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Get to Know the Casting Director: Alexa L. Fogel

It is difficult to try and sum up the career of Alexa Fogel with just a few credits from her stacked résumé. Do you go with deep cuts such as HBO’s Oz or The Wire? But then you also can’t leave out more recent series like Netflix’s Ozark or FX’s Atlanta. And let us not forget about the casting director’s work in film, with titles such as Shaka King’s Oscar-winning Judas and the Black Messiah to her name. Considering her impressive body of work, though, Fogel came off as nothing short of gracious and matter of fact when she sat down with Casting Networks via Zoom. Regarding the former, her patience with this interviewer’s Amazon smart speaker device and its response to the name Alexa was quite kind. Keep reading for more insights into the person behind all the credits, which span from how she works — including her casting process for Apple TV+’s Black Bird — to how she recharges when off the clock.

It is great to virtually meet you, Alexa, and I would love to kick things off with the start of your career journey. When was the moment you knew that casting was the job for you?

I don’t think that has ever happened, as far as any kind of lightning moment realization. I mean, I love what I do, but my career path didn’t really develop within that kind of framework. A lot of casting directors from my generation started working in an area of the industry that was adjacent to casting. Some were actors before ending up in this craft, and I originally studied to be a theater director. Everything I learned from that pursuit and the skill sets I developed through it play into my current role, though. For those of us who came from different theater disciplines, there is a certain level of understanding of dramaturgy and the relationship between directing and acting. That allows us to navigate what a piece of material is asking of the characters, which lends itself to the casting process. At the end of the day, the material is who you work for — it’s your boss.

That makes sense! And what can you tell us about the process of assembling the cast for Black Bird?

If you are lucky enough to work on good material and with good people — which I often am — that helps the process. In this case, the producing team included a lot of people who I had worked with before at HBO over the course of my career. So, I already had a certain familiarity with their creativity and taste. [Black Bird creator] Dennis Lehane is somebody who I had collaborated with peripherally from having worked in the David Simon world for decades. The beauty of this particular casting process, though, is that it possessed a certain quality.

What was that?

Well, I believe that the most creative and effective casting work comes from projects with the least amount of people who are making the decisions. I think any casting director would tell you that the more people who are trying to break down the material and who have a hand in taking the project where it needs to go, the more difficult the process becomes and the more time it takes. Dennis is a tremendous writer and possesses enormous clarity regarding everything he pens. So, in the case of Black Bird, I was able to understand him and vice versa, which lent itself to a fast and smooth process. Whether I was presenting him with ideas and choices or discussing a character, we were on the same page of what needed to be achieved.

I love that insight into how an old turn a phrase applies to casting and to Black Bird, in particular. It sounds like you benefitted from there not being too many cooks in the kitchen! Now, I have a fun question for you. If someone made a film about your life story, which actor would you cast to play the role of Alexa L. Fogel?

First of all, I hope no one ever makes that film. [Laughs] But if you did, I think you would have to hire a different person to cast it. I don’t think that we as casting directors have that level of perception about ourselves. I know I’m giving you a serious answer to a silly question, though. I consider myself to have a pretty good sense of humor, but even I can’t think of a funny answer to that. I don’t want to get too deep about it, either, so I’ll just leave it there.

That is a very fair response! And before we wrap, can you tell us how you recharge when you’re off the clock?

There are so many different ways. I watch a lot of Scandinavian crime dramas, and I like to cook. Plus, I have a huge extended family and spend time with them. There is an enormous array of things that I really enjoy doing. I do love my work, but I love a lot of other things, too. I’m very goal-oriented and want to do my job well, but I am not a workaholic. I think that when you get to a certain age, you want to make sure your life is a good one. You might not have a perfect work-life balance, but you want to enjoy your life while you’re living it.

I think that is such an important message to share. And you mentioned you like to cook. What is your go-to dish to make?

I’ve learned how to make all sorts of things over the last couple of years since the pandemic. I live in Maine now and had to teach myself how to make all of the things that you can’t get where I’m located. I now make a pretty good hot-and-sour soup, for example, as well as sesame noodles. I can hold my own in the kitchen.

From Fogel’s original career pursuits in theater directing to her current prowess in the kitchen, this has been a 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.

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