It’s no small feat to try and sum up the résumé of the head of casting at DreamWorks Animation. Christi Soper cut her teeth as a casting assistant on films such as The Prince of Egypt and then as an associate on titles like Shrek. More recent animated features she’s cast at the studio executive level include How to Train Your Dragon, The Boss Baby and Trolls. With such big credits to her name, it may be hard to imagine just how warm and genuine Soper came across when she virtually sat down with Casting Networks. Whether listing the ingredients that go into a corn dip her sister makes or discussing a shared preference for minimalist makeup with this interviewer, the casting director is nothing short of down-to-earth, as well as funny. Both qualities just so happen to match Kathryn Hahn, who was named by Soper’s girlfriends as a good option to voice the casting director should an animated film be made about her life. Keep reading for the other casting choice for said hypothetical movie — as well as many more insights into the person behind all the credits — and a window into her Artios-nominated work on The Bad Guys.
It’s great to virtually meet you, Christi, 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?
Well, I moved from Oklahoma to Los Angeles right after college because I knew I wanted to do something in the entertainment field. But I didn’t know exactly what that thing was and also didn’t know the full extent of all the possible jobs to be had within the industry. I really wanted to be in comedy because I’d always loved SNL and SCTV (Second City Television and Carol Burnett growing up. I was all for anything in that world of improv and sketch comedy. So, I ended up randomly getting a job as an in-house temp at DreamWorks, which was my first job out here. I was in that role for a couple of months, and then there were some fantastic ladies that took me under their wing. I ended up in Mr. Spielberg’s office as a sort of PA (production assistant).
What a way to start!
The only reason I mention it is because it’s relevant, and I have so much gratitude for the experience. Everyone in his office was just lovely, and I worked in that role for about a year and a half. When my temp period was coming to an end, it just so happened that [Head of DreamWorks Casting] Leslee Feldman had an opening, so I interviewed with her. I remember thinking, “What’s this casting thing?” [Laughs] So, I started off as her assistant, and the department oversaw casting for live-action TV and live-action film at that time, as well as animation. That meant we got to do everything, which was cool, and it was a great way to learn all about casting. It was fun to be there at the beginning when DreamWorks was still a relatively new studio. Everyone jumped in as needed — you might be making sandwiches and reading actors in the same day. [Laughs] And I progressed from assistant to associate and on from there, eventually hitting 25 years with the studio. I’ve been really lucky and have had some amazing mentors who invested in me.
Wow! Not many people can say they’ve had an experience like that. And I’d love to hear about The Bad Guys. What can you tell us about the process of assembling the cast for it?
The director of The Bad Guys, Pierre Perifel, had previously been an artist at DreamWorks, and he actually put together a sort of trailer that was included in his pitch for the development team. It was so helpful to have that visual piece, which showed the tone and the look of his vision for the project, right from the start. On top of that, the first time I went through The Bad Guys script, the characters were instantly so clear to me. When I read the role of Snake, for example, the character was one hundred percent Marc Maron. Ever since I saw him do stand-up back in Montreal when I was in my twenties, I’ve just loved him, and he was perfect for the role. Anthony Ramos was such a clear fit for Piranha, too, as was Awkwafina for Tarantula. I could go on and on down the cast list with examples, but I also want to add that having Sam Rockwell in that lead role to kind of ground all the characters was just perfect. I’d previously cast him in a little part in Trolls and remember calling his team to tell them how fun I thought this new role of Wolf would be for Sam. All the actors were so good with their performances, and it felt like they got to really sink their teeth into the roles. The Bad Guys was just an all-around fun and special movie.
As a viewer, I very much agree with that statement. Now, it’s time for my favorite question to ask casting, which I prepped you on ahead of time. If someone made an animated film about your life story, which actor would you cast to voice the role of Christi Soper?
I looked at this question and then texted my girlfriends like, “Who am I?” [Laughs] I asked them who they’d cast to play me, and they were being really good friends with their suggestions. [Laughs] So, I’m by no means saying that I’m like either of these fantastic people, but it would be fun to have Allison Janney or Kathryn Hahn play me. A lot of people have compared me to Allison Janney, whether it be because of our sarcasm or height. I’m really tall — 6 foot 2. Kathryn Hahn seems like she’s down-to-earth and, of course, funny. I feel like I’m both those things. I mean, I think I’m a little funny. Let’s just say, I’m not worried about telling a joke. It might not always land, but I’ll try. If I can get a good laugh out of somebody, it’s a good day in my book.
[Laughs] I think you must have a lot of good days, then, Christi. And I have a true, get-to-know-you question before we wrap. When you’re not working, what do you do for fun?
Well, I hang out with my husband Jason and our 14-year-old daughter Allyn, which involves a lot of volleyball. And then I have that group of girlfriends who helped me with the self-casting question. We’ll go to concerts and take trips together — we’re very close, which is fun. A couple of them are from Oklahoma, too, and ended up living in Hermosa Beach near me. So, I have friends here who I went to fourth grade with, as well as some from college. I just feel super lucky to have really good energy and kind people in my world.
From Soper’s Oklahoma roots to her deep-rooted relationships in Hermosa Beach, this has been a window into the person behind all the credits. Those interested in learning more about the impressive list of titles on her casting résumé can find them all listed on IMDb.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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