Pilot castings dominated by non-U.S. actors

Fri Mar 27, 2009 1:15am EDT
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By Nellie Andreeva

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - After a long search, Australian actor Matt Passmore has landed the lead on Fox's drama pilot "Masterwork," the season's last central pilot role that hadn't been filled.

The project, from "Prison Break" creator Paul Scheuring, centers on an FBI agent (Passmore), a specialist in the acquisition of stolen art and a fine-arts expert who teams with an MI-5 agent (Dormer). Ellis plays her fiance, a special agent at Scotland Yard.

Casting the Aussie -- the pilot is Passmore's first Hollywood gig -- is a fitting conclusion to a pilot season dominated by non-U.S. actors.

All three roles cast so far on "Masterwork" have gone to foreigners: Passmore and Brits Natalie Dormer and Tom Ellis, whose characters are British.

Foreign players have been gaining ground gradually during the past few years, since the runaway success of Brit Hugh Laurie on Fox's "House." The trend exploded this year with almost 60 non-Americans cast in broadcast pilots and another dozen in cable pilots, the vast majority of them on the drama side. They could join the U.K.'s Tim Roth and James Purefoy, who topline the new drama series "Lie to Me" on Fox and "The Philanthropist" on NBC, respectively.

Most television executives can't pinpoint one major reason for the influx of non-U.S. actors into U.S. primetime -- or at least into pilots.

"They're talented actors," 20th TV's head of casting Sharon Klein said.

Also factoring in are the rigors of pilot season, where 70-plus pilots were chasing actors at the same time, often depleting the existing talent pool. The dearth is strongest for leads -- fresh faces in their late 20s to early 30s who can carry a show.   Continued...