Emmy-winning casting director Meredith Tucker could have had the “Defending Jacob” novel for reference in casting the Apple TV+ limited series adaptation of the same name but she did not use it. While the series shares the same story as the novel, about a Massachusetts assistant district attorney named Andy (Chris Evans) whose 14-year-old son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell) is accused of murdering a classmate, she soon realized that there would be many changes to the identity of the characters. “I avoided reading it just because there was going to be some changes to the story and I didn’t want to have that in my mind and already establish feelings towards characters,” Tucker says of the “Defending Jacob” novel. “I wanted to use the script much more as my jumping off point as opposed to the book.” Watch Tucker’s full interview with Gold Derby above.
One example of a major change was Jacob’s lawyer. While in the novel, that character is an older Jewish man, Tucker cast Emmy and Tony-winning actress Cherry Jones. Tucker collaborated with showrunner Mark Bomback and director Morten Tyldum about making the character a woman to counterbalance the very male presence in the courtroom scenes. She also cast Betty Gabriel as Andy’s detective partner, Paula Duffy, who was Paul Duffy in the novel.
As for the leads of the series, Evans had already been attached to star before Tucker got involved, but she had an integral role in casting Martell as Jacob and Michelle Dockery as Andy’s wife, Laurie. For Dockery, Tucker notes, “She really is a chameleon. Obviously we wanted someone around Chris’s age, you would buy that she would the strong mother and be able to unravel a little bit and you sympathize with her.” Casting Jacob was even more key to the series and Tucker knew Martell was the one from very early on. “It was very clear from his initial audition that he was the guy for the part,” she explains. “He has all the vulnerability. You believe him that he could have done it, he has all the ambiguity.” There were no chemistry reads to make sure the family dynamic worked between Evans, Dockery and Martell but as Tucker notes, “There is something ineffable about it but watching it, you really do buy them as a family.”
Tucker is a three-time Emmy winner for her work on “Boardwalk Empire,” “Veep” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” While she admits it is “a little scary” to get up in front of her peers at such events, she appreciates getting recognized by those in her industry. Still, she observes, “there’s so many wonderful shows that get overlooked, especially now because there’s so much scripted television.”
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