Five Minutes With … Mark Teschner

In the 5/5/09 issue of Digest, we spoke with daytime's top casting directors, including GH's three-time Emmy winner, Mark Teschner. Here are a few of the great stories that didn't make it into the magazine…
Soap Opera Digest: When did you start on GH?

Mark Teschner: December 4, 1989. This December will be my 20th anniversary. It's been quite a run.

Digest: Tell us about getting the job.

Teschner: It was really exciting. I remember my first day at work as if it was yesterday. I didn't have much time to prepare because I was moving out [to Los Angeles] from New York. I was there with a map that the staff had faxed me trying to find my way but I remember feeling so excited as I pulled up and entered the lot. Like many people, I grew up watching GENERAL HOSPITAL. It was a part of the fabric of my growing up. I was well aware of the magnitude of the show and its relevance to the entertainment culture.

Digest: What happened once you found the studio?

Teschner: I got a tour of the set, and I still feel that same sense of wonderment and excitement coming into work 20 years later. I never take it for granted, to be a part of pop culture, something that entertains, touches and moves so many people. It's exciting and it's a responsibility to know that the work will be seen by so many people. It raises the bar. If you love what you do, it's not a job and as corny as that sounds, I do feel that way.

Digest: Tell us about some of your finds.

Teschner: Some people, from the moment I met them, had the "It" factor and they were destined to be on the show. They had that wonderful word, "potential." When you go with your gut instinct and you hope somebody can live up to it and they do, it's exhilarating.

Digest: Megan Ward [Kate] told us that when she originally went in, it was for Carly. Then later, you called her in for Kate.

Teschner: That's the job. That's what we are paid to do. Our job is to remember people. I once heard it said that to be a casting director, you have to have good taste, a good memory and good gut instincts, and you have bring all three into play. There are lots of wonderful, talented actors in the universe but it's our job to distill the talent pool down to the people who, on a gut level, have that extra element that's going to take a role and bring it from the page to life. Megan was not Carly but she's an impressive, complex woman and when the role of Kate came up, I thought of her right before the final producer's selection. Two days before, I called her agent and then I said to Jill [Farren Phelps, executive producer] there's one actress in the mix you haven't seen for the role but I'm putting her in anyway because I think you're going to like her, and Megan got the part. That comes down to a gut instinct. Megan has a very different flavor than anyone on the show and I think the canvas of the show has to have that kind of range.
Digest: Who else have you felt strongly about?

Teschner: As a casting director, you're not just required to come up with ideas and present people, you're also required to be passionate and if you believe in somebody, fight for them to be able to show themselves in the best light. The first role I ever worked on with Jill was the role of Courtney with Alicia Leigh Willis. I knew Alicia was right for the role but she came in and gave an audition that was very good but not what Jill was looking for. So, I asked Jill if, for the next day's callback, I could bring her back but let me work with her before she comes in. I did that and she changed the choices she made. She nailed it and she got the role and four years later, she was one of the most successful additions on the show. That's also very gratifying when you fight for somebody and they do you right by doing a great job with the role.

Digest: Was there someone who came in and you just knew they had the part?

Teschner: Jason Thompson was the first actor Jill read for Patrick and she said, "He's going to be tough to beat because I love that guy." It's just one of those things where somebody walks in the room and they're it. When Sarah Brown got cast for Carly, we basically finished seeing every actress we were going to see and about two days before the screen tests, she had just gotten back from shooting a film, she came into my office wearing a leather biker jacket, totally different that anybody else who had come in, and I said, "Hold on, you've got to stay here." I brought my producer in, we tested her and for her, it became the turning point in her career. You never know when or how the right person is going to walk in. You just have to be open to it, because that's the beauty of it and it's the exciting part about it.

Digest: One of the things GH does best is feature its supporting players like Max, Diane, Alice, etc.

Teschner: I'm glad you flagged that. I have to say that one of the most fun things about this show is that there's always a sense that if somebody special comes along in a supporting role, it might catch fire. Bob [Guza, head writer] and Elizabeth [Korte, associate head writer] and Jill are incredibly open and receptive to, if somebody pops on-screen, exploring that potential. I'll give you a couple of examples. Carolyn Hennesy [Diane]. It was a three-day role but I knew it needed somebody special who had a certain charisma and presence and here it is, a couple years later, and she's one of the most major, non-contract players we've ever had, and an Emmy pre-nom two years in a row. The powers-that-be saw in her the unique potential, and she had chemistry with everybody. She's one of the most unique actresses on daytime in that she can go from comedy to drama and hold her own with anybody. Robert LaSardo [ex-Manny/Mateo] was only supposed to be on for five days. I was a big fan of his work for many years, particularly from NIP/TUCK, where for a season he was their main villain. I called his agent and I said, "Look, I've got five days and then we're going to kill him, so I'm not asking to tie him up. Can you give me him for five days?" She said sure and on his first day, I got a call from Bob and Jill saying, "We love this guy. We don't want to kill him. Would he stick around?" He turned five days into a couple of years and became one of the best villains we ever had. Bruce Weitz [ex-Anthony] was only supposed to be here for a few weeks. His character was also going to be killed but again, after the first couple of days, I got the phone call asking would he consider sticking around, and he loved it. Sebastian Roché [ex-Jerry] was supposed to be here for one month but he was so extraordinary and so galvanizing that there was no way we wanted to let him go. That is one of the things this show does very well. They see something special and they commit to it. There's such a broad range of unusual characters on this show. Digest: Who would you consider some of your outstanding recasts?

Teschner: I think Laura Wright [Carly] is a great example of a wonderful recast. Laura has a totally different flavor from Sarah [Brown, Claudia; ex-Carly], a totally different flavor than Tamara [Braun, ex-Carly, ex-Reese, AMC; ex-Ava, DAYS]. She has made it her own and the audience loves her. We were very fortunate that she was available at the time because it is a very complex, difficult role to step into. She surprises me every day with her work. Natalia Livingston [Rebecca; ex-Emily] is another example. Coming in for Amber [Tamblyn, ex-Emily] is a great example of somebody who's very different in terms of her sensibility but yet, still has the kind of complexity that Amber did. She really did a great job with taking Emily where the character ultimately needed to go.

Digest: In the magazine, you mentioned that the one who got away during your days at LOVING was Annette Bening, who came in and auditioned but changed her mind. Was there anyone else from that era who you'd say got away?

Teschner: Other people who came through the door when I was in New York on LOVING were Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Louise Parker, Julia Roberts, Gina Gershon, and I would be happy to have any of them back. They weren't right for the roles they came in on but their careers have done just fine [laughs]. One of the things I tell actors is, "Don't get attached to that one role," because it's just one audition and sometimes the roles you don't get end up being the best thing for your career.

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