Frasier: this is how a Hollywood Emmy-winner was inspired by Lancashire
She’s the TV actress from Burnley who’s rubbed shoulders with Hollywood action-man Sylvester Stallone - AKA Rocky - in a Warburton’s advert.
Caroline O’Hara, a former star of Coronation Street, Casualty and The Bill, is among a multitude of famous actors, thespians and singers to come out of Lancashire. Her acting career began right here in Burnley. That’s why, in 2015, Caroline joined the fight to save Burnley’s Victoria Empire Theatre.
Now, in a series of exclusive celebrity interviews, she will shine a light on the stars who also contribute much of their success to our home county of Lancashire.
First up, Caroline speaks to Jeff Greenberg, Emmy-winning casting director of TV sitcoms Cheers, Frasier and Modern Family. Jeff helped to bring life to Frasier’s Lancashire character, Daphne Moon.
How many English actresses did you meet for Daphne? Were you specifically looking for an English person?
“What led up to that is David Lee, Peter Casey and David Angell, who were the creators of Frasier, went over to NBC, to pitch the idea for the show before the script was written. They talked about the periphery characters and Warren Littlefield who was the president of NBC said there is a comedy actress we like here called Jane Leeves, who at that point had done guest parts in Murphy Brown and Seinfeld."
She had been in LA for ten years by then, hadn’t she?
“She had been here a while and she had worked. She did a sitcom called Throb about behind the scenes of a record company. Anyway, they came back and told me they didn’t know Jane and I said she’s fantastic. They were developing the characters and we liked the idea of her being English because it gives a little more definition. That is a little casting trick that I use sometimes too; if a character isn’t well defined you give them a nationality or an accent that’s not from here and it gives them a back story and makes them automatically more interesting.
So I called Jane Leeves’ agents and they said she’s available but she has three other offers on the table right now for three other series.
I told the guys so they said get her in here immediately and they wrote a scene for her and Frasier and I called in four actresses; Jane being one of them, Cynthia Nixon who went on to play Miranda in Sex and the City, a Scottish actress called Marnie McPhail and an English actress named Lisa Maxwell, who at the time I believe had a development deal with Paramount.”
Is that one of the hardest things about casting? To see so much talent and not be able to cast it all?
“Yes. There are many, many talented people who haven’t had the right role at the right time. It’s my job to remember them and keep bringing them in until lightning strikes. I have had so many experiences with finding the right actor at the right time when they’ve been knocking around a while. In this case, we had the four actresses read with Kelsey and we knew we had to move quickly. We were still shooting Cheers at the time so he came over after rehearsals to our office and he read with the four and we liked Jane the most. So I called up the network and she had been pre-approved because they loved her already so we had our Daphne. It was a very easy, fast way that part got cast.”
That’s so lucky for her.
“It was lucky for her and lucky for us. I didn’t have to do a million pre-read auditions for me and then have lots of sessions with producers. We did it in one fell swoop and within 48 hours of when they brought up her name. Very rare. But the casting of the whole show happened very fortuitously except for Ros.”
Which I heard about. Lisa Kudrow (who played Phoebe in Friends) originally getting the role as Ros in Frasier.
“Well Jimmy Burrows (co-creator of Cheers) was directing the Frasier pilot. When he saw that it wasn’t working with Lisa, he said, you know who you need in this part? Peri Gilpin. He had done a couple of TV shows and pilots with her. Ironically, he didn’t know that she was the second choice for the role as he wasn’t part of the casting process on that pilot.”
So again, it was magic happening?
“It was. The next day Peri was on set in Lisa’s costume from the day before. They hadn’t even had time to dry clean it. It was meant to be. It was “bashert” as they say (Yiddish word meaning “meant to be”). So Peri was on Frasier and the next year Lisa ended up being on Friends. One of the reasons it didn’t end up working out with Lisa on Frasier was it crossed over into Jane’s version of Daphne which was a little dingy. Lisa was doing exactly what we wanted her to do, which is why she got the part but Lisa has sort of a dappy quality too and when we put all the puzzle pieces together and ran the show it was too similar of a quality.
You can’t know that until you put it all together and see what the balance is and it needed a different dynamic. It was Jim Burrows, who is one of the great TV creators, who saw what the show needed and unfortunately we had to make that change.
