there, or is it just that the project starts and close to half the cast is already set?

Courtney: I think on every project it’s a little different. There’s generally part of his troop already in place. On this one, it was really just those three, and then the rest was a full-on casting bonanza, looking for everyone. Judy Davis he had worked with. We had talked about lots of different ideas, and I think eventually he got to the Judy of it. All of the others roles, we still do lists and we talk, and we work it through. It’s very collaborative.

Nicole: And you’re constantly adding to the company. He hadn’t worked with Jon Jon before Versace, and now Jon Jon is part of the company. You’re constantly building on that.

Courtney: He’s also open to new people and finding discoveries. Alice Englert, who I just thought, she was so much fun to watch. I’ve re-watched it again. Her Dolly was amazing, just so much fun. He hadn’t worked with her before, so she was a new one. He’s super collaborative. He watches all the tapes. He loves being involved, and we love having a discourse with him about it.

Q: I was going to ask specifically about Alice because she’s so terrific. It’s a role that I wish was bigger. That’s an equally rewarding and frustrating part of the show. There are all these fantastic characters that have such small roles in the end. Does that affect what you’re looking for at all, what size the role is going to be?

Nicole: I’d say generally most actors are willing to do anything to work with Ryan. So it doesn’t really affect it. For example, Amanda Plummer’s role was originally supposed to be in two episodes, but then he was so inspired by her that she appeared in every episode. So it really just depends. Actors are willing to show up for one episode or all episodes. It doesn’t really make a difference.

Courtney: And we treat all roles equally. The roles like Nurse Bucket which obviously we’re not auditioning those women, just doing lists and having conversations, down to Dolly, who we read hundreds of girls for. We treat them all the same, they’re all as important, whether they show up in one scene per episode or they’re in ten scenes an episode.

Q: You do have some big names who are in smaller roles, like Corey Stoll, Sophie Okonedo, and Sharon Stone. Did you go after those three or audition them as part of the process?

Nicole: Corey, that role was written in the script, and Corey was one of the first people we thought of and mentioned to Ryan. They had worked together previously and Ryan was like, yes, absolutely, has to be Corey. He wrote the role for Sophie, he had met her and fell in love with her, and was like, we’re putting Sophie in this show. Sharon, the role was written, but it was very, very vague, and we were just trying to think of women in the same age range as her. We thought of Sharon, and they met, and they fell in love.

Courtney: She just feels like a perfect match for Ryan.

Q: You also have Cynthia Nixon, who does have a pretty sizeable role. Did you have her in mind?

Courtney: That role actually did take us a second. It went through different iterations of who she was going to be, and I don’t think originally it was fleshed out as interesting or as deep as it became once Cynthia was attached. We talked about a lot of different women for that role, and then he eventually decided that it was meant to be Cynthia. Once he got her, that role became so much more layered. I just think her performance was also so vulnerable and raw.

Q: I also enjoyed her scenes with Vincent D’Onofrio, another actor who has a small role, but he just felt so right for that part.

Courtney: That was another part that we fought for a lot. We wanted Vincent so badly for that, Nicole and I. We continually pressed and pressed and pressed Ryan. Sometimes that’s what happens. You bring up a name in the very beginning, and for whatever reason it doesn’t stick, and then you circle back months later, and it’s like, how did we not jump on this at the time? It could only have ever been Vincent.

Q: What’s the process like for the two of you working together? Do you ever disagree and really advocate for one actor over another?

Nicole: I’d say we’re generally on the same page. We trust each other’s opinion so much that if Courtney is like, I love this idea, and I’m like, ugh, I don’t know, I’ll say, okay, I’ll trust you, let’s go for it. So when we’re not on the same page, one of us is generally brought around to be on the same page.

Q: Were there any characters or roles that were written because of the casting process or changed because of someone’s audition?

Nicole: Well, I don’t think Sophie’s character existed before he met Sophie. There must have been someone else…

Courtney: I can’t remember if there were any.

Nicole: I mean, yes, that happens always. I can’t think of a role off the top of my head besides Sophie, but definitely.

Courtney: I feel like everything else was pretty much scripted.

Nicole: Rosanna Arquette.

Courtney: But that was also so small.

Q: Are you both involved in season two? If so, has anything started, are you allowed to talk about it, and are you adding any new interesting roles?

Nicole: Knowing Ryan, I don’t think we’re allowed to say anything, that’s my guess.

Courtney: I hear there’s a season two, but that’s all we know.

Q: Are you working on any other projects at the moment?

Courtney: We are doing The Impeachment of Bill Clinton for Ryan, and we’re also doing another show for Ryan that he has.

Nicole: A new limited series at Netflix. And then we’re doing an FX show called Y: The Last Man, which I think is going to be great. It airs in September, for some of the producers that work on Crime Story, Brad Simpson and Nina Jacobson. That one’s going to be really good.

Q: Can you talk about that show?

Nicole: Yeah, it’s based on the comic book Y: The Last Man. There’s an event that happens, and every living person with a Y chromosome drops dead, except for one, Yorick. It’s all women and trans men figuring out how to survive in this world. Chaos ensues, but it’s also very much grounded in reality. We have Diane Lane, Amber Tamblyn, and a bunch of new unknowns. I feel really good about that one.

Courtney: The scripts are incredible.

Nicole: Impeachment’s going to be great.

Q: I was going to ask. What was the most interesting role to cast for that show?

Courtney: It’s still going. We won’t finish until August, and I think we started in August of 2020.

Nicole: Filming? We started way before that and then shut down for COVID. It’s been a long process, but it’s going to be fabulous.

Courtney: It’s just fun casting real people also, and then matching, and feeling so proud of yourself when you get someone who’s just so good and so perfect. Casting Ken Starr was a real to-do, and I’m really happy with who we got. I don’t know if we’re allowed to talk, so I’m not going to. I’m really excited about that. There are all these little fun parts throughout that just show up for a second, like George Conway and Ann Coulter. These people all make appearances. It’s going to be really sparkly and fun. Maybe fun is the wrong word, because of the subject matter. It’s going to be a good watch. And Monica is involved, so it’s from her point of view.

Season one of Ratched is streaming exclusively on Netflix.


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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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