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Photo Courtesy of Leah Daniels-Butler

Trailblazers in Entertainment: Casting Director Leah Daniels-Butler

Robert Peterpaul

This Women’s History Month, Casting Networks is launching a series to spotlight female trailblazers in the casting industry who uplift, educate and improve the entertainment landscape as a whole. Casting is a pivotal process in storytelling, putting together the worlds we see onscreen, and consequently influencing how we see people offscreen. There are countless women in casting who go above and beyond to ensure proper representation in television, film and theater projects. The celebration of these women shouldn’t be confined to merely one month, so please join us as we continue to honor powerhouse professionals every month going forward. First up: Casting Director Leah Daniels-Butler, CSA.

Leah Daniels-Butler got her start as a casting assistant in 1991, and has been blazing trails in entertainment ever since. From there, the award-winning casting director dove into work on countless high-profile television and film projects, launching actors like “Precious” breakout Gabourey Sidibe into stardom along the way. Daniels-Butler was previously appointed to the Casting Society of America board, where she co-created the Equity in Entertainment committee to focus on amplifying under-represented actors and empowering authenticity in casting.

A few recent highlights of her incredible career include casting the hit FOX series “Empire,” “Coming 2 America” and this year’s Oscar-nominated film “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” Daniels-Butler was kind enough to speak with us about how she got her start, and the incredible initiative she formed during the pandemic that’s kept us all inspired.

On the women who gave her wings to fly in casting:

“I was introduced to casting by Kimberly Hardin and Jaki Brown. These women took me under their wings and allowed me the opportunity to learn from them. I soaked up everything I could like a sponge. I am forever grateful to them, for seeing in me what I couldn’t see in myself at the time. I stand on their shoulders.”

Her best advice for breaking into casting:

“You have to have a love for actors first and foremost. You have to watch as much programming as you can—television and movies—attend showcases, and learn as much about talent as possible. Not just known talent, but up-and-coming talent, as well. Understand you will put in long hours (likely for little money) in the beginning, but it is just like anything else—if you work hard and have patience, it will pay off in the end. Also, be prepared for not necessarily getting the accolades for finding talent, when you make a discovery or introduce new talent to the industry. Casting directors, in my opinion, are the most under-appreciated department heads on a production. We change people’s lives, and oftentimes it goes unnoticed. However, we do it for the love of bringing these words and characters to life, and for no other reason.”

How Leah kept us inspired during the pandemic:

As the pandemic shut down the world, Daniels-Butler decided to create the Quarantine Monologue Challenge. She candidly revealed that it stemmed out of boredom and wanting to use the time off constructively—a relatable feeling for most artists out of work and self-isolating at home. “I figured if this were a normal hiatus, I would be taking general meetings with actors, so why not curate a platform where I can meet actors during this time of crisis? I am so glad that I did, because I met actors I know I would have never met had it not been for the pandemic and QMC.”

She added, “So, after it’s all said and done, the pandemic was bittersweet, if you will, almost like a gift and a curse. A gift, in a way that I was able to meet new amazing talent that I call in for auditions, and a curse…for obvious reasons.” 

Another reason to celebrate Leah Daniels-Butler is her dedication to shaping the futures of real women in her community who need a second chance. She serves on the board of A New Way of Life ReEntry Project, which provides housing and support to formerly incarcerated women in South Central Los Angeles.

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Robert Peterpaul is a writer and actor who can be seen in James Franco’s film “King Cobra,” T-Mobile ad campaigns, and Amazon Prime’s “New Dogs, Old Tricks.” Other career highlights include working on NBC’s “Access Hollywood” and “America’s Got Talent,” BUILD Series, writing for HuffPost, and his family’s nonprofit, the Thomas Peterpaul Foundation, which aims to end pediatric cancer. Robert currently serves as the weekend editor for HOLA! USA and writes for publications like Backstage. He’s studied at the Barrow Group, Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, UCB and earned a B.A. from Marist College (go, Red Foxes!). Robert thanks you for reading and hopes you’ll follow your bliss! www.robertpeterpaul.com