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According to casting director Kimberly R. Hardin, an actor's job is to bring himself to the material. "An actor can only do his take on it," she said. Then her job is to make that fit within the concept of the film: "One of the most important things about being a casting director is having an understanding of your director so that you know what he's looking for and you can communicate that to the talent. That way the actor can take those notes and make the material come alive."

With credits ranging from CB4 to Baby Boy, Hardin has helped thousands of actors through this process. But the main ingredient she requires of any actor hoping to get to the next step is passion. "It's key on so many levels. I really enjoy meeting people who have passion and integrity for the work. When you have passion, it's not about how you look or about being a star."

Hardin asks no more of actors than she brings to the session herself. Her passion for the craft of casting is evident.

First Casting Job: I'm Gonna Git U Sucka, as assistant to Robi Reed-Humes and Jaki Brown Karman.

Road to Today: "I fell into casting. I originally thought I wanted to be a production manager. That's what I was involved with in my college days," said Hardin. She attended Pasadena City College and Cal State, L.A. "I had been involved in theatre in high school and at both colleges. A producer put a bug in my ear about casting, and that's how I learned there was even a job called casting.

"I worked as an assistant to Jaki on a couple of films and also worked on [the HBO series] Dream On. Then I worked with Gail Levin when she was partners with Lauren Lloyd at Paramount. I worked with them as an associate on To Sleep With Anger, The Hot Spot, and Switch," Hardin recalled. "I came back around to work with Jaki again as an associate, and we did the Jackson Five miniseries [The Jacksons: An American Dream] and Jason's Lyric, to name a couple.

"Everybody works differently," she said. "Working with so many different people helped me tremendously. Not only did I learn about different actors, I learned a work ethic with each casting director. I learned how to get that tough skin and find out whether I could hang in this industry. I was fortunate enough to work with really good people. I try to carry that over with my people, too."

Coolest Casting Gig: Friday. "I literally came from casting a film in Florida to being thrown into the situation where I had to cast Friday in three weeks. I had already cast Chris Tucker in the film I did in Florida. He was supposed to do one scene with Eddie Griffin. He had like two lines. He came in and auditioned for Friday, and he just wasn't getting it. I gave him some notes and told him to work on it, put his own spin on it. He came back in and blew us all away. I brought him in to Ice Cube and F. Gary Gray. Then I had to go through trying to pull him from the other movie. That other producer was George Jackson, and, after a lot of work, I was able to get him out of that one scene so that he could be the lead in Friday. Look at how that turned out."

Unable to stop at just one "coolest" gig, Hardin added, "I also had a lot of fun with a search that Fox hired me and Jaki and Leah [Daniels-Butler] to do for In Living Color right before they were going off the air. We did six cities in six weeks. We had an open call in each city and saw thousands of people in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit. I had an associate who did nothing but prep for the open call we would be having in the next city before we left the one we were in," Hardin recalled fondly. "They ended up not picking up the show that season, but Fox did pick up an option for the guy we found--Chris Kattan--through an open call. The next year, I put him on the pilot for Def Comedy Jam Prime Time with Cedric the Entertainer. A few months later, Chris got Saturday Night Live. That was great to see."

Currently Casting: The Fast and the Furious 2 for Universal Pictures and Biker Boyz for DreamWorks. Hardin is trying to segue into producing while continuing casting. "I've already got a couple of projects on the burner," she said, grinning.

Preparation Tips: As with nearly every CD we speak to, lack of preparation is Hardin's main pet peeve. She quickly shows the door to "actors who don't take the time to prepare for the meeting and who do not take the craft seriously. Especially out here in California, they feel if they're halfway good-looking they should be successful because of that."

Another peeve is a headshot that does not look like the actor. "It's a huge disappointment when you come in and don't look like that photo." And speaking of coming in, more advice: "Don't be chatty and try to shake my hand. I know you're trying to be nice, but I see 100 of you. I'm trying to get a job done. So, if I don't shake your hand, it's not personal."

Hardin doesn't mind if an actor needs to start over in a read. "If you need to make a restart, one is fine. Three to four times is not going to fly. I'm here to help you do the best job you can, and a false start is understandable."

Advice for Actors: "I tell every actor to spend six months to a year in New York doing theatre. If you don't want to do theatre, then what are you doing [acting]? That's the core of acting. You get your immediate response right there. You have immediate feedback, you get such direction in rehearsal, that's where you get it all," she insisted, adding, "Los Angeles is not strong when it comes to theatre. It's sad but true. New York is a great training ground for theatre. There's really great culture there."

Hardin also advises actors to get training. "Actors shouldn't be afraid to have coaching. Some people think they get past the need to train. The oldest actors, even, should always think of themselves as a work in progress," she explained. In Hardin's opinion, training is a cure for several traps of the industry. "Training keeps you humble and takes away the ego," she said. "Ego is so unnecessary. Life's too short. I will only bring someone to the director if they have the talent and skills. An untrained actor with ego will not go beyond the first session."

Best Way To Get Seen by Her: "Submit your headshot. I literally go through every picture. I go through everything that comes in. I make the time to do it. Ask any of my crew members. But don't send a submission unless I'm currently working on a project. Otherwise I have nowhere to keep your submission," Hardin explained.

Favorite Casting Tale: Putting Halle Berry in 1991's Strictly Business. "I was associate [casting director] on that one. From sessions we had it down to three people: Holly Robinson, A.J. Johnson, and Halle Berry. The director asked me, 'Who's your pick?' Halle was always my pick. They hired A.J. Johnson for her dance skills. For whatever reason, they fired the director and hired Kevin Hooks to take over a week before shooting began. He went back and looked at the finalists and selected Halle. Although she had done a small role as a crack addict in one of Spike Lee's films [Jungle Fever], this was her first lead. She skyrocketed from there," Hardin recalled proudly.

Her Operating System: It's about support: She relies on her associate Leah Daniels-Butler ("I'm lost without her," Hardin said) and assistant Billy Murphy, whom she called "a godsend."

"It's a creative process," said Hardin. "I want to cover all of my bases. I'll check out theatre, schools, I'll put Post-It Notes in magazines, and my crew will find these people for me."

Casting Nomads: Asked about alternative submission methods, Hardin said she can't use many of the new online resources because she moves around too much. "We'd use [Internet casting] if we had a solid office space," she said. "But we're gypsies. Have box, will travel. We move with each project. I like that element, but it makes technology difficult."

Hardin took a break from her nomadic tendencies for about six months as director of Talent Development Programs and Casting for ABC, a position she left in March 2002. "I'm very proud of what I've done in helping them get the diversity project going, but it felt different being in the same office every day in that corporate situation. I like the constant change and the travel."

Most Gratifying Part of Her Job: Said Hardin, "When it all comes together, we have an extremely happy director and an actor who went through a gazillion auditions and finally got it, and I sit there at the theatre with a real audience and see the enjoyment. That's really cool." BSW

Kimberly R. Hardin

3000 W. Olympic Blvd.

Bldg. 3, Ste. 2328

Santa Monica, CA 90404

Casting Qs is a weekly column by Bonnie Gillespie focusing on the casting directors behind the projects. Suggestions for Qs are welcome via e-mail at CastingQs@yahoo.com.

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