Kim Coleman doesn't really do interviews, but she's made an exception because, full disclosure, I'm good friends with her daughter, Winter. She doesn't really do parties either, unless they are related to her work or supporting her peers. That's because she considers herself to be more of a behind-the-scenes type. As an independent casting director, her job is never-ending. She had to reschedule our interview twice due to a crisis with an ABC pilot she was casting, and during our hour-long Sunday chat, she revealed to me that Spike Lee had called her ten times. Along with Lee, Kim has cultivated relationships with some of Hollywood's most famed directors and producers, so it's not surprising that her phone never stops ringing.
For the past twenty years, Kim has played an integral role in diversifying films and television series like American Crime, Akeelah and the Bee, and Everybody Hates Chris. She regularly collaborates with Lee, casting films like She Hate Me and Chiraq, and she's helped bring to life cult movies including The Cheetah Girls, Beauty Shop, and three Madea-franchise films. This season alone, Kim is behind the casting for the Netflix projects Dear White People, She's Gotta Have It, and Burning Sands.
In her many years in the industry, it's clear that Kim has broadened the stage for brown and black actors, giving newcomers like Trevante Rhodes, Shameik Moore, DeWanda Wise, and Kiersey Clemons a chance to shine. We chatted about how she got her start in entertainment, building confidence in your ideas, and how the industry has opened up to diversity.
Tahirah Hairston: What's your first film or television memory?
Kim Coleman: I don't know my first memory, but one of the strongest is making sandwiches and watching Love Boat and Love American Style with my grandmother. We were very close. We loved watching TV together. At the end of certain TV shows and films, I would see "casting by," and I would see his name, Lynn Stalmaster. I was like, Oh my God. Who is she? That's when I first became aware of casting. When I went to look her up, I found out it was a guy. Lynn Stalmaster is one of the most innovative in casting.
TH: How did you start working in the entertainment industry?
KC: My then-boyfriend, now husband and I decided to move to Los Angeles together when I was 20. We caught a Greyhound bus, started in San Diego, and eventually moved to Los Angeles. I came to LA to take a job at the shop Giorgio Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive. I went from retail to the entertainment business when I joined the accounting department at Creative Artists Agency. Then, an agent friend of mine told me that the casting department was looking for an intern. I went to meet Billy Hopkins, the very well-respected casting director. He said, "Look, I can't pay you, but if you want to learn the business, this is how you learn it." So I worked for free. He taught me everything about casting. I was his right hand.
TH: Two of the Oscar-winning black actors from last season were Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali, who didn't get their big breaks until they were 40-plus. In an interview with GQ, Mahershala said it was hard for black actors to get cast based on their potential. How have you seen the opportunities for black actors change over the years?
KC: Right now, if you're an African American actor, you're in demand. Over the last two years, when I do my availability list, there's so many black actors who are not available. I understand what Mahershala is saying: I think there was a time maybe four or five years ago that, as casting directors, we would say to our producers or directors or writers, "Well, this role that might be written for a white actor, what if they're brown or black?" Sometimes there would be some hesitation, but I think that day has passed. Now I think everyone is open to who the best actor is for the role.