As he prepared for the premiere of his first series, Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, David Anaxagoras shared some insights into what it’s like to bring the characters in your head to life – finding the real-life people who will step into their shoes speak your words.
The First Stage: Holding Your Breath
So many miracles had to happen for us to pull off this show, because it really wasn’t something there was a template for. We knew that these characters, Gortimer and Mel and Ranger, were cut from a different cloth than a lot of the characters on kids TV right now. And it was scary because we couldn’t have a show without believable actors. But I had no idea if anybody was even out there who could pull it off. So I held my breath and we started the casting process.
The Leading Man
When I saw the audition tape for Sloane Morgan Siegel (Gortimer), there’s just such an easy charm about him. You could look at the guy and know he was just so big hearted and caring. There’s that leading man quality about him, but not like in a conventional way, because he also had a vulnerability about him, like a kid who was still sort of scrambling to understand the world around him. And that’s really what Gortimer was all about.
The Likeable Smarty
Ashley Boettcher (Mel) was just a ray of sunshine. She brightens any scene that she’s in and leaps off the screen. The tricky part with playing Mel is that she knows everything and is very science-y, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of making that character super nerdy and un-relatable, or worse, making them use their knowledge as a weapon. Ashley’s incapable of doing that. She is just very warm and a natural leader, the calming force that keeps everyone grounded.
The Funny Friend
Casting Ranger was the highest hurdle, because we needed someone who was funny but not jokey, somebody naturally charming and interesting without being smarmy. It’s funny, because I had originally written Ranger as a little punk rock kid with a Mohawk. But Drew Justice just came in with his mop of red hair and a plain blue t-shirt, and he completely blew it out of the water. He didn’t need all of that. He really showed me who Ranger was. I knew right away that not only did we have our Ranger, but we had a series, because if we could get that character right, we could do anything.
The Perfect Collaborator: An Oscar-Winning Filmmaker
Finding a main director and show runner who could handle the tone and pack everything into 20-something minute episodes was going to be essential. We didn’t want to be too saccharine or too cynical. We had to balance the comedy and the drama, the sense of epic adventure and the smaller, intimate moments. That’s a lot to put into twenty-something minutes in what’s supposed to be a kid’s show. But when I saw Luke Matheny’s Oscar-winning short film, God of Love, I knew we had hit the lottery, because he had done all of that in his short film. Luke is a creative force on the show and the one who filters all scripts, then translates them visually — all while balancing the tone and a look and feel that’s distinct. He also writes and acts in the show. And he was so enthusiastic, it was like I had found a long lost brother.