How would you like to be the person who cast Halle Berry and Chris Tucker in their first lead film roles? Or who gave Larenz Tare and Jennifer Lopez their first big breaks on television? Well, Los Angeles-based casting director Kimberly Hardin has jumpstarted the careers of those now-famous Hollywood properties and more.
Less than 5% of Hollywood’s film and television casting directors are African American. And in this well-kept secret or 2 career, Hardin’s eye for a new talent helped her break through the barrier. Once through, her willingness to take any job and glean the skills from those around her kept her in. Now, 10 years after she first learned of casting director as a career option, she’s built an impressive resume and, more important, a stellar reputation.
With three seasons as head of casting on the hit show Moesha under her belt, the 36-year-old Hardin also counts small roles in the casting of Def Comedy Jam, In Living Color and The Jacksons: An American Dream miniseries among her television credits.
In an industry comprised of some 400 television, film, commercial and/or music video casting directors, only 12 to 15 are African American women and even fewer are black men, says the Chicago native.
"When I first started, I literally called every casting director in town asking for a job," Hardin recalls. While that effort came up empty, a job as a receptionist at TMI talent agency (now The Agency) led to an agent trainee position. Four years later, she realized that hustling to get gigs for actors wasn’t really her calling, and quit with her sights set on casting. She called Robbie Reed, an already established black casting director whose credits include Malcolm Xand Sou/Food, and within weeks Hardin was working as a casting assistant on a commercial.
Fast-forward a decade, and Hardin, now an independent casting director, spends her days jockeying for casting assignments (with the help of a personal agent), sifting through mountains of pictures and resumes, searching for actors who fit a director’s specifications, auditioning those selected and then sending the chosen few to see the director. After the decision is made, Hardin negotiates the actor’s salary.
Hardin, whose has also cast some parts in Strictly Business, CB4, Friday and The Player’s Club, says success doesn’t come without its challenges. These include a lack of formal training programs, convincing casting directors or agencies to take a chance on her, enduring long stretches of time in between assignments and fighting to get hired on "nonblack" productions. Nonetheless, Hardin advises those interested in casting to learn as much about the business as possible, focusing on big-budget and art films and acting. Fledgling casting directors must also be willing to work for years as an intern or assistant and make little or no money (from zero to $400 a week). In addition, you must have the thick skin to work closely with many different,