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We see it often in shows: flashbacks or flash-forwards to give the audience a deeper glimpse into the lives of — or what life has in store for — our favorite characters. But to establish that deep connection with the characters for viewers, casting directors search far and wide for physical and spiritual similarities to cast multiple actors in the same role, younger or older.
NBC’s This Is Us has been a prime example of doing it right for the past eight years, and this Emmys season, shows like Yellowjackets, Pachinko and Night Sky showcase younger and older versions of key characters as a primary component of the storyline.
Showtime’s Yellowjackets took it a step further, though. It has two simultaneous storylines that intertwine: The first, set during the 1990s, follows a group of teenage girls lost in the wilderness after a plane crash, while the second follows the same characters as adults coming to terms with what happened all of those years ago.
Casting directors Junie Lowry-Johnson and Libby Goldstein started looking for the younger and older actors at the same time, notes Goldstein. Adds Lowry-Johnson: “We were mainly looking for really good actors that we thought were right for each of the parts, and then we melded it together. Melanie Lynskey was the first person we cast, and that helped in shaping the younger version of Shauna — but the younger version [played by Sophie Nélisse] was the last person we cast.”
That’s because Lynskey has “very unusual, unique rhythms and essences” to her acting, says Lowry-Johnson. “She’s so low-key about it, and it takes you a while to realize how amazingly unique she is. With Sophie, we really loved her right away — we began to see that she had Melanie’s spirit. They’re not in-your-face aggressive about it. It’s a slow reveal.”
That’s exactly what Goldstein and Lowry-Johnson looked for during the casting process. The physical similarities were not a high priority, although as they got closer to finalizing the cast, it just so happened that resemblances started to take shape.
“One thing that Libby always says: You’re looking for the spirit and the soul of the actor and the character, and you want that to meld, and then we work on the physical,” says Lowry-Johnson. “But we were absolutely not looking for look-alikes, ever.” By the end, however, the physical resemblances became uncanny, especially for Christina Ricci and Samantha Hanratty, who play the older and the teenage version of Misty, respectively. “It’s just unbelievable,” says Lowry-Johnson. “It’s so funny because I don’t think the older and younger versions ever rehearsed together. They’re not in any scenes together, but Sammi must’ve really watched Christina — she just totally inhabits her, and they look so much alike. With Juliette Lewis and Sophie Thatcher, who play the two versions of Natalie, they’re both so unique that I think it’s that which ties them together, more than them looking alike.
“I remember at the time producers and everyone going like, ‘Oh, this is going to be so hard …’ and I remember Libby going, ‘Well, it’s not going to be harder than anything else.’ It wasn’t as daunting to us — maybe we were naive. We felt we could do it.”
With Night Sky, Goldstein and Lowry-Johnson, who also cast the Amazon series, took a different approach than on Yellowjackets given that the two stars of the show, Oscar winners Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons, have iconic yet unique looks. Spacek and Simmons star as a couple who house a portal to another planet under their garden shed. In episode seven, there’s a flashback to the couple in their younger days, so Goldstein and Lowry-Johnson knew they’d be tasked with finding two people who looked like Spacek and Simmons when they were younger.
Spacek was the first person cast as Irene York, and because Spacek “looks exactly the same now as she did when she was 25, and everyone knows what she looked like,” Goldstein says she and Lowry-Johnson tried to match the younger version of her character to Spacek’s youthful looks. And so they found Lily Cardone, who bore some physical resemblance to what Spacek looked like early in her career.
“But that was short and also a flashback, so we could get in and out on that,” says Goldstein. “It was really cute when we had a read-through, and Sissy, who had not seen who we had gotten for her younger version, seemed very touched by it. It was very sweet — it really gives you goose bumps when that happens.”
For Simmons’ character, Franklin, Goldstein admits she looked up pictures of the actor as a young man and tried to match the younger version of Franklin to what Simmons looked like in his 20s — and that’s how they set their sights on Lowrey Brown, who has appeared in Dopesick and Hillbilly Elegy.
Meanwhile, on Apple TV+’s Pachinko, the audience is transported back and forth in time to capture the life of main character Sunja, so casting directors Michelle Wade Byrd and Mary Vernieu knew they’d have to find three actresses in different age groups to play her. For them, it all started with figuring out which version of the character would carry most of the show. In this case, it was the teenage version of Sunja, who would be played by Minha Kim. After they found Kim, they cast the younger and older version of that character: Yuna and Oscar winner Yuh-Jung Youn, respectively.
“The process of finding Minha was really complicated because we had to find the heroine of our story, and so we did a search all over the world,” says Wade Byrd. “We did the U.S., we did Korea, and then every time we saw Minha read, she just blew us away.”
For the older version of Sunja, Wade Byrd and Vernieu knew that there was only going to be “a limited group of ladies” because of the specific age group that would work for the character. “We really wanted that person to match because they do feel alike, Yuh-Jung and Minha — their spirits are similar,” adds Vernieu. “They both really embody the soul of Sunja.”
One thing that was very important to the duo was that the physical similarities among the three ladies also matched. “It’s one of the details that we always try to go for,” says Vernieu.
Adds Wade Byrd: “This casting process was quite challenging because 90 percent of the roles only spoke Korean or Japanese, and some of the roles spoke multiple languages, so that was something we had to navigate. Also, this shot in October 2020, in the height of the pandemic, and we started the search around June. When it came to hiring people, we had to think about getting people visas, and there were extreme backlogs because of COVID. Sometimes it took six to eight weeks to get them those visas. This shot in Canada and South Korea, and both of those countries had two-week quarantines in place.
Notes Vernieu: “We really did search all over the world and saw hundreds and hundreds of tapes in Korean and Japanese and learned so much about the languages and the culture. It was really a fascinating experience.”
This story first appeared in the June 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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