When Telsey + Company casting director Justin Huff took his seat behind the table at auditions for the out-of-town tryout of Catch Me If You Can, he was looking for dancers with Jerry Mitchell-style moves to fill out the ensemble. Seattle-based actor Mo Brady got the part, and after months of emails and cross-country flights, Huff also cast him as his husband. Now, the only table Brady sees Huff across is the changing table. The co-host of The Ensemblist podcast set aside his acting career to become the video producer for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and he and Huff have recently witnessed the birth of their son Brady Huff (a combination of their last names), via a surrogate. Here the self-proclaimed “DILFs” talk about what happens when the relationship between an actor and a casting director leads to the greatest part they could ever imagine.
You two have had a lot going on lately! We’ll start simple. How did you meet?
Mo Brady: I had been an actor [in Seattle] for many years and had done a bunch of shows at the 5th Avenue Theatre. We met there during the audition process for the out-of-town tryout of Catch Me if You Can.
Justin Huff: We never really delve into it too much because we always feel like, “Oh the casting director and the actor met at an audition…” We skim over that.
We want the details! Were you worried about making the connection?
JH: Well I think at the time I was actually seeing someone, but of course we’re human, so you’ll be like, “Oh he’s attractive,” or “she’s attractive,” but I didn’t pursue that in the professional environment. It was only meeting through other people that we became socially connected. When I went back to Seattle for Spider-Man [Turn Off The Dark] auditions I needed some help with open calls I was doing, so I asked Mo and another guy who had helped us with auditions when I was there for Catch Me If You Can and another friend of Mo’s, who’d I’d met through the audition process, to be PAs. Then we all hung out and got lunch together that day. The interaction had become social shortly after the audition experience for Catch Me if You Can, months prior.
MB: I actually don’t really remember Justin from the casting process. It was one of those big auditions with 10 people behind the table. I remember Jack O’Brien, Jerry Mitchell, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman…
JH: I was obviously very memorable.
MB: I was thinking about other things at the time!
Like impressing Jerry Mitchell!
MB: Yes. Exactly.
Mo, has there ever been another time when you’ve auditioned for Justin?
MB: Justin was the casting director on The Addams Family, which I did on Broadway, but even though he’s the quote unquote casting director there’s a lot of other people that made that happen. For the final audition—just like Catch Me if You Can—there were 10 people behind the table, all the writers and all the members of the creative team, so Justin’s definitely been at auditions that I’ve been at but…
JH: Also, at that point when it comes to the discussion of “Do we hire him or not,” like in The Addams Family, I remove myself from the equation and ask Bernie [Telsey] to step in and take it from there, so that there isn’t any bias and people can say what they want to say about Mo’s abilities or shortcomings for the track needed in the show.
That makes sense. I know Mo is now working at Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS, but was it ever hard to maneuver that actor/casting director relationship with your personal relationship when Mo was acting?
JH: It was definitely a point of contention for Mo and I at the beginning. It was something that we had to figure out how to maneuver through, because it didn’t feel equitable in terms of conversations. And while everything I said came from a point of wanting to help, and wanting to give pointers or advice that would benefit, it didn’t always come across that way. We had to figure out how to communicate about work things in a way that felt like I wasn’t trying to impart knowledge or something on him.
MB: It took awhile to understand it on my end. At the beginning I would say, “You should bring in this person for this role,” or, “Have you thought about this friend for that?” and what I realized rather quickly was: Justin’s already thought about all that; or he knows 20 other factors of what the track requires; or personal relationships between actors and creative team members; or what they’re looking for in terms of style or energy, that I had no clue about. When I was still pursuing acting jobs we basically ended up not talking about work. We would connect about the other parts of our lives, but we really didn’t bring work home.
Is it easier now that Mo has decided not to act anymore?
MB: I would say that our relationship has become more equitable. Even though Justin and I don’t have that power dynamic in our relationship that casting director/actor part of it doesn’t play into it anymore, but it wasn’t a black-and-white decision. It was a decision that happened over time. After The Addams Family closed I booked a regional gig doing Next to Normal, and while I really enjoyed the show I realized that I didn’t want to be out of town anymore and away from Justin. I wanted to be building our life together.
And speaking of building your life together, you recently added a new member to the family! When did you decide you wanted to have children?
JH: On our honeymoon we had a conversation about what the next big life event would be for us. Would it be kids? Buying a house? What would it be? We were just trying to plan for that life event in the next five years. The choice of it being children really made us think about work, career and finances in a different way. It guided a lot of our decision making, knowing what having children would cost for us with pursuing the option of surrogacy.
MB: Our journey towards having a child was very intentional. We spent three years before we were pregnant, working with agencies, finding clinics and raising money.
How did you actually have Brady?
MB: We actually started our journey through Men Having Babies [menhavingbabies.org], which is an organization started by a gay man who has a couple of children via surrogacy and wanted to provide an outlet for support, information and guidance for other gay men who wanted to pursue becoming parents through surrogacy. They’ve actually helped a lot of other Broadway couples through their process. We started our journey with them about three and a half years ago, and then two years ago we signed with an agency in Minnesota.
JH: They helped us with all of the legal aspects. We did what’s called gestational surrogacy versus traditional surrogacy. Most of the surrogacy in the U.S. is gestational surrogacy, where the egg donor is separate from the carrier.
MB: Our surrogate lives in Las Vegas and was referred to our agency in Minnesota through our fertility clinic. We saw her profile before we said yes. It’s actually kind of ironic, but we were all in the hospital the day that Brady was born and realized that a year ago to that date was the date that we received an email with her profile and selected her as a surrogate. In one full year we had met her, got pregnant and had a baby.
Has the Broadway community been supportive of you becoming parents?
MB: The community has been really supportive. We’ve gotten a lot of well wishes, offers to babysit, hand-me-downs and good advice from friends in the community who are parents themselves, or are nannies. [One of the recent episodes of] The Ensemblist [theensemblist.com] was about Broadway parents. I scheduled it with my cohost Nikka [Graff Lanzarone] before Brady was born, very intentionally, because I basically wanted to ask our guests all the questions that I had about having a baby. The three people we interviewed: Bryan Stokes Mitchell’s wife Allyson Tucker Mitchell, Jessica Rush who’s in Jersey Boys and married to Eric Anderson and Ray Lee, all said that raising a kid in the Broadway community is a really wonderful experience, so we’re looking forward to that.