Casting Spotlight: Carolyn Jenkins, Casting Director/Casting Producer
In this interview, we explore some of the ways experienced Casting Director and Producer Carolyn Jenkins finds the right talent for her projects, as well her journey to discovering and mastering the craft of casting.
How did you become a casting professional? What's the backstory here?
I have a background in recruiting and talent acquisition in the corporate world, but I literally just fell into the entertainment industry. My son is who catapulted my casting career. Unknowing that I was casting, he asked me to find people for his college film project. I had no idea about a script, talent, or character breakdowns. He gave me the characteristics of each character, and I interviewed talent as if I was hiring them in the corporate world. So funny!
I required that they come dressed in a suit and tie. Oh, I had no idea about auditions. So, my son presented me with resources and a book on directing actors. I also started attending his acting classes to better understand acting skills and watched plenty of YouTube videos on casting. I did not go running into casting at first. I started out as a talent agent for one of the first African American Master Hypnotists, Dr. Ramon Smith: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNnL_RVMLiU
Dr. Smith really encouraged me to go full force into the industry. I managed a few talents who are now in major tv and movies. But after collaborating with other local Atlanta casting directors and learning more about the casting business, I started the casting business 10 years ago. I believe that my background in recruiting adds to my ability to find the right talent.
Which casting calls or roles were the biggest challenges for you and why?
My most challenging role to cast is children. I have a heart for children, and it’s so hard to say no. I want to give everyone an opportunity. But I had to learn to overlook their cute little eyes and genuine spirits and focus on their skills to find a perfect fit for the role. During my experience in casting a project with children, I learned more about directing talent.
How do you spend your free time?
I am a writer. I am working on writing my life story growing up in the Islamic faith in Philadelphia. I also write Christian devotional books for women. I write short testimonial stories from my personal journal of life’s lessons. Inspired by actual events, I hope to encourage other women to overcome life’s obstacles and fulfill their dreams.
If you had to choose an actor to play you in a biopic, who would you choose?
Definitely Octavia Lenora Spencer - an American actress, author, and producer. She is one of two women of color to have received three Oscar nominations and the first black actress to receive two consecutive nominations. I believe we look alike, but it’s her role in “The Help” where her character portrays my personality. I truly honor her and hope to cast her in my own movie.
What’s your most exciting project right now?
I have a couple of projects where I serve as the Casting Producer. I am the casting producer for a Facebook live broadcast ‘Truth Behind the Truth’” This show is Helping humanity find the beauty of authenticity through honest conversation, revealing the Truth behind the Truth. I am also the casting producer for a reality show for the LGBTQ community.
What’s the most memorable audition that you’ve been a part of?
I was selected to cast for a national commercial seeking the first African American woman to represent Viagra products. Here is the story:
What are the typical mistakes actors make in the casting process?
Talent that lacks professionalism (not prepared (no resume/headshot), late for the audition, not following instructions, late self-tapes submissions, and lack of communicating with the casting director). I personally don’t like excuses. If you couldn’t get the self-tape in time, then you should have not submitted it. I am annoyed when talent doesn't look like their headshots.
Short story: I was casting for a natural hair product and invited the talent to audition who appeared to have the right hair texture, only to find out at the audition that she was wearing an afro wig in her headshot. My casting associates were so embarrassed. Talent who ask questions that are answered in the casting notice. Not reading the entire casting notice or not responding to emails promptly.
How can they improve their chances of getting cast?
Actors should really dive into the character’s motives or intentions when reading the script. Not just read the lines. But actors should understand how that character relates to the story. I know that actors only get the sides, but I love when an actor can interpret the role. This demonstrates creativity.
Actors should list their other skills on their resumes as well. Often, I look at the additional skills and determine if the talent can perform any activities, like running, exercising, etc. Actors should remember that the casting director is on their side. So be friendly and approachable to the casting director. We are the doorway to the director. Know that when the actor shines, so does the casting director.
What should aspiring talent know before they apply to your casting calls?
Actors should only apply if they are fully available (without conflicts) for the entire project time. It is so annoying when an actor submits and makes it through as a director’s choice for a callback, only to learn that they can’t make one of the shoot dates. This is my biggest pet peeve! Let us know upfront. If my casting notices instruct talent to send a demo reel or links to your website, I expect a demo reel. Actors should only apply to the role that best fits their skills, age range, ethnicity, or look. I will ignore a talent or delete their submission if I seek blond hair and get red hair!!
What would you suggest to other people who are seeking talent? What are the typical mistakes people make when searching for talent?
I recommend hiring a professional CD. CDs are the filters, and we are skilled in vetting talent. We are the liaison between the project team and the actors. A mistake that people make when searching for talent is assuming that because an actor was good in another project, they fit your project. So often, a director will have me recruit the named talent, but that talent could not fulfill the character's aspects in the story.
What do you think any casting professional needs in order to succeed?
Computer savvy, organizational, excellent administration skills, good reputation, and great work ethics are a must to succeed as a good CD. Strong relationships with talent agents and managers. Outstanding interpersonal skills and an ability to be very flexible to work with the different personalities of directors. A good Casting director understands the writer’s story and the importance of each role, no matter how small. Most importantly, the CD must have a good plan and approach that saves time and money to recruit and vet the right talents for the project. Sounds like the HR in me!
How do you notice the difference between aspiring talent who can “make it” and those who can't?
An aspiring actor looks at their craft as a career and not just some pipe dream. Much like a surgeon. A surgeon spent time homing in on their skill. A career requires hard work, continuous training, and a “stick to it” spirit. I notice the difference when I read on an actor’s resume that they have studied acting classes or worked with an acting coach. An aspiring actor demonstrates professionally (verbally and written communications), comes to auditions prepared (live or virtually). Aspiring actors can accept “NO” gracefully. Aspiring actors understand that it is the writer/director’s story, and every role is not for every actor.
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