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Photo Credit: Jessica Sherman, courtesy of Susan Deming

Get to Know the Casting Director: Susan Deming

Some might say that Susan Deming does it all. From casting the sketch players for the most recent iteration of The Arsenio Hall Show to casting the current Cheez-It spokesperson, the casting director’s work decidedly transcends the limits of just one medium. Not to mention, her stacked résumé also includes projects like the Nick Offerman-narrated short film The Gunfighter and the upcoming podcast called Going Reno. If you want to get to know the casting director behind all the credits, though, we’ve got you covered. Deming virtually sat down with Casting Networks to share some insights that range from the impressive number of roles she holds as a true multi- hyphenate to how she recharges when off the clock.

It’s nice to meet you via Zoom, Susan, and I’d love to kick things off with the beginning of your career. When was the moment you knew that casting was the job for you?

I’m going to give you a kind of weird answer — I’m not sure I’ve had that moment yet. Meaning, I’m the typical Hollywood multi-hyphenate, and casting is just one of the ways in which I get to tell stories. I’m also a professional actor, improviser, writer, director and producer. The reason I started working in casting was that I found myself becoming a single mom all of a sudden, and I needed a consistent job that was a good fit for me. I started out by running sessions for Melissa Martin and found that even if I’m not the one in front of the camera, it still feeds my soul to give other actors the opportunity to shine. So, casting is a job about which I feel passionate, but it’s just one of the many ways I tell stories.

Thanks for sharing such an authentic response that also points to the altruistic nature of your work as a casting director. And I’m impressed by the number of different hats you wear, as well as curious when you find time to sleep!

I think all the single moms out there will understand that sort of tireless pursuit of doing whatever’s necessary to maintain your child’s health and safety. That really motivated my career early on, and now my daughter is a fully-fledged 22-year-old that has left the nest to pursue her own adventures. And I’m continuing to tell stories. That can mean — like I mentioned — acting them out, improvising them, writing them, shooting them and producing them. As a casting director, specifically, I like to say that my job is to populate stories, which I also find very exciting. This is not an easy town in which you can make a career, so if you can wake up every day and feel excited about the prospect of being able to tell stories, you should count yourself very lucky. And I do.

I appreciate that attitude of gratitude, as well as how you define casting. That’s the first time I’ve heard it described in such a way. Now, it’s time for my favorite question. If someone made a film about your life story, which actor would you cast to play the role of Susan Deming?

In my mid-20s, I was sort of sardonic and complicated and opinionated, so I’d cast Aubrey Plaza to play me during that time in my life. And I’d choose Rachel Weisz to portray me at my current age. She has fire within her, but she also possesses a certain gravity and wisdom that I think also matches my perception of who I am as a person.

People often respond to that question with the names of actors to whom they’ve been compared, and I like how your response factored in a person’s essence.

That’s definitely how I approach casting. People can see casting as a business transaction, prioritizing things like an actor’s IMDb score or their perceived box-office appeal. That part of casting never appealed to me, and it factors into why I don’t pursue bigger marquee projects. The work can start to dissipate at that point, and it can become all about the business of it rather than the essence of populating a story. I approach casting with the purpose of finding the actual, layered human who can best tell the story. By keeping my office small, I’ve been able to put that into practice and not compromise my values for a big, fat paycheck. I’m not necessarily against a big, fat paycheck, though…

[Laughs] Yes! I like that idea of being well-compensated for your work while maintaining your integrity in it. Now, switching gears here, I have to ask about your background in improv. And does it play into your casting process?

I have a theater degree from Northwestern University, so I did the full-on, academic training for acting. That gave me half of what I needed as an actor, and the second half came when I started doing improv. I found that the extent to which it conditions your instrument as an actor allows you to just show up and perform — you can rely on the training and conditioning it gives you. There are some people who approach improv as a shortcut to something, such as being on SNL or having their own sitcom. But to me, it’s a deep practice, like yoga. If you’re committed to practicing the latter, you get on the mat every day. The same applies to improv with how it’s a regular part of your life. I’ve also found that improvisers are much more in touch with the humanity that they bring to any character and have such a spirit of joy, in general. It’s always more compelling and interesting for me to watch performances that have more of an honest and improvisational structure to them. So, I don’t exclusively cast improvisers, but they’re normally my go-to people for pretty much everything.

Susan Deming with the cast of an Impro Theatre production of “Jane Austen Unscripted,” a completely improvised play in the style of a Jane Austen novel. Photo by Ginger Sole Photography.

That makes sense! And before we wrap, I’d love to hear your top way to recharge in your free time.

I’ve got a couple. I practice transcendental meditation, read graphic novels and engage in activism. I’m a huge activist with White People 4 Black Lives and have a wide network of activists with whom I engage. When it comes to my preferred way of just letting go, though, that is decidedly improv. It’s incredibly freeing and recharging, as well as regenerative and joyous. Plus, it’s a way to meet a diverse range of other performers.

From her passion for storytelling to her passion for activism, this has been a window into the person behind all the casting credits. Those interested in exploring the casting director’s work, however, can find more about it on IMDb and the Deming Castingwebsite
This interview has been edited and condensed.

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