Casting a show with a huge ensemble is no easy task, but with experience on some of TV’s most popular and critically acclaimed shows, Alexa L. Fogel has mastered the skill. The three-time Emmy Award winner is the CD behind TV favorites past and present, including “Oz,” “NYPD Blue,” “True Detective,” “Atlanta,” “Pose,” and many more. Fogel sat down with Backstage on Zoom for The Slate to discuss some of her more recent projects, the Netflix shows “Ozark” and “The Politician.” She spoke about her casting process, pairing new talent with names like Jason Bateman, and even offered advice for actors during this time and beyond when audition rooms finally open back up.
This is what changes when casting the first season to a second and third.
“I tend to work on things with a lot of characters and a lot of people in every scene. On ‘Ozark,’ we kill so many people that every season is bringing in really critical big roles so it’s really not so different. Doing a season of anything when you’re weather dependent and when you have a lot of recurring characters, it’s just an enormous amount of administrative work on top of the creative work. With ‘The Politician’ that is actually contained within that group of people, because the cast is so big. It’s really just keeping up with everything that needs to be done, where we’re shooting, the regular guest people. I think that’s true for every casting director.”
Talent needs to have something special when they share the screen with stars like Laura Linney or Bette Midler.
“People have good instincts whether they have experience or not. They can take direction even if they’ve just gotten out of school. Most of the people on “The Politician’ are pretty young and equally so with the kids on “Ozark’ being with Jason Bateman and Laura Linney. That’s the beauty of the process, that’s the beauty of spending time with somebody in a room and then ultimately, if it goes that far, with your writer, director, and showrunner. I think after all this time, even in the beginning, if this is what you do, that’s part of your job as a CD.”
A good script and team is what draws Fogel to a project.
“It’s always about the writing for me. Writing in characters, in story. It has to be something that I’d be interested in seeing. The thing that I’m really fortunate about is I get to work in a lot of different styles and tones, but the common denominator for me is that all the writing is excellent. Then it becomes how you populate the world. It’s also who you’re working with; that’s important to me, too. You want to be working with people who really make it feel like it’s a collaborative process.”
“What makes something a favorite role when you cast it is sometimes because the obstacles up to that point have been so challenging, but when you finally do it and get there, it’s just so energizing and gratifying.”
It’s impossible to pick favorites, but Fogel remembers a role she loved to cast.
“What makes something a favorite role when you cast it is sometimes because the obstacles up to that point have been so challenging, but when you finally do it and get there, it’s just so energizing and gratifying. We had a really, really difficult time finding the lead in “Generation Kill.” Alex Skarsgård came into the mix fairly late in the process, so late that by the time he had finished his last audition and we finally offered him the role, he had to go straight to South Africa. I think in the end that was one of my favorite things. Casting that whole thing was that way, but the process up to it is what made it so sweet at the end.”
In terms of catching her eye, a self-tape isn’t too different from the audition room, as long as your setup is good.
“You’re prepared, you understand the scene, you do the work honestly and naturally, I can see you, you’re in frame, and you’re lit well enough, even if it’s natural light. If possible, which I think is possible during this time because of some of the ways you can do Zoom stuff, read with another human being. It’s trickier now because that means they have to record you and then they have to get it to you, or maybe you’re in the house with other people. It doesn’t matter if the other person can act, it matters that they can breathe and have human rhythms. It’s all pretty much common sense. It’s really just about doing your preparation and interpreting the material in the way it’s meant to be seen.”
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