It was a very dark day when we had to let Lisa go because we adored her personally and professionally. But it worked out because she got a better role for her and was more successful playing Phoebe on friends than she would have been as Ros. So the casting of Jane as Daphne Moon was a fluke. It doesn’t ever happen that easily.”
But then I suppose it was all the work that she did before that put her in that position.
“Absolutely. To have a network just recommend her and pre-approve her?! That’s huge. They also did the same thing with David Hyde Pierce (who played Niles Crane) and John Mahoney (who played Martin Crane).”
And John Mahoney is from Blackpool!
“Yes he is. He was the one who helped Jane with her accent. He became her dialect coach.
Did he get paid for that?
Who gave you the best audition ever?
“The one I always remember the most is Harriet Harris who auditioned for the part of Frasier’s agent. She was an actress I’d seen in a play in New York.”
I love that you go to the theatre to find people.
“That’s where I find my best people. She was in a play in LA that hadn’t opened yet so she was in town. I’d been looking for this character, we brought her in, she read for me and she was brilliant. I had her wait in the waiting room, I called the producers and I said I have someone here I want you to meet. She read for the part and Peter Casey, one of the producers, literally fell off the couch laughing. Nobody knew who she was. I said if we don’t hire her someone else is going to hire her. They said hire her.
Does she know this story?
“She does. She was our favourite guest star for 11 seasons and it was always the biggest treat to have her. She earned the part. It was one of the most original, thrilling auditions I’d ever seen.”
So, can I ask you about you?
What is it like to win an Emmy?
“It was a dream come true. It was my eighth nomination so I’d lost many times and was kind of used to that. I’ve since been nominated 14 times so I’ve won the one time and I’ve been nominated a lot and of course always want to win but it’s a dream come true to be included. I was nominated six times for Frasier, once for Ugly Betty and seven times for Modern Family and I won the first season. It was thrilling. It really, literally, was a dream come true.
My whole life it’s been one of those things. I grew up plastered to the TV wanting to be an actor, holding a shampoo bottle in my room pretending it was an award and working out what I would say. It was interesting because Modern Family was nominated that first year along with Glee, which was also premiered and was also a huge hit right out of the gates. They had just won a Golden Globe so we assumed Glee was going to win most of these things. The first Emmy of the evening was the casting award and out comes Jane Lynch (Glee actress) and Ryan Murphy (creator of Glee) to present it, and I thought this is a really bad omen.
Then Jane announced my name. I remember they tell you beforehand that you have 45 seconds after they say your name to get up to the stage, get the award, and give your speech. So when they announced my name I was about 15 rows back and not on the aisle so I had to step over Adam Shankman’s feet, run down the aisle, having to leap over the handheld camera guys and all the cables, running up the steps and taking the award from Ryan Murphy who didn’t look happy giving it to me, turn around and it says 19 seconds are left! There’s a big clock on stage and it’s counting down and I gave my speech and my heart was pounding, I was so nervous, and they did start to play me off just as I was finishing and I got my last few words in.
It just blew my mind. When I walked off stage Steve Levitan (one of the creators of Modern Family) was there because he was presenting one of the next awards and I gave him a big bear hug. It was an out-of-body experience. I treasure every moment of that experience still. They take the Emmy award away from you as soon as you walk off stage. They had me follow an intern down a long hallway and we got lost and I was walking leisurely behind her letting her figure out the way and I was in a golden haze. She led me to a low ceilinged room with hundreds of Emmys in it and it glistened and they made me sign something that I didn’t read to say I couldn’t sell my Emmy because people used to do that. They issued my Emmy and said in six weeks you’ll get a plaque in the post that goes around the bottom of the Emmy and a little screw driver to screw it on yourself.”
They send you a screwdriver?!
“Yes. A tiny screwdriver. So then you go through into a press room where they ask you questions and there were no questions. Deadly silent. Nobody cared about me winning the Emmy as much as I cared about me winning the Emmy. So crickets, crickets, crickets, tumbleweeds, nothing. I went back up the escalators to the lobby, I called family and I walked back into the theatre and sat with my Emmy for the rest of the evening.“
Congratulations! I hope you win lots more!
“Me too! No, now that I’ve won one I don’t expect to win more or even need to. It was a running joke that I was the Susan Lucci of the Emmys.”
What does that mean?
“She was a big soap star who was nominated about 19 times before she won so she became the perennial loser.”
And with that, I leave one of the most influential and successful men in Hollywood to continue making dreams come true, and to cause lightning to strike.