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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.
The chances of discovering untapped but experienced talent in that age range are far greater abroad then they are in the U.S.
Playing a role this year is the studios' decision to film more pilots than ever before outside the country, mostly in Canada. That makes the process of hiring non-American actors much easier because they won't need work visas, which has been a hurdle for U.S.-based pilots.
"Masterwork" falls in that category; the pilot will film in Prague.
Passmore, who has starred on Australian series "The Cut" and "Underbelly," was pitched to 20th TV by a local Australian casting agent hired by 20th TV to do a quick talent search. She uploaded a video of him reading for the part last Friday.
"I had no idea who he was; I had never heard his name, I had never seen his face, but when he came on the screen, everybody gasped," said Klein, who had been searching for a "Masterwork" lead for weeks. "He had command of the material and a perfect American accent; he was witty and funny and smart and very handsome."
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters