For this installment of Get to Know the Casting Director, we’re featuring someone who was nominated for her casting work on both Insecure and Watchmen, the latter of which won her an Emmy within the limited series casting category at this year’s Creative Arts Emmys. But the impressive resume of Victoria Thomas is not limited to the medium of TV. She’s also cast critically-acclaimed films such as Hidden Figures, Fences, and Straight Outta Compton. From Con Air to The Last Samurai to Lords of Dogtown, Thomas’ credits run deep, undefined by genre. She recently cast Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and has the Ana de Armas-starring bio drama Blonde on her list of numerous projects in the works. With everything she’s done and is doing, the iconic casting director took time to speak with Casting Networks and talk about everything from her Emmy nominations to casting the late, great Chadwick Boseman in his breakout role. Keep reading for a window into the casting director behind the credits.
Let’s start at the beginning. When was the moment you knew that casting was for you?
I guess the first thing I cast was back when I was a student at UCLA’s film school, and I helped my classmates cast their thesis film. I had an old Screen World reference book, and I remember I came up with a list of actors pretty quickly for them. It was exciting and felt like something I was good at. Since I had been in the directing program, I hadn’t thought about casting as a career. It was just something I was doing to help out my fellow classmates, but I think that was the first inkling I had. I guess I kind of took to it like a duck to water. And that thesis film was called Repo Man, which became a feature film over the course of a year. They kept me on as a casting director, which I was shocked at. So that was the first film I cast.
Wow! That’s a phenomenal way to start, with an Emilio Estevez-starring film that started as a student thesis project. Speaking of films, I always love to ask casting directors a question that “flips the script.” If someone made a film about your life, which actor would you cast to play the role of Victoria Thomas?
In an aspirational way, I would love to have Regina King play me because she’s just so fantastic. In an action film, it would’ve been the great Diana Rigg, based on her work in The Avengers series. For a comedy, it would’ve been Thelma Ritter.
I love that selection of some serious screen legends. Now, let’s talk about your Emmy noms this year, starting with Insecure. Any fun casting stories you can share?
You know, I don’t really have any specific ones. We’re just always having fun casting it because the lines are so funny, as are the actors coming in. From the day-players on up, they just make us laugh. I mean, the whole thing’s fun. There are great people on that show, and everybody’s just very, very cool.
It’s always great to hear when people are having fun behind the camera on a comedy series, as well as in front of it. As for dramas, congrats on your win for Watchmen! What can you tell us about casting that series?
Well, it was an adventure. It’s always fun to cast something that Damon Lindelof has done because it’s always different and bold. From The Leftovers to Watchmen, I just feel really privileged to get to work for him. And Watchmen just has great writing and great situations with all its characters. It was great to read those scenes with the actors in the room, and we got to cast all different types of people for the series.
Before we go any further, I would be remiss not to ask about casting Chadwick Boseman in his breakout role as Jackie Robinson in 42. What can you tell us about that experience?
We knew he was our guy very early on. There were other people that were talked about who would’ve maybe made a little more sense in terms of the fame they had compared to Chad at that time, but we weren’t pressured to cast someone who was a bigger name. We were all in on him, and I’m just really happy I was able to be there for the beginnings of his beginnings. He was always just himself and never tried to be anything different. And who he was on the inside is reflected on screen; his integrity shines through. It’s really hard to accept that he’s no longer with us. He was just a fantastic person.
Thank you for sharing that beautiful tribute to an incredible actor. It certainly sounds like a memorable moment in your career. Considering your incredible body of work, can you mention a few other casting milestones along the way?
Repo Man, True Stories, and Sid and Nancy were the first three films I cast, and it was pretty great to have them at the beginning of my career, right out of the gate. They were films that I worked on with friends, and they were pretty pivotal movies for me. I also made lifelong new friends on those projects, as well. Other especially memorable ones include Everybody Hates Chris. I loved doing that one because it was one of my first forays into television. Working with Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer on Enemy of the State was memorable. And you know, working with Quentin [Tarantino] is always kind of monumental because he’s one of a kind. I think Django Unchained and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are career highs for me, as well. I’ve been fortunate.
When asked what the casting director was watching, herself, J.J. Abrams’ recent series Lovecraft Country made her watchlist. But older titles like The Andy Griffith Show, the Fred MacMurray-starring My Three Sons, and the Roy Thinnes-starring The Invaders were also in the mix. Thomas reinforced the idea that older projects still have value and offer lessons to be learned, noting Ron Howard’s turn as Opie in The Andy Griffith Show. Actors looking for a performance to study might consider taking in the ability he displayed at a young age. “He was just really fantastic as a kid actor,” Thomas affirmed. “Who he is naturally came off [on screen] — it’s really amazing.” The casting director’s watchlist demonstrates that her appreciation for on-screen talent is not confined to a certain genre or time period, which is also true of her long-standing, storied career.
This interview has been edited and condensed.