Casting Society of America (CSA) recently appointed its current board of directors, and this installment of Get to Know the Casting Director will be featuring the organization’s new Vice President. Caroline Liem was formerly the Vice President of Advocacy for CSA and co-chaired its Equity in Entertainment initiative, along with co-founding the CSA Alliance. And the experienced leader has a wide variety of casting credits to her name that range from IFC Midnight’s Rust Creek to ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! to David S. Goyer’s Blade: Trinity. With a busy slate, Liem still found time to virtually sit down with Casting Networks and provide a window into the person behind all the credits.
It’s great to virtually meet you, Caroline, and congrats on being elected Vice President of CSA! Can you share any goals for the organization that you’re aiming to accomplish with President Kim Williams?
It is a privilege to work in collaboration with and support of Kim Williams and our new board, as well as on behalf of our global membership — colleagues whose work I greatly love and respect. We continue to raise the frequency with the voice and visibility of current and future casting professionals in support of our mission and actionable goals. Conversations and actions around diversity, belonging, equity, and inclusion are always at the heart of it. This has contributed to our expanding membership, which has significantly increased in just the past year.
I’m looking forward to what you’ll do through your new role! And now I’d like to take it back to the beginning of your career. When was the moment you knew that casting was the job for you?
I was interning in a casting office in undergrad and really loved the energy of this very busy office, thinking that I finally found a place where all the seemingly useless information I carried around from my love of TV and film could be used and be of service. And I thought, “This is it; I found my vocation.” And the timing wasn’t right. It wasn’t until I was out of grad school that the timing aligned. I come from a medical family. I’m Asian, first generation American — there’s a lot of expectation around what success looks like. And it was logical that I would become a doctor, a surgeon. The closest I got was an optician. It was the right thing for my family to be living this Plan B life. But my Plan A was always a career in the arts. After grad school, living a Plan A life, I was reintroduced to casting by my dear friend and mentor Jodi Rothfield, and I haven’t looked back. There have been great moments of synergy when I’ve experienced the magic of everything coming together to satisfy the vision for a project. It’s thrilling to work in collaboration with a team, [to] see the actor who’s meant to meet the role get that role.
It’s inspirational to hear how you went with your Plan A instead of settling for someone else’s Plan B! Now here comes my favorite question to ask casting. If someone made a film about your life story, which actor would you cast to play the role of Caroline Liem?
Grace Park. She is just magical across all genres. Grace spoke on one of our CSA roundtables earlier this year, Combatting Stereotypes: Dispelling Tropes in the Action Genre, and is eloquent and straightforward and intentional. If she were not available or respectfully passed [laughs], [it would be] Zoe Chao. Yes! She chooses roles that defy traditional conventions and is always unexpected and adds charisma and sparkle to all she does. She also participated in our CSA town hall, Asian Visibility Through an Industry Lens. I’m a fan of both artists.
Those are some fantastic choices. How about one of your proudest casting moments? Can you share one with us?
I’m going to use one story that speaks to the process as a whole. There was a project I was working on where we sent our choice to be signed off [on], and the response was a no. Now, part of the job of casting is to always have a variety of choices. But those different voices can change the way the story is told. Believing our first choice was the one for the job, we pushed back and asked for the reason behind the no, which was that there wasn’t enough material to support that the actor could lead the project. Our next step was to pull additional footage, and that included permission to include video from projects in which the actor had been cast but [were] not yet released. We created our own reel for them, and we got the sign-off on the actor. The reason I share this story is because it represents a proud casting moment that happens over and over again after an actor’s audition. Actors may wonder what’s happening when they don’t hear anything afterwards, but it’s a matter of us having conversations about them and advocating for them. Casting goes to great lengths to make talent seen and heard.
Wow. It’s encouraging to hear the lengths that casting will go to when championing an actor! And before we wrap, I’d love to know more about your philosophy that actors already possess everything they need to share their best performances.
We all come into this world with a purpose, and it’s a matter of uncovering that purpose and leaning into it. Sometimes actors feel there’s a lack of opportunity or the ability to meet expectations, but if casting gives them an appointment, it means we see something in them that’s right for the role. Yes, you need craft. You need to understand character and story and how to break down a script and build stamina to be ready for long days on set. But at the core of it all, actors draw from their own experience as vibrant, messy, [and] whole human beings to bring their characters to life. And you’ve already got that within you. Sometimes it’s just a matter of encouraging yourself to bring it forward or stepping out of your own way to let it shine.
Those interested in learning more about the casting director can check out her site, which also offers a variety of coaching programs. She can additionally be found on Instagram, where she co-hosts a weekly conversation for creatives entitled It’s Purpose at Play.
This interview has been edited and condensed.