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Ethnicity and Entertainment: An Interview with Casting Director Natasha Ward

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At the SAG-AFTRA building, her name is printed on the wall behind her

At the SAG-AFTRA building, her name is printed on the wall behind her

I had wanted to interview the amazing Natasha Ward for months. I had it all planned. I’d interview her in the fall, giving me plenty of lead-in time to have the story in by early February, just in time for Black History Month. This was going to be a great profile of a very accomplished woman of African-American descent who has cast many ethnically diverse projects. I had no such luck as Natasha is a very, very busy casting director who also finds the time to teach a workshop once a month and she’s also a young mom, so this interview took eons to plan.

Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Natasha arrived in Los Angeles from Miami, Florida, where she was actively pursuing a thriving career as a chef. Out here on her Christmas break from Johnson & Wales Culinary University, she was blessed with a life changing casting internship with two veteran casting directors, Chemin Bernard and Monica Swann on a major Fox feature film, Fat Albert. Right from the start, Natasha naturally excelled and when their assistant quit on a Sunday, Natasha was quickly hired that following Monday to take her place. Natasha knew this opportunity was divine intervention, so she decided to stick to casting in Hollywood and turned in her chef hat for a heavily utilized imdb subscription and her natural instinct for casting.

What I really like about Natasha is that she’s a straight shooter and a total go-getter, take charge kinda gal, but with a lot of grace and southern charm. She works more like a detective by doing her research and seeking talent out directly to get names on board for projects. “I just happen to be at the grocery store or post office they frequent,” she says with a sly wink. “I say ‘Oh my goodness, what a nice surprise. I didn’t expect to see you here, but I happen to have the script I’ve been raving about in my car. Don’t worry, I’ll give your agent/manager a heads up, but I think you were meant to see it, especially since I just ran into you. How rare is that?’” You’ve gotta admire her pluck!

Natasha

Natasha’s trademark photo. Photo credit by Lechon Kirb.

 

Since moving to Los Angeles, Natasha has worked on such studio films as Roll Bounce, The House Bunny, Obsessed, Big Momma’s House 3, Lottery Ticket, This Christmas, Stomp the Yard 2, Blood and & Bone, and Our Family Wedding. Most recently, Natasha has just finished casting the indie feature, The Man in 3B, starring Billy Dee Williams, which premiered at the 2015 Pan African Film Festival, where both showings of this film sold out and countless other projects, be it big budget or indie. She just released two projects on the breakdowns and is actively casting 2 web series. She is also working on a project with Jeffrey Wright, the award-winning actor from such popular films as The Hunger Games, W., Angels in America, and Basquiat. To top it off, she has many other projects on deck. (I did say she was busy didn’t I?) She has worked on countless shows such as The Client List, Cold Case and October Road. Natasha has also cast AFI shorts, USC shorts, web series, music videos, numerous commercials and has also produced stand up comedy shows.

So here’s my long-awaited interview about the one and only Natasha Ward…

-What’s it like casting big budget movies with stars like Angela Bassett and Martin Lawrence versus low budget indie films?

It doesn’t make much of a difference for me (as it’s about the material). The script has to really sing to me and I will go the full mile for any budget, be it $80 or 80 million dollars. I understand that people need to work and some just need one or two more projects to make that SAG insurance, so I’m happy to help in any way I can. God has me here for a reason. I’m here for a purpose and I really want to help people in a tough industry. As a woman and a mom, I want to take care of people and include them to the best of my abilities.

At the Pan African Film Festival 2015 Closing Night Film, The Man In 3B, Directed by Trey Haley (in photo), Casting by Natasha Ward, Photo credit by Tiffany Cudjoe

At the Pan African Film Festival 2015 Closing Night Film, The Man In 3B, Directed by Trey Haley (in photo), Casting by Natasha Ward, Photo credit by Tiffany Cudjoe

-You recently worked on Single Ladies which used to shoot in Atlanta and now shoots in Toronto. How is it like to cast projects that shoot out there especially with all the technology available to us today? (I’ve gotta add that so many of Tyler Perry’s projects shoot out there too. I saw his studio on 60 Minutes and was very impressed and inspired.)

Yes, Tyler Perry’s Studio is not a joke. I like the ease casting off of self-tapes and how it affords out of state actors the ability to be seen. It’s harder for actors to book that way as I really need to feel a sense of the person and that is heard when he/she isn’t in the room.

-Good point Natasha! So what advice do you give actors about the self-taping process that’s taking over the industry by storm?

I know how hard it must be for actors to not read in person. Self-taping can be a cold and isolating process. But oftentimes, as we look at so much tape in such a short, time-sensitive period of time, I recommend that you please put your contact info on the audition tape and please make sure to mark each scene on the tape. If you’re playing an ethnically ambiguous role and the breakdown allows for a little leeway, have one take be in an American accent, and the other in the ethnicity it calls for and mark the tape with the accents, so we know! Also, don’t pay attention to the deadlines. Send that audition in ASAP if you are fully prepared. Better to be in the running sooner. To quote singer Janelle Monáe, “Perfection is the enemy of greatness.”

