One of television’s strongest ensembles occupies ABC’s “Black-ish,” thanks in no small part to its team of casting directors Alexis Koczara, Christine Shevchenko, and Amanda Lenker Doyle. The trio, who have been nominated for an Artios Award, broke down how they paired stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, and why they believe casting often goes unrecognized in show business.
How did your team get involved with “Black-ish”?
Christine Schevchenko: We met with [original showrunner] Larry Wilmore and [creator] Kenya Barris on the pilot. We had some ideas and they kind of flushed out what the series was going to be and we fell in love with the idea of what they were trying to do. We got the pilot and the rest is history!
What was the process for casting the principals?
Alexis Koczara: Anthony Anderson was already on board. He’s one of our executive producers, so we set out to find his four kids on the show and his wife and we actually read everybody.
Amanda Lenker Doyle: [Reading everybody] is a rare thing these days because a lot of these higher profile pilots and shows make offers. The opportunity to physically cast all the other roles was rare and special.
CS: Tracee Ellis Ross was the last person to test with Anthony and their chemistry the minute she walked in the door was so explosive, there was no denying that she was going to be [it]. It was magical.
As a casting director, how do you ensure inclusivity onscreen?
CS: We try and just cast color blind. We like to be open on all roles unless it’s specifically mandated because of storyline that it needs to be a certain ethnicity. We try everything for every role.
AK: There’s a responsibility at every level of this business to be mindful of inclusion and promote diversity…. Then, when it comes into our hands as casting directors, we have to do our diligence and make sure that we promote that vision as well.
ALD: It’s our responsibility to really look at every piece of material with an open mind and cast completely color blind and cast the very best person for that part.
Why do you think the art of casting doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves?
AK: I feel like we’re on the precipice of an exciting time for casting directors because we’re starting to get more and more recognition. For years, you would hear directors give their acceptance speeches and they’d say, “When we found so and so.” You’d rarely hear them say, “When my casting director brought me the choice for…”
CS: We’re so lucky on “Black-ish.” Our creator Kenya Barris thanks us all the time. At our last wrap party he said, “Look around the room. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you guys.”
ALD: The Casting Society of America is working very hard as well to try and elicit a little more recognition within the community. Our biggest and most important job is to make the people we work with feel like the decision that they’re making is theirs. The lack of recognition just comes from the fact that it’s how we perform our jobs.
As people who sit on the other side of the table, what’s a piece of advice you’d give the auditioning actor?
AK: My biggest piece of advice is love what you do because this business is so hard and actors are faced with so much rejection. The work you do, whether it’s in an audition or a table read; whether it’s in an actual booking; whether it’s in a play onstage, the work that you do has to fill your soul.
CS: My biggest advice, especially for actors who are starting out, is they need to understand auditioning is their job. When you book a role, that’s actually like a bonus, but auditioning is really your full time job…even though you’re not getting paid for it, that’s the biggest part of your job.
ALD: The best auditioners are the ones that walk into the room and are full of joy and just love what they do. You have to understand what you can give and sometimes that’s not necessarily what’s right for that part and that’s okay. There’s a part for you out there somewhere. It’s waiting for you and you have to be okay with not booking everything. We saw it with Tracee. She walked in and she had so much confidence and she said, “This is who I am. I’m either right or I’m not. If I’m right, great. If I’m not, that’s fine, too.” Every actor should aspire to get to that place.