We recently featured Chicago-based casting director Jennifer Rudnicke for our Get to Know the Casting Director series, and now we’re following it up with another member of the Paskal Rudnicke Casting office. From Showtime’s Work in Progress to season four of FX’s Fargo, AJ Links has helped cast some impressive titles. Coming off an Artios win for her work casting Lovecraft Country, she virtually sat down with Casting Networks to provide a window into the person behind all the credits, complete with the Sonoma County native’s top wine recommendation.
It’s nice to virtually meet you, AJ, and I’d love to kick things off right at the beginning. When was the moment you knew that casting was the job for you?
I guess this wasn’t the actual moment I realized it, but I’ll start by saying that I’ve been casting things since I was five years old. I’d be watching something and would start casting the people in the room as different characters in the movie. I cast my parents and best friends in various roles in The Little Mermaid approximately 15 times over. [Laughs] Even now, I’ll see something with my husband or friends — we have a group that watches film and TV together every Sunday — and I won’t be able to help myself. We’ll get halfway through the movie, and I’ll start casting our various friends as characters in the film. I guess it’s just a way of thinking because I can’t turn it off. It took me a long time to realize that fits an actual job you can do because it’s just always been how I process film and TV.
It’s cool you were casting from a young age without even knowing you were doing it!
Thanks, and to answer the part about realizing it was the job for me, that started in college. I was in the theater arts program at DePaul University, which allows students to try out a little bit of everything that falls under that umbrella. My main focus was dramaturgy and directing, and the school required you to do some assistant directing for the latter. Through that experience, I learned that I loved the casting process. It was the best week of the whole production for me — I was so invested in and passionate about selecting the right actors for the roles. The way you cast a project can change the context or even the meaning — it’s essentially dramaturgy. So, I realized I wanted to explore the world of casting more and interned at Paskal Rudnicke Casting right after graduating from DePaul. Learning about the on-camera world from being in the room with Mickie and Jennifer and seeing the whole process unfold from start to finish — that all solidified that casting was the right fit for me. They brought me back as an assistant after the internship, and I guess the rest is history.
Thanks for sharing about your journey into casting, and now it’s time for my favorite question. If someone made a film about your life, which actor would you cast to play the role of AJ Links?
It’s important for me to answer this question with two sets of actors, and I’m going to start with the Chicago talent. I would be very lucky to have Mary Williamson, Cassidy Slaughter-Mason, or Sarah Wisterman play me in such a film. If I’m made to hire a person who’s not local to Chicago, I would put on that list Maya Erskine, Lizzy Caplan, or Kat Dennings.
You’re giving me a fun moment of synchronicity that connects to a recent interview with Melissa DeLizia, who casts Maya Erskine’s series PEN15. When I asked her the same question — who would play Melissa in a film about her life — Kat Dennings was also on the list of actors she’d cast.
That’s amazing! I love that show and am jealous you got to talk with her.
She’s lovely, which I’ve found to be a common trait amongst the casting directors I’ve interviewed. It seems to be a profession that attracts warm and friendly people. Now switching gears here, can you share with us one of your proudest casting moments?
I’m lucky to have witnessed several bookings that were life-changing for actors, whether it meant someone was able to save their farm or pay off their mortgage. I’ll never forget those moments and am grateful to have been a part of them. But as far as my proudest memories, those would be the instances when I’ve gotten to be the most collaborative with actors. It’s those times when I said yes, the actor said yes, and we were able to do something special together that ended in them booking the project. One example is a spot we cast for noise-canceling headphones, which centered on a grandpa character who was dancing around as he got ready to go outside for his daily walk. The client required we use the real product for callbacks, so we had all these senior actors — all of whom were over 70 — wearing the headsets, unable to hear anything going on in the audition room. We were playing music, and the director was trying to instruct them on how to dance. They couldn’t hear anything, though, so I would run up next to camera and act out the instructions. The senior actors would copy my movements, and that’s how we got through it, with me just shaking my butt in front of everyone. [Laughs] It may not be the sexiest answer, but it’s times like that — when I’m really in it with the actors as their teammate — that light up my heart the most.
That’s admirable that you have such a passion for helping actors succeed. And before we wrap, I’d love to hear what you do in your free time.
Honestly, when I’m not working, I’m often coaching actors or teaching. So, I’m likely still doing something related to casting because I don’t really have other hobbies. [Laughs] But a non-industry thing I enjoy is sampling my husband’s cooking. He’s a producer and director by day, but at night, he comes home and turns into this incredible chef who makes all types of crazy, beautiful food. We may host friends or go out and try new places — Chicago has a great restaurant scene.
Speaking of food — and segueing to drinks — do you have a type of wine that you prefer? The topic came up during my chat with Jennifer, and she said red, so now I’m just polling the Paskal Rudnicke Casting office! [Laughs]
I’m from wine country, so I take this question very seriously, and I’m 100 percent a rosé drinker. If you’re ever looking for a good one, my top recommendation would be the rosé from Hartford Family Winery. And if you can get a hold of a bottle, go ahead and buy two because this stuff goes down so easy — drinking it on a warm summer day may get you in trouble! Those interested in learning more about the casting director can check out Links’ official website or find her on Instagram.
This interview has been edited and condensed.