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Robert J. Ulrich: Talking with The Glee Project's casting director
NUNN ON ONE: TV
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2011-12-21

This article shared 8718 times since Wed Dec 21, 2011
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Oxygen breathed new life into Fox's hit television show, Glee, bringing four new cast members onto the scene with the first season of The Glee Project. Contestants competed by singing, dancing and making music videos. Two winners tied for a seven-episode arc with characters tailor-made for them on Glee. Two runners-up each won a two-episode stint as well.

Robert J. Ulrich is a big part of the show as casting director for The Project. He has been the mastermind behind such television hits as Drop Dead Diva and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Windy City Times sat down to have breakfast with Robert right after a huge two-day open call in Chicago for season two of The Glee Project.

Windy City Times: Hi, Robert. I heard after Chicago you are heading to do more open calls for the show in my hometown, Nashville.

Robert Ulrich: I am and very excited.

WCT: You get to hang with Alex Newell, the winner from last season at the casting call.

Robert Ulrich: Yes, Samuel Larsen was here in Chicago, Alex is in Nashville, Damian McGinty is in New York and Lindsay Pearce and Cameron Mitchell will be at the final callbacks.

WCT: I got to talk to them all before and after the finale. Alex was my favorite.

Robert Ulrich: He's wonderful.

WCT: I can't believe how well-adjusted he is, performing in drag at 18 years old.

Robert Ulrich: Especially since he hadn't theoretically come out until the show!

WCT: I was on the edge of my seat watching the finals.

Robert Ulrich: Me, too. I was there and until Ryan Murphy said the names I didn't know. He didn't tell anyone. Isn't that crazy?

WCT: He's a good secret-keeper.

Robert Ulrich: He is. Cameron quitting was dramatic and a lot of people didn't want that to happen. What is nice about the show is everybody had favorites. You loved Alex. It wasn't a show where there was one favorite.

WCT: You have done so many shows, such as Nip/Tuck.

Robert Ulrich: My company does Dexter, The Mentalist, CSI, In Plain Sight, Supernatural, and American Horror Story. I did Battle Star Galactica.

WCT: Your hands are in everything.

Robert Ulrich: We do a lot. We are very lucky. I have been doing this a long time.

WCT: What is your background?

Robert Ulrich: I am from northern California—Modesto. It is famous for murder and mayhem but also Gallo wine. I was an actor in New York but not successful. I moved to Los Angeles when my wife into a contract with NBC many years ago. I have been there ever since. I have had my company for 22 years.

As far as my background to being able to cast Glee, I did musicals, I was a singer, I performed at Disneyland and I had a club act in New York. I was a music major for a year so I do love music.

WCT: You have been with Glee from the beginning?

Robert Ulrich: Yes, I cast the pilot.

WCT: Are there any divas on the show?

Robert Ulrich: No, everyone is pretty nice. They are very much a family because I think with Glee what happened was most of them had done nothing. For Chris Colfer the role didn't even exist. I brought him in to Ryan and there wasn't even a role.

WCT: Where did you find him?

Robert Ulrich: He just auditioned in my office. He literally opened his mouth and sang "Mr. Cellophane" which they put in the show. There was originally another character in the first episode so I had him read for that and Artie. I took him to Ryan and told him there is no part for him but he is so special. Ryan thought he looked like a Von Trapp so created a character on the spot.

WCT: And then he wins a Golden Globe. Go figure…

Robert Ulrich: I think so many of them were new and even the ones with success like Lea Michele weren't known in the television world. It became such a phenomenon and they all just bonded. They are all really nice kids.

WCT: Now with the Glee Project, did you come up with the concept?

Robert Ulrich: No; it was going to be a pilot but due to an acquisitions deal in getting syndication rights to Oxygen for Glee in 2013, the idea was born. But I think Ryan just wanted to expand the casting process and give people the opportunity to audition that would normally not have a chance. So it was not my idea and I didn't even know I would be on the show until I showed up and they shot it. I am not kidding. I thought I was just casting the show.

WCT: Suddenly you are on camera!

Robert Ulrich: It was wonderful. I am really proud of it. It was so good, wasn't it?

WCT: I was attached to the cast from the pre-show!

Robert Ulrich: That was the casting special. I agree. They did that so beautifully. I will have to say it was completely real. They never made me say something I didn't want to say. I never had to pick someone I didn't want to pick. They obviously didn't make Ryan. As a result it was really real. That was why some people won multiple times on the homework or why Samuel was never in the bottom. Normally that wouldn't be the way a reality show would go.

WCT: Now with the second season of The Glee Project you are casting for Glee when [The Project] has not been renewed.

Robert Ulrich: It just hasn't been officially renewed. They usually don't get picked up until January. It was a unique thing when Glee was picked up two seasons in advance. That never happens.

WCT: How did the casting go in Chicago?

Robert Ulrich: Chicago was great last year and this year. Several people came out of it last year. I have to go back online and take those people—all the people that send in tapes—like Emily from New York last year. Then I combine them with the open calls. I pick 80 people and they go to the callbacks in L.A. It is just crazy; 80 out of thousands!

WCT: That is insane.

Robert Ulrich: I am sure there will be people from Chicago because there were some amazing people.

WCT: That's good to hear. They screen the people auditioning before they get to you, right?

Robert Ulrich: The way the open call works is I pick screeners and give them a whole tutorial in what they should look for. I tell them to err on the side of letting somebody through and then they send me people very night. I already have picked from the screening 300 definites so far. The screeners send the hopefuls they like onto me so yesterday I saw a couple of hundred people out of the people that they saw.

WCT: It is casting on talent, personality and so many different things…

Robert Ulrich: Yes, it is different than a lot of shows I think because it is not just about being a good singer. It is also about being able to fit into that world of Glee. That is so much of it. It is being accessible and open. It is not just about the singing at all.

WCT: Dancing, too…

Robert Ulrich: Dancing comes into it at the callbacks. Zach Woodlee puts together choreography for them. Obviously Damian wasn't a dancer. Many of the Glee kids are not dancers. Like everything else is important but it is more important to be right for Glee and to have that appeal. I think there will be more dance auditions this season actually.

WCT: Any advice for people auditioning?

Robert Ulrich: The thing I always tell them is be yourself. We say that over and over on the show but it really is true. The second you try to be something else then you are not as interesting. On the Glee Project we are really looking for someone who can be comfortable enough with themselves that Ryan can see them and write for them. Some people at 18 know themselves and some don't. It is harder for others.

WCT: When does this season come out?

Robert Ulrich: I guess next summer again. We shoot in January. It might be a little earlier but I don't know.

WCT: You are still working with Glee right now as well?

Robert Ulrich: Oh, yes. I am so busy. There is so much going on in Glee. There is a new character played by Grant Gustin. I saw a tape of his and remembered him [because of] a role that he wasn't as right for. He was on tour for West Side Story so I came in on a Saturday and auditioned him. He starts tonight and is great. We are still auditioning people all the time.

WCT: Glee has changed television in some ways.

Robert Ulrich: I am so proud of it. I have been mainly casting dramas for 28 years. The opportunity to do Glee and get to work with singing has really been a blessing.

For more on the Project and how to audition, visit thegleeproject.oxygen.com .


This article shared 8718 times since Wed Dec 21, 2011
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