A few years ago I was watching the behind-the-scenes footage from the show Firefly. Joss Whedon, who created the show (along with Buffy – The Vampire Slayer, Angel and Dollhouse), offered some casting advice of which I have found to be ingenious and completely true.
As a rule, Whedon only casts people who are adept at comedy, even if the show is a drama. Why? Because if you can master comic timing, you can master dramatic timing. Beyond that, no drama is all drama, most have comedic moments. In situations like that, if you can’t pull off the comedy, then the drama falls flat as well.
A perfect example of this difference is between NCIS and NICS: Los Angeles. NCIS is exceptionally well written, has full characters portrayed by actors all of whom are very adept at comedy. Their talent raises the level of both the humor and the serious moments of the show.
NCIS: Los Angeles is painfully un-funny. Don’t get me wrong, they try to be funny on occasion, but the actors have no comedic timing what-so-ever! They don’t have comedic rhythm, they don’t know when some lines are throw away lines and when others are zingers. In a cop drama that tries to inject various comedic moments, when the actors can’t pull off funny, their dramatic acting comes off as one-note performances, leaving the entire experience void of quality entertainment.
Going forward, when auditioning I’m going to always include a scene that has humor in it, even if the actual shooting script does not. Timing, comedic or dramatic, is a natural gift, not something that can be faked or learned. If you can find an actor with that natural gift you have a great chance of increasing the success of your project.