It’s hard to pick just a handful of credits that cover the breadth and depth of Sherry Thomas’ casting résumé. Big titles like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and The Handmaid’s Tale may first come to mind. Then there are recent series like Vanessa Bayer’s I Love That for You and Danny McBride’s The Righteous Gemstones. But even with such a résumé, the highly sought-after casting director came across as nothing short of a grounded, down-to-earth individual when she sat down with Casting Networks via Zoom. After first meeting the Massachusetts native — a “Masshole” as she calls it — you may feel as if you’ve known her for much longer. From encouraging this writer about her questionable hair choices to estimating how many times she’s forgotten to pick her kids up from school, Thomas’ candor in our interview provided an intriguing look into the person behind all the casting credits. Keep reading for a window into everything from how she works — including her Emmy-nominated casting of Barry’s third season — to what she’d be doing if her chosen profession weren’t an option.
It’s great to virtually meet you, Sherry, and let’s kick things off right at the beginning of your career. How did you come to realize that casting was the job for you?
I grew up thinking that acting was going to be my path in life, so when I was 22, I packed up my car and drove cross-country to LA with just 150 bucks in my pocket. I didn’t know anyone here, but was a manager at The Gap at the time and got transferred to an LA location of the store. So, I knew I’d have a paycheck once I arrived and took my two weeks vacation to make the trip over and get settled. I started exploring acting once I got to LA and met a casting director named Victoria Burrows, who kind of took me under her wing. She had a feeling I was going to end up in casting, but I wasn’t so sure at the time. Once I opened that door, though, there was no going back. Casting just felt right for me. It has this sense of urgency that I love and the tangible aspect of running a business, but then there’s also the creative side of it. So, I didn’t necessarily find casting — it found me. I’d actually liken it to the audition process. You can see a number of actors for an audition before that one person comes in, and everything just clicks. You have this sort of visceral, gut reaction when it’s right, and that’s how it was for me with casting.
It sounds like you didn’t look back after the job found you. And now jumping to present day, congrats are in order regarding the recent Emmy nomination you received with Sharon Bialy for your team’s work casting Barry. What can you tell us about the process of assembling the cast for its long-awaited third season?
We started back in February of 2020, right before everything shut down, so Covid added some new challenges and parameters that we had to work within. But, just like any other season, we got the scripts and then talked with [co-creator/star] Bill [Hader] and [co-creator/showrunner] Alec [Berg] to hear what they were identifying within the new characters. And then we pulled from that to go and seek out the right people for the roles. It’s an amazing collaboration, and the work is very gratifying and just so much fun.
I’d imagine that at this point, after collaborating with Hader since the first season of Barry, you all are very familiar with how you work together.
We talk about what he’s looking for, and I like to ask if he has any prototypes — dead or alive — for the characters. That helps give me the essence of what Bill has in mind, and then as I get him going, he’ll just start going into the character’s dialogue in a voice that reflects how he hears it in his head. So, I get an idea for the cadence and tone of the role, which I add to what I already have about it on paper. At that point, I feel like I’ve got it — I know who the character is. Then, I go through my notes and consider actors that I love, as well as some new actors. I get on the phone with agents, and the casting process goes on from there. One thing I love about casting this show is that it’s not just a lot of offers. And as a casting director, it feeds my soul to get to go through the whole collaborative process of finding that person who just pops in a role.
That makes sense. And thanks for sharing about the magic of working with the person who not only co-created the show, but who also produces, writes, directs, and stars in it.
Look, I think Bill Hader is in a category all his own. I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss — I’m saying that because I’ve had the privilege of watching the dailies [raw, unedited footage shot during a filming day] for Barry and have gotten to see his work from all angles. I’m just blown away with how Bill can be in a scene, fully connected to it as an actor, even when I know his eye as the director and ear as the writer are simultaneously at work. It’s all so seamless, though, that you can’t see any of those divisions in his performance. I’m getting goosebumps right now just thinking about it. You always want to work with people who inspire you and who you can learn from, and Bill is one of those people.
Wow. I appreciate that insight into collaborating with such a talented multi-hyphenate. Now, here comes my favorite question to ask, Sherry. If someone made a series about your life story, which actor would you cast to play the role of Sherry Thomas?
I get told all the time that I remind people of Melissa McCarthy. Now, I would never assume that Melissa McCarthy would be so interested in my life that she would say yes to playing me in a series about it. But I’d love to work with her, so let me just say she’d be my choice.
That’s a fantastic pick! Shifting gears again, I have a true get-to-know-you question. In some hypothetical situation in which you had to choose a different career, what would your profession be?
I would own my own version of a Drybar. My mom passed away when I was young, but she used to be a very successful hairdresser back east. And my sister has had her own salon for about 35 years now — it’s called the Hairspace Salon in Easthampton, Massachusetts. She’s amazing with hair, and I have a love for it, too.
That is such a skill, and one I wish I had. I recently got a perm, Sherry, and it’s been a real challenge.
It’s OK because now you’ll get great volume when you blow dry it. Listen, come to my office and I’ll do your hair — you’ll be fine. [Laughs] Sharon always says that she spends a lot of money to get her hair done for special events like the Emmys, only to ultimately wind up at my house so I can fix it. I truly love doing hair and have always told people that if I somehow just sh-t the bed and was no longer able to be in casting, I would do hair instead.
I love it — you all sound like you’re very close casting partners! And before we wrap, can you share your secret for managing work/life balance?
A lot of it is having support. Sharon and I have been business partners for 25 years, and we’re very inserted in each other’s lives at this point. She even officiated when my husband and I were married. So, there’s support at every turn, but balancing a family and a career isn’t easy. Over the course of my daughters’ lives — my oldest is going to be 12 in September and my youngest is 10 — I’ve probably forgotten to pick them up from school about 20 times. So, there you have it. [Laughs] I love them, as well as my husband, and we all have fun together. I don’t know if there’s a generic answer that fits every person when it comes to managing work/life balance, though. I personally just do my best to be as organized as possible and stay present in the moment, taking it one day at a time.
I think that’s a smart approach!
Thanks, and I’ll add that working from home with your kids during the pandemic really shows you what you’ve been missing out on. You learn what you want to change moving forward. So now, if I leave at one o’clock today [at time of interview] to go pick up my kids from camp, it’s OK. I think a lot of people have made that shift in their mentality. As long as the work doesn’t suffer, why can’t we also participate in the lives of our kids? I really hope the industry is changing to be better in that area, especially for women who want to work and also be moms. We can be a force of nature in our career and still want to spend more than an hour and a half with our newborn baby. That’s what I did back in 2012 after my second daughter was born. At the time, there wasn’t really a choice — you had to prove yourself at work by being at your desk. It feels like that’s not as much of a requirement anymore, though, and I want to help fully facilitate that change for the next generation of women.
From Thomas’ passion for her work to her passion for her family, this has been a candid look into the person behind all the casting credits. Those interested in learning more about the stacked list of TV and film titles on her résumé can find them listed on IMDb.
This interview has been edited and condensed.