-What advice to you give ethnically ambiguous and diverse actors?

I tell them to submit, submit and submit, especially for the roles that say “any ethnicity!” Most actors shy away from that, but when it says “any ethnicity,” go for it and submit! Learn some different dialects that suit your look. If you look Spanish, learn that dialect! I know actors are out here on their own and away from their families, so I tell them to go for it and just expand as an artist! And keep up with the social media. We actually look at Vine, instagram, facebook, and twitter followers. And IMDB is of course, an industry standard.

Black Hollywood Live Radio interview, Photo credit by Theresa Calimag

Black Hollywood Live Radio interview, Photo credit by Theresa Calimag

– You cast a lot of projects that incorporate all sorts of diversity, which is wonderful. You worked on Jumping the Broom, which was about African-American culture. How was that experience?

That was a fun process and it was Sony Stage 6’s first lower budget film, so we had some flexibility during the casting process, which is a great thing as we could bring in actors that wouldn’t normally be seen for a studio film.

-I’m from back east and stepping was a huge deal when I was in college. Stomp the Yard 2 Homecoming was based on that culture. How did you find actors that could step professionally?

I looked for professional steppers who could act. We went to many college campuses and got countless tape submissions. For this project, the stepping came first and the acting was secondary.

ColorCreative.TV with super producer Issa Rae of Awkward Black Girl. Photo credit by Teck Holmes

ColorCreative.TV with super producer Issa Rae of Awkward Black Girl. Photo credit by Teck Holmes

 

The Casting Ward's February class picture. Photo credit by Chavonne Lenoir

The Casting Ward’s February class picture. Photo credit by Chavonne Lenoir

-There’s a huge elephant in the room about race and injustice in our country even with an African-American president. Do you think the Hollywood will do a good job of depicting this widespread injustice? Are you at liberty to discuss any projects about these tragic turns of events in our culture and hopefully you know of any/are working on any?

In my eyes, it’s unfortunately completely put under the rug. And when an African-American person in the industry wants to make the right kind of movie and not some cheesy movie of the week about race be it about Trayvon Martin or any other sort of innocent person that is a victim of a heinous racially infused crime, he or she doesn’t have enough money and/or clout to get it done in the proper manner. I will say, in light of this tragedy, that I was impressed with a white agent who was so infuriated with that whole situation and wrote a very good script about it, and he’s an agent, not a writer by trade, but that’s a rarity. We have been emailing each other back and forth on it.

Ward with Wendall James, star of OWN's Raising Whitley in her office while he auditioned

Ward with Wendall James, star of OWN’s Raising Whitley in her office while he auditioned

-It was in that timely article that Chris Rock wrote for The Hollywood Reporter right before what went down with Sony that black audiences matter and cited Kevin Hart’s thriving stand-up comedy and acting career.

Yes, I so agree with that sentiment and additionally every project with a strong ensemble of African and African-American actors doesn’t have to be a slave movie. We could be creating historical period pieces about African queens and kings. But the cold hard truth about this industry is like what a Fox executive dryly said, “Nobody wants to see a movie about black queens and queens. I mean, it’s 2015 and we still have this going on? Our numbers are coming up and black audiences really do matter.”

-Also, I noticed you cast Fat Albert. Tell our readers about that experience. I’m sure when you recreate a film based on a popular and iconic TV show that it must be challenging. And Bill Cosby was involved…talk about degrees of separation.

Forest Whitaker was supposed to originally direct the project and him and Bill couldn’t get along. They re-created the project with white director, Joel Zwick two years later. It was a great intro for me into the film business. It was sh*itloads of fun! I mean, I was coming here from Miami, Florida for my winter vacation. And it sort of came full circle as my sister, who was also my mentor (renowned casting director Lamese Williams) cast the first Fat Albert.

More info about the magic that is Natasha at her instagram and Twitter which are @natashawardcast and her facebook is https://www.facebook.com/NatashaWardCasting

Vida Ghaffari

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– Vida Ghaffari

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About Vida G

Vida G. is a multi-talented performer that is active on the Tinsel town scene as an actress,voiceover artist and a reporter. Vida recently shot a supporting role in Savage Cinema’s campy horror flick,”Pond Scum,” directed by legendary indie Aussie filmmaker Mark Savage, who has also cast her in a major supporting role in his upcoming thriller called “Circus of Dread” starring Bill Oberst Jr. Vida recently voiced two characters in an animated film called “Lovesick Fool” created by Emmy-nominated director Dominic Polcino (“The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” and “King of the Hill”), which stars Fred Willard, Lisa Kudrow, and Janeane Garofalo also voiced roles in this film. “Lovesick Fool” is hitting the festival circuit and has won first place at the Topanga Film Festival and LA Arthouse Film Festival. It has also screened at the Burbank International Film Festival, the Manhattan Film Festival, and the NYC Independent Film Festival.