Charisse Glenn is a second-generation commercial casting director in Los Angeles who grew up observing her mother, Kiyo Glenn-Sharp, before building up 35 years of her own career, which includes spots for a multitude of national brands. Glenn spoke with Casting Networks to share her fascinating journey that led to casting — living off the grid in Hawaii and as an expat in Paris are just two examples of which you can anticipate finding out more. Keep reading for a window into the person behind the role of commercial casting director.
It’s nice to virtually meet you, Charisse, and I’d love to kick things off with the moment you knew that casting was the job for you.
It’s an interesting question because I was raised in the business but never thought I would work in it. I was a child of the early ‘70s and diametrically opposed to what I thought commercial casting was about in relation to advertising because I thought it was all about the establishment. I ran in the opposite direction and did a lot of different things. I moved to Jackson Hole to become a ski bum before moving to Maui and living off the grid, riding horses and getting my real estate license. Life took another turn, and I moved to New York because I wanted to work in fashion. At the time, I thought that industry would have more integrity than the film business. I did that for a couple of years at a large company before deciding it wasn’t for me, either. My next move was to Paris, and that’s when I started writing, penning what became the foundation for my blog, The Let Go. That was my life for two years — doing yoga, writing, and living — before I ran out of money and moved back to LA. The idea was that I’d work for my mom in casting, then move on to another adventure.
Wow. That’s quite an intriguing journey of how you arrived at casting.
I originally did it for the money, to make a living. While I was figuring out what I really wanted to do in the long-term, my mother suggested that I get a commercial talent agent. So, I worked in front of the camera while also casting. It was in an acting class when my whole perspective on the business changed. My teacher shared that when an actor is good and in touch with their emotions, they can actually stimulate people in the audience to feel things they wouldn’t be able to experience on their own. In that sense, an actor’s performance can be a gift to humanity. That understanding created a huge shift in my life, which made me want to live in that world. I cast a few small films before realizing I really liked commercials because of the concise choices they require actors to make. I worked in front of the camera for about 10 years doing commercials, all the while casting. I realized it was the latter that I truly enjoyed. I really like the psychology of directing actors in casting sessions and putting the agency creatives’ concept into a moving picture. So, it wasn’t so much a definitive moment of when I knew that commercial casting was for me as it was a process of coming to respect the whole picture of what actors do and discerning what my role in it was behind the camera.
That sounds like a really impactful perspective shift you had. Now switching gears here, I’ve got to ask my favorite question for casting. If someone made a film about your life, which actor would you cast to play the role of Charisse Glenn?
This is a really difficult question because I’m ethnically ambiguous, half Japanese from my mother’s side, on which there’s a tiny bit of Russian. Then from my biological father, I’m also part English, French, Scottish, and American Indian. There aren’t a lot of options for ethnically ambiguous actresses of a certain age. Plus, I have such varied life experiences that it’s hard to pick someone who’s essence would fit. Then there’s the physicality to consider. I’m into horses and do a sport called endurance riding, which involves racing for one hundred miles on a horse. So casting someone who could match that part of me would be a consideration, too. With all that in mind, there are a few actresses who might fit, in general. Marion Cotillard is the right age and I think would capture my essence. Maggie Q might also work, but I’m not sure. She has a great look. And then there’s Olivia Munn, who most closely resembles what I looked like when I was younger. Talisa Soto also comes to mind, and my casting director friend threw out Halle Berry, as well. I honestly don’t know who it would be. [Laughs] I’d just have to have a casting call and see who brought the best mix of who I am to the table. Maybe it’s an unknown?
Those are some great options! And next, I’d love to hear one of your proudest commercial casting moments.
I’ll share one from years ago when we were still casting in-studio. My session director was auditioning a young, five-year-old girl for a spot that required a ton of dialogue, especially for that age. I’m in my office watching the session on a monitor as they do take after take. I hear the session director say that they need to do it one more time, but the young actress said she was too tired to do it anymore. I walked into the studio to tell her we could stop and that I’d let her mom know. My sweet Dobermann, Joie de Vivre, is always at my casting sessions and followed me into the studio. The little girl asked permission to pet Joie before putting her arms around my 80-pound dog, who probably had at least 30 pounds on her. Then she stood up, put her shoulders back, and kind of dusted herself off. “I can do another take,” she said. And this little five-year-old did two more brilliant takes with a “show-must-go-on” attitude that a lot of adult actors don’t even possess. I was so proud of her.
That’s a great story about an actor persevering through a hard audition, especially at such an early age. And before we wrap, I’d love to hear more about what keeps you centered while in the midst of the busy entertainment industry.
I don’t think it really matters what industry, business, or lifestyle you’re in — finding your center is always going to be important. And for me, there are many things I do to maintain it. I live my life by making choices that propel me to let go of the things that make me unhappy while moving toward the things that do make me happy. Part of that mindset is knowing I have 100 percent control over my reactions. When faced with a bad or uncomfortable situation, you have two options. You can react poorly, or you can choose to act in a way that moves you forward. I’m in my sixties now and have been a meditator and yogi since I was 14, and both of those practices help me stay aligned with that core mindset. Another thing that keeps me grounded is having my horse and riding long distances. During that time, I’m really mindful of being present, and I don’t think of anything else but what the horse needs. So that’s an exercise of staying in the moment for me, which relates to how actors have to stay in the zone with their work. And the last thing I’ll mention is my practice of regularly writing. My blog The Let Go is based on the principle of letting go of all the things that don’t serve our lives, and I write and publish an article on it every week. That forces me to consistently give attention to my core philosophies and live them out. They say that you teach what you need to learn so maybe my lesson in life has been to constantly be mindful of letting go. That’s probably why I enjoy writing each week — it allows me to explore a lot of different subjects that all relate back to this central idea.
Those interested in learning more about Glenn can check out her casting website and Instagram page. And before the interview wrapped, Glenn imparted some words of encouragement for thespians. “I really want actors to know that we’re always rooting for them,” she noted. “We want them to walk into the room and really knock our socks off because a good actor makes us look good!”
This interview has been edited and condensed.