As the founder and president of Simon Casting, Claire Simon has accumulated a number of impressive credits to her name. The Chicago-based casting director is behind series such as Empire, Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire. She’s also known for work on films like Jordan Peele’s Candyman and Joe Chappelle’s An Acceptable Loss. With a number of projects in the works, Simon still found time to talk with Casting Networks. Keep reading for a window into the person behind all the credits.
It’s great to meet you, Claire, and I’d love to kick things off with the beginning of your casting journey. When was the moment you knew it was the job for you?
I studied acting and pursued that career for 10 years with all the passion that an actor could have but with none of the business sense. The turning point for me was when I decided to give it to God, and instead of a director calling me, I found out that I was pregnant. I had already craved having more structure in my career, and making a change then made sense with having a new baby. So I got a job as an agent, which I absolutely loved, and my experience as an actor really lent itself to the role. It felt wonderful to be able to bust down doors for actors and get them opportunities they didn’t have access to. Then a casting director in town, Cherie Mann, called and asked me to partner with her after she learned she had terminal cancer. Cherie wanted me to help carry on her business, and I agreed and made the transition into casting with her. After she sadly passed away, I expanded my casting business from commercials to scripted film, TV and theatre, and I realized I’d found my true calling. I was working on my first film, High Fidelity, when I had that “aha” moment. I just loved every second of my day so much that I felt I would be willing to do it for free! [Laughs] I won’t actually work for free, but that’s how much I love it, which has carried on to this day.
That’s wonderful to hear of your passion for the profession. Since you’re based in the Windy City, can you give us some insights into the Chicago TV and film market?
Chicago is a pretty wonderful place to be living right now if you’re an actor. There are so many productions going on and I would say that 90 percent of those are TV series. I can think of four or five series that shoot here right off the top of my head — there is always something in production. Films are wonderful, but the great thing about having a lot of series based in Chicago is that they’re here for a long time. The theater scene is great, too, and people in the acting community here are just very supportive of one another. It’s a lovely thing to see. On my end, it’s such a thrill to be able to discover new faces and to help people make it to the next level in their careers.
Speaking of which, I’d love to hear more about your casting office, if you’d like to share more about the general feel of it.
Because I was an actor myself, I know what it can feel like when you walk into a casting office. It’s a very vulnerable thing and sometimes it may even seem like the casting director is against you. That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. I want every actor who auditions to give an amazing performance. As casting directors, we’re on your side, and I even used to have a sign up in my office that said just that. My goal with the waiting area, specifically, is to provide a space that feels safe and comfortable. We don’t only want clients who come to the office to feel like our cherished guests. We also want actors to have that experience of a warm, receptive environment.
Your dedication to creating such a safe space for actors is impressive! I’d imagine some great things have come out of that environment. Can you share one of your proudest casting moments?
I’m very proud of the work that we did on Boss. There was great writing on that series, and a lot of our Chicago actors got fabulous roles in it. I’m also proud of what we did on Hardball because we cast from Chicago five of the seven child actors who were leads. We found them from open calls in underserved neighborhoods, and it was an exciting opportunity to discover kids I hadn’t seen before. I could share more, but I’ll just say that I live for those moments, as well as the times when clients tell me they’re ecstatic with our work.
It’s great to hear about your passion for the job. Before we wrap, I’d love to know some of the titles on your watchlist.
I just binged a lot of Dave Chappelle and have been watching Mae Martin’s Feel Good. Those are top of mind, but it’s safe to say that I watch everything I can. I want to see who’s out there, as well as who’s up and coming. I’ll even watch things that aren’t that great if there’s an opportunity to see new faces. That’s always exciting.
The Simon Casting YouTube channel provides an opportunity to get to know the casting director further. She appears there on camera, sharing advice for actors via the Simon Says series. There’s also a “Meals for Monologues” video that displays the casting director’s heart for giving back. The annual event gives actors the chance to perform a monologue for the Simon Casting team in exchange for bringing two non-perishable items that are then donated to a food bank. “It’s a way for us to give back to the community and see a lot of new faces,” Simon shared during her interview. “It’s just such a positive experience for everyone.” So from her love for the job to her passion for serving the community, this has been a window into the Windy City casting director.
This interview has been edited and condensed.