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Get to Know the Casting Director: Jessica Kelly

A24 fans are likely well-acquainted with many of the titles on Jessica Kelly’s stacked résumé. She frequently casts projects for the entertainment company, including Ari Aster’s respective 2018 and 2019 features Hereditary and Midsommar. It’s fitting, therefore, that Kelly started her casting work at the director level with an indie film — Lee Daniels’ 2009 Oscar-winning drama Precious. But blockbusters can be found amongst the casting director’s varied credits, as well, such as the original John Wick and its Chapter 2 sequel. And let’s not forget about popular series like Emily in Paris that also round out Kelly’s body of work. But who actually is this person that can seemingly cast any and every type of project? When she sat down with Casting Networks via Zoom, Kelly could not have come off more genuine or kind. She answered questions for us ranging from how she works — including a window into the casting process behind season two of Euphoria — to which actors could portray Kelly in a film about her life. Keep reading for all these insights and more as you get to know the person behind all the credits.

It’s great to virtually meet you, Jessica, and I’d love to kick things off at the beginning of your career journey. When was the moment you knew that casting was the job for you?

Well, I was very fortunate because I went to an acting school in Bellport, Long Island, and a teacher there had previously been a casting director. She’d worked with Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson, so she would tell us all these stories about casting some great movies like When Harry Met Sally. I was about 12 years old at the time and remember hearing her describe what the work of casting entailed. I thought, “Well that sounds like exactly what I want to do.” I knew I didn’t really want to act, and directing felt too overwhelming. But thinking about actors and their potential and the way they could all fit together to form something interesting — that just appealed to me right away. So, I kind of knew from a very early age that casting was what I was going to do.

Wow. Not everyone can say they’ve known since age 12 what their chosen profession was going to be! And now jumping to more recent events, congrats are in order regarding your Emmy nomination for season two of Euphoria. We caught up with Jennifer Venditti about the casting process and would love to hear what you can tell us about it, as well.

A lot of season two was centered around the darker elements of Rue — who’s played by Zendaya — and her drug world. So, we really had to go to some very authentic places to cast that. A fun piece of season two, though, was casting the school play written by Maude Apatow’s character Lexi, which is based on the actual lead characters of Euphoria.

How meta! What was it like casting people for Euphoria who would portray high schoolers participating in a school play centered on the lead characters of the show?

It was almost like casting the show’s pilot all over again because we were searching for people who had similar essences to our main actors. They didn’t have to be lookalikes, but they needed to remind us of the leads. Plus, we had to consider what type of characters in Euphoria would want to be in a high school production, playing roles based on their classmates. So, it was a challenge, but a particularly fun part of casting season two.

It sounds like it. Now switching gears here, it’s time for my favorite question. If someone made a film about your life story, which actor would you cast to play the role of Jessica Kelly?

I have always felt like Kate Winslet could embody me. I mean, there’s a lot of empathy and art and foresight in her eyes. She would probably capture me well and make me even more interesting. [Laughs] And then I am also really into Sharon Horgan right now, so I’m going to say her, too. I don’t know if we are anything alike, but she just stays so present in her performances and reveals everything her character is going through. So, I think Sharon Horgan would also be able to play me well. And this film could fall into any genre, as long as it’s not horror. [Laughs] I don’t need my life to be a horror movie.

[Laughs] That makes sense! And before we wrap, I have one last question for you. From where do you draw your creative inspiration?

I would say that I live a pretty creative life — I spend most of my time dreaming. I’m like that one kid who is always being told to get their head out of the clouds. I love to daydream and make lists for roles in various movies and just think about all the potential options. But, everything ultimately stems from the filmmaker. I really like to be inspired by the director — I try to fit their vision and help them tell the story that they want to tell. I go into my dreamland after I meet with them, and that’s where I get to do the fun, creative part of casting.

Before the interview’s conclusion, Casting Networks made a reference to one’s “mind palace” — a la the Benedict Cumberbatch-led series Sherlock — as a related, albeit less peaceful, version of a dreamland. “It’s hard to encapsulate such a thing in order to portray it in film or TV,” replied Kelly. “But there is definitely another creative realm that exists.” From her early career-making decision to her current creativity in the art of casting, this has been a look into the person behind all the 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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