For this installment of Get to Know the Casting Director, we’re featuring the person behind the cast of Regina King’s feature directorial debut, which is getting some serious Oscar buzz. Besides One Night in Miami, Kimberly Hardin has an extensive number of well-known credits to her name such as Think Like a Man, Hustle & Flow, Cadillac Records and Friday. The busy casting director took some time out to virtually sit down with Casting Networks and give us a window into the person behind all the credits.
Thanks for talking today, Kimberly. So take me back to the beginning. When was the moment you knew that casting was for you?
Well, first of all, I moved here (Los Angeles) from Chicago when I was 18 and right out of high school. I thought I wanted to be a production coordinator, even though I had no clue what the job entailed at the time. I invited a producer to speak at this film club that I started while I was in college, and he was the one that told me I struck him as a casting director. I attended one of his workshops to understand more about the job and realized it was something I liked. But, schools don’t teach you how to pursue being a casting director so it was something I had to figure out on my own. I applied for a job at the office of Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson, and they were interested in hiring me. The position ended up being an internship, which I couldn’t afford because I was putting myself through college. So, I took a position at a talent agency and worked my way up the ladder over the course of four years, building a lot of relationships with casting directors along the way. Then, one day I had a car accident, which kind of put things in perspective because I still wanted to pursue casting. I quit the agency and two weeks later I got a job with Jaki Brown, who was casting a Sprite commercial. Then she brought me on board I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in 1988, which was the first film I helped cast. I just kept going from there!
I love hearing about the journey that led to where you’re at today, which of course includes casting One Night in Miami. The film has received a number of Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations, as well as a Robert Altman Award win for you at this year’s Spirit Awards. What can you tell us about assembling such a powerful cast for it?
Casting a biopic is drastically different than casting a regular film because we’ve got to start with the elements of “look” for each given character. So, that eliminates a lot of people right there, and then you move on to other traits, like being able to do the right dialect in order to accurately play the role. I had to look all over the world for such specific casting requirements, and thankfully the shoot date was pushed back because of Regina’s schedule so I was blessed with a long span of time to really search for the right people. My approach to casting, in general, is to see as many actors as I can in order to give as many people as possible an opportunity. Plus, that allows me to provide an abundance of options to the filmmakers. But for One Night in Miami, we ended up having to replace the actors that we originally had for Sam Cooke and Malcolm X. It was a last-minute thing and certainly a whole process in itself.
Wow. It’s so interesting to hear how you ended up with the final cast because now after watching the film, I can’t imagine anyone but Leslie Odom Jr. and Kingsley Ben-Adir respectively playing Sam Cooke and Malcolm X. My next question is in regard to your social media presence since you make a lot of inspirational posts about life on your @castingwithkim Instagram page. Can you share a related piece of advice?
I’d recommend figuring out your own way of remaining humble and determining what in your life takes precedent over your work. You have to set boundaries because it’s easy to get absorbed into a project or too focused on what you want to achieve in the industry. Everything else can get put on the back burner and you may end up feeling the effects of that later on in your life. I know there are certain couples in Hollywood who coordinate so that one person can be with their kids when the other is traveling for work, which can mean passing on projects. I tip my hat to that level of commitment to one’s family. So overall, don’t let work put your life on hold because it will end up passing you by.
That’s such an important message to share. Now here comes one of my favorite questions to ask casting professionals. If someone made a film about your life story, which actor would you cast to play the role of Kimberly Hardin?
I can’t say I’ve thought about that before, but I’ll give you what comes off the top of my head. I’m going to go with someone like Carmen Ejogo for a drama. But I’m always trying to crack everybody up so it could also be a comedy. If it were that type of film, I would probably say Taraji P. Henson. It’s a hard question to answer, in general, because there are a lot of different sides to me.
Those are some great choices! As we wrap, I’d love to hear what’s on your watchlist.
Well, I’ve been trying to catch up on all the screeners that the Academy sends out. And I must say that I liked Bridgerton. I also really enjoyed that new French series on Netflix called Lupin, which stars Omar Sy. Plus, I’m waiting on the next seasons of other series I like, such as Ozark and Lovecraft Country.
Regardless of one’s role in the business, Hardin’s words serve as a great reminder to maintain a healthy balance between work and life, even amidst all the demands of the industry. The casting director also shared the importance of helping one another out in Hollywood. Besides her approach to casting, which aims to give actors as many opportunities as possible, Hardin’s story highlights how she was offered a chance at the beginning of her career. “I started out as Jaki’s assistant, she bumped me up to being her associate, and then she started sharing her credit with me until I was ready to fly on my own,” Hardin recalled during the interview. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at without Jaki.” Between the ideas of paying it forward and keeping one’s priorities straight, getting to know this casting director comes with the offer of some important life wisdom to boot.
This interview has been edited and condensed.