Big Mouth casting director Julie Ashton speaks with Awards Daily on the guest star packed fourth season, why the puberty comedy is so appealing to so many viewers, and the important decision to recast Missy after seasons of being voiced by Jenny Slate.
Casting director Julie Ashton made a name for herself by being able to weave in and out of live action and animation casting seamlessly. In recent years, she has helped shape the voices of some of the most beloved animated shows on today from Bob’s Burgers to Central Park and most notably Netflix’s Big Mouth.
Working on Big Mouth for the past four seasons, Ashton knows what it takes for an actor to be able to voice a kid while perfectly juggling both the humor and sincerity of the material. In the fourth season, that shined through in many unexpected yet welcomed ways with Seth Rogan playing a summer camp best friend, Lena Waithe voicing Missy’s cool cousin in Atlanta, or Maria Bamford voicing the anxiety mosquito.
For Ashton, no other casting decision this season became as crucial as the decision to re-cast the voice of fan favorite Missy with a Black actress after years of being voiced by Jenny Slate. The decision came at a pivotal time in Hollywood when everyone was re-evaluating race within the industry.
Speaking with Awards Daily, Ashton discusses what that process was like and how they ultimately landed on Ayo Edebiri to voice the iconic character. We also discuss what the past four years have been like working on a show that ferociously tackles the taboo subject of puberty and how Big Mouth has helped generations of people, including her own family, realize what they are going through is normal.
Awards Daily: What are the big differences in your casting process when it comes to live action versus animation?
Julie Ashton: It’s interesting because if you had asked me this question 13 or 14 months ago I would have had a very different answer. Pre-COVID my process for live action and animation was the exact same. I would go into my office and read with all of the actors even if they weren’t going to be on camera. I’ve always felt it is so essential for actors to have an opportunity to read with someone and get insight and direction. So I always treated live action and animation the same; for me there was no difference.
Then along came COVID and most of my live action shows shut down. For animation people started sending in tapes of their voices. In a weird way I think animation is a lot more difficult than live action when we’re not in the room. They don’t know if we’re going super cartoony or utilizing real people voices. Then there’s the new animated shows I’m working on right now where these actors turning in self-tapes don’t have any idea what the tone is and have nothing to base it off of.
The things these actors have had to do throughout COVID is insane. They’re taping their scenes in closets and taping dog beds to the walls to create soundproof situations or filming in their cars to escape the noise that is happening inside their homes.
AD: You’re now in the fourth season of Big Mouth with a season that featured a handful of exciting guest stars. Has it become easier to convince some of these big names to join the show and early on it the process did the subject matter scare away actors?
JA: It has been one of the best experiences of getting actors attached. Nick Kroll is such a beloved person in this community and people want to work with him. It made it easy for me. Even in the beginning when we might have been getting pushback people put those hesitations aside once they saw his name.
On a surface level the subject matter might have seemed weird, but they were able to see through all of that with the amazing scripts. They touched on things that no one had ever touched on before. People absolutely loved it; they found it refreshing and irreverent. It made my job on Big Mouth an absolute dream.
AD: As we’ve been talking about the fourth season featured a lot of exciting guest stars including Maria Bamford, Sterling K. Brown, Lena Waithe, and John Oliver. Was there any of those new characters that created the biggest challenge for you as you and the creative team were trying to pin down the voice?
JA: I always find this challenging because these roles and the writing are so innovative and fresh but I have never been stuck. That’s because this has been such a collaboration between the entire creative team in terms of pinning down just who these characters are.
We’re so lucky, and I would say this is true for many of my shows, where we are constantly finding out so and so is a huge fan of the show. We have an embarrassment of riches where people are actually coming to us. It’s led to amazing, joyous moments like Kristen Wiig playing a vagina!
AD: In terms of casting, the big story to come out of the fourth season was the decision to have Jenny Slate step down as the voice of Missy and recast a Black actress to voice the beloved character with Ayo Edebiri stepping into the role. This news came at a time when the entire industry began to revaluate how we cast in terms of race and ethnicity. What was that process like for you?
JA: We knew what we needed to do. As much as we love Jenny [Slate] we knew it was the right thing to do. We knew that we needed to put our heart and soul into this search.
We read a lot of people for the role and ultimately gave them the freedom to interpret the character as they wanted. We were not looking for someone who might simply be able to imitate Jenny because that’s impossible. After weeks and weeks of searching for the perfect fit I think we ended up with someone great in Ayo. Her interpretation was hilarious and she’s hilarious in general. With Missy she is someone who has so much heart and soul and that shined through with Ayo’s interpretation. She has been absolutely killing it.
AD: Were there any other particular challenges to the fourth season that the average viewer might not realize?
JA: I never think about the challenges of the show. I’m always focused on the inspiration that comes from it! Each year they come up with the funniest, the freshest, the craziest, weirdest, ideas. You look at the script, you hear the lines in your head, and it just inspires you.
The great thing about this season in particular is that they have been so color blind. They were open to me reading anyone and it gave me the freedom to bring in so many different actors. That’s why I found this experience so freeing, because I am allowed to cast my net as wide as I need to.
AD: The list of iconic characters from Big Mouth is endless and often times features voiceover performances that the average person would never expect. Jean Smart as the Depression Kitty for example. Do you have a personal favorite or one that brings you the most joy?
JA: I hate to be this person, but I have a 14-year-old son and this show has helped me get through to him. It makes him feel so normal! He’s watching all of these characters go through things that he is actually feeling. It’s an incredible thing that an animated show can achieve that.
My son and mine’s personal favorite is for sure Coach Steve and Lola. I mean it’s Coach Steve, what more can you say? Lola has become such a fan favorite and she has a lot of great stuff in the next season. Her character could have been played so one note yet Nick Kroll has this ability to channel a little girl and make her relatable. She’s someone we all root for. I find her heartbreaking. I can’t say that I relate to her but I love her.
The table reads are so much fun and they’re on Zoom now. I have a really loud laugh and I constantly have to be hitting the mute button. Here is Nick doing seven million characters and he seamlessy jumps from one character to the other with sometimes three or four characters on one page. It’s incredible to watch. He is one of the nicest people I have ever worked with and it clearly comes through in his voices.