For this installment of Get to Know the Casting Director, we’re featuring someone on the list of nominees for this year’s Artios Awards. Erica A. Hart was nominated within the Micro Budget — Comedy or Drama category for her casting of Jeremy Hersh’s The Surrogate. Hart has also worked as a casting associate on projects such as Freeform’s The Bold Type and Epix’s Godfather of Harlem. She’s currently casting two shows for HBO Max and a new pilot for ABC, but Hart still found time to talk with Casting Networks and give us a window into the person behind all the credits.
Let’s start at the beginning. When was the moment you knew that casting was for you?
Well, I think the interesting thing about casting is that a lot of people have it find them, and I was definitely one of those people. I went to NYU for film and TV thinking that I was going to be a director, and then I thought about editing. I was still figuring it all out as an 18-year-old freshman when a classmate asked me to help with a film she was making. She only wanted to wear one hat for it, though, as the director. When we were going over the crew list, one of the last roles listed was casting director. I’d never really heard of the position, but I had a dance background and was familiar with choreographing pieces and then putting people in them, so I figured I could do it. I ended up becoming known for casting, or “that thing,” as my classmates referred to it. I sort of had a monopoly on this little niche area of the industry at a school where students were very competitive about better-known positions like directing and writing. So I’ve been casting projects since October of my first year of college up until now, and I just fell in love with it. You get to be a connector between so many different roles in the industry.
I love how it started as “that thing” you did and blossomed into the career you have today. Speaking of which, congrats on the Artios nom for The Surrogate. What can you tell us about assembling the cast for it?
I tell people all the time that The Surrogate was a labor of love. I was lucky enough that I had gone to school with a lot of people on “Team Surrogate.” I met the writer and director, Jeremy Hersh, on my first day of college. His knowledge of actors is so vast because he loves the theater, and The Surrogate is a love letter to New York City actors. There are so many powerhouse performances in this film. Watching Jasmine Batchelor lead and push this film was also something I was very privileged to see from the first audition and then on screen. This film is also a love letter to Black women because many Black women don’t get to be the leads of film or television. The Surrogate reminds those watching that Black women are leading women.
That’s so important for people to understand. And speaking of films that inspire, can you list one that has been a casting inspiration for you?
One of my favorite films and casting inspirations is Doubt, which I think is just a masterclass in all aspects of filmmaking. That extends to the cast, which of course includes names like Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. But then there’s Viola Davis, who captivates your attention the whole time during that incredible seven-minute scene. I believe that “good casting” is when you look at the person playing the role and you can’t picture anyone else playing it. That happened in Doubt. If you replaced any of the actors, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad film, but it would be a totally different one.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Doubt, and it’s definitely going back on my watchlist. And now it’s time for one of my favorite questions to ask casting directors. If someone made a film about your life story, which actor would you cast to play the role of Erica A. Hart?
Well, first we’d have to have a long discussion about it. I’d tell her, “Girl, buckle up for this ride. Just breathe, pray, and go with the flow.” [Laughs] But as for the person, Tessa Thompson comes to mind. I think she’s grounded, has a sense of humor, doesn’t seem to take herself too seriously, and really has a voice in the community. Plus, the range! From Sylvie’s Love to Creed to Dear White People to For Colored Girls, she can do so much. I also love Gugu Mbatha-Raw in a number of projects like The Morning Show, Belle and Easy. I would be thrilled for anybody to play me, but it would be such an honor if either of those women would.
When asked what was on her watchlist at the moment, Hart named a wide range of titles from The Real Housewives of Atlanta to Sanford and Son to Mrs. Doubtfire. “I just want to laugh right now, and I’m also lucky that the projects I’m working on are comedies.” But she’s still keeping up with newer drama series such as Unorthodox and praised the work of its star Shira Haas. Plus, Hart shared that WandaVision is up next on her watchlist after she finishes The Queen’s Gambit. And the casting director left us with one last insight into her profession as a whole. “Every time a casting director watches something, it’s research,” Hart noted. “We’re always on.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.