Casting Veteran on Diversity Push Post-#OscarsSoWhite: "Let's Get the World Right"

Photographed by Sami Drasin
Victoria Thomas was photographed Nov. 17 at The Fig House in L.A.

Victoria Thomas, who has cast roles in films such as Kathryn Bigelow's 'Detroit' and Denzel Washington's 'Fences,' also discusses the impact of Hollywood's sexual harassment scandals ahead of being honored at the CSA Artios Awards on Jan. 18.

Over the years, casting director Victoria Thomas has helped a slew of auteur filmmakers, including Kathryn Bigelow (Detroit), Denzel Washington (Fences), Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands) and Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), find just the right actor to bring their stories to life. The Los Angeles native, who first found her love of casting while studying film at UCLA, will be honored with the Hoyt Bowers Award for outstanding contribution to the casting profession at the Casting Society of America's 33rd annual Artios Awards, held Jan. 18 with simultaneous events in New York and L.A.

Would you say your job has gotten easier or harder with the way the business has changed over the years?

Easier on a process level because of email — not having to wait for actors to pick up sides. I do miss going through headshots, one by one — the physical act of going through them. I like to see what people have done; that is valuable to me. It's also gotten harder just because casting is done by committee, especially in some television. It sometimes gets a little less personal, and with some television, to be honest, it just becomes about the 20 people who have to make this decision. You have to adjust to that.

What's a role from a film of yours that took you a long time to cast, and how did you finally do it?

It took us about four months to cast Algee Smith as Larry [in Detroit]. He was doing the New Edition movie, and his dad thought he was too busy and didn't have time to audition, so they passed. We read a lot of people — professional actors, nonprofessional actors, singers, acting students from performing arts colleges and high schools, so that took time. As we went further into the casting process, we went over actors who passed to see if there was anyone we could re-approach. When I found out the reason Algee had passed, I called his manager and said that wasn't a reason to pass. Even after we got him on tape, we were still considering him and other actors for all the parts. We took weeks mixing and matching to decide whom we wanted to play what.

Diversity has been a big topic of discussion in casting since the #OscarsSoWhite issue. How has that affected your work?

In the past, you maybe had to try to pry open some minds about how people of color do all sorts of things and are all types of people. Today, it's not necessarily casting directors bringing it up — it's the studio or network. They're finding it more important than it was five years ago. My feeling is that it's about getting the world right, whatever that world is, and some of those worlds may not be diverse. If that is the case, then that's the case. It's not about diversity for diversity's sake — let's get the world right.

Has the sexual harassment scandal affected casting? For example, would an actor reading a sex scene be met with more concern today?

Most casting directors have always tried to be sensitive to those types of scenes when you're reading them — where there is nudity or sexually suggestive scenes. Especially since a lot of casting directors are women, we've always been a little protective of actors and actresses coming in to do those sorts of things.

What do you love most about your work?

I love being in the room with actors and actually doing the thing that is going to potentially get them the part — going though the scenes and acting with them. The job can be very challenging and it's hard sometimes, and we all work really hard, but are you kidding me? I'm lucky to have worked with the directors that I have worked with and the films I've been a part of.

***

OTHER HONOREES

Marion Dougherty New York Apple Award: Barry Levinson
The honor will be presented in New York to the Oscar-winning director of Rain Man and prolific producer (HBO's The Wizard of Lies).

Lynn Stalmaster Award: Kevin Huvane
Longtime client Nicole Kidman will present the CAA partner and managing director with the award named after the first casting director to win an honorary Oscar.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.