Spike Lee's Casting Director Talks Working With Helmer: "He's Very Specific"

Spike Lee on set and inset of Kim Coleman
DAVID LEE/NETFLIX; Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

From left: Spike Lee on the set of 'Da 5 Bloods' with actors Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors and Norm Lewis (Inset: Kim Coleman)

Kim Coleman opens up about working with the auteur to cast a generation of iconic films, including 'BlacKkKlansman' and, more recently, 'Da 5 Bloods.'

One of the most prominent Black directors in Hollywood, Spike Lee has worked with casting director Kim Coleman for nearly two decades. Their films range from Inside Man to BlacKkKlansman, plus Netflix's 2017 television adaptation of his 1986 film She's Gotta Have It and the streamer's Da 5 Bloods, which has earned plenty of awards buzz for its stars since its release in June.

Da 5 Bloods has produced some of the best performances of 2020, with an ensemble made up of such veteran actors as Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters and Isiah Whitlock Jr. Rising stars like Jonathan Majors and the late Chadwick Boseman brought their energy to the project, as did hidden gems including Veronica Ngo, who plays Hanoi Hannah. To build a cast like this, Coleman relied on her strong relationship with the director.

"It's a blessing to work with [Spike]," Coleman tells THR. "We've built a great working relationship as well as friendship over the years.

"He's very specific, which I love, and he's very thorough," Coleman adds of Lee, with whom she first worked on the 2004 comedy She Hate Me. "He tells me what he wants, and I try to deliver for him. You know, Spike loves actors — I mean, as you know, he's an actor and he's a director, so it's always a lot of fun. It's never too difficult."

The casting process is a collaborative one between the two, Coleman continues. They brainstorm ideas back and forth and consistently introduce new actors to each another.

"Spike, in the course of casting Da 5 Bloods — [like] a lot of his films — has certain actors in mind for certain roles, and he'll bounce it off of me. I'll say, 'You know, I'm thinking this,' and he'll say, 'I'm thinking that.' And then, we sort of go back and forth," Coleman says. "And the good thing about working with him, too, is that he listens. Someone he may have in his head, this person, we discuss it. And then if I mentioned something, I'll come up and look at it from a different point of view. He's always open to that."

According to the Oscar-winning auteur, Coleman has exceeded his requirements when it comes to knowing what his films need. "Kim also cast for me the two seasons of She's Gotta Have It for Netflix. So, you know, we've had a very great [relationship]," Lee tells THR. "She works with a lot of great directors, but we all have different tastes. I think a casting director, [the] number one quality for me of a very good casting director is understanding who the director likes. I really rely on someone who knows what I like and someone who can go out and make it part of a day-to-day operation."

This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.