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Photo by Nicole Vatland, courtesy of Grace Kim.

How a Craigslist Ad Launched the Career of Disney Casting Director Grace C. Kim

Sometimes we find our career through a lifelong passion for something. Other times, we answer an online ad and find what we didn’t know we were looking for. Grace C. Kim falls into the latter category.

Kim is like a lot of other casting directors in that she sort of stumbled into the profession, but different because she answered an ad and found her calling. Now a casting director at the Walt Disney Company who focuses on animated films, she recently cast the Disney+ TV series Baymax and the musical film Wish. Kim also has a slate of upcoming movies and TV shows on the way. She spoke with us from her office in Burbank.

How did you get into casting?

By complete accident, if I’m being honest. I went to USC Film School and I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left. I slowly crossed things off of my list. Like, “don’t want to do that, I don’t want to do that, I’m not good at that.”

I thought maybe I wanted to work with cameras, then in one of the first sets I was on, the camera operator put a Steadicam on me and I immediately fell backward. Cameras, are definitely not for me. (Laughs)

When I graduated, I just decided I was going to answer any call to be a PA so I could help figure out what I want to do and the first one I got was for a casting PA in reality television. It was a Craigslist posting. The woman who interviewed me, Clarissa Mendola, was the first casting director that I worked for and it was so much fun. She hired me off of a phone call. She asked me to meet her at some brick building in Santa Monica. There was no signage on it and I was just like, “I’m either gonna die here or this is gonna be the start of my career.”

I was going to say, it sounds sinister.

It definitely felt like that in the beginning.

So your entire career hinges on the low-hanging fruit of the first ad you answered?

(Laughs) I had no idea what I was getting myself into but Clarissa was the best first boss anyone could ever ask for. She taught me everything in the first week, then flew back to New York and said, “Cast this project.” I said, “I’m just the PA,” but she said, “No, go out there, do your interviews, do your research, figure it out.” She fully trusted me and the associate, and just said, “Have fun with this. I’m here if you need me.” Then she kept hiring me after that.

So what’s the path from answering a Craigslist ad to working at Disney?

I worked at Fremantle for a minute on reality shows like America’s Got Talent and The X Factor, shows like that. Then I wanted to work in scripted television, so I applied online at Fox and got the job working for Seth Yanklewitz, who was a VP of casting over at the Fox Network and Tess Sanchez, who was the head of casting there.

I learned everything about scripted casting from that team. Then in 2019, I wanted to go back in the room with people and be back in the process. The way animation is set up at the studio is sort of the perfect blend of both. We are doing all of the casting in-house, we do all of the auditions ourselves while we are still at The Walt Disney Company.

Is there a difference between casting live-action and animation?

There is a difference. I remember the first showcase I went to after I started working here. There was a young actress on stage and she was giving such a beautiful performance. The minute I closed my eyes, everything that she was trying to convey was out the window. I remember thinking, “Oh, I’m not getting anything through her voice.” I wasn’t feeling the way that she probably wanted me to feel, so there’s that difference. Some people can do it with just their voice and it’s such a gift. I love being able to watch people just switch like that.

Do you still end up closing your eyes a lot when you’re when you’re doing that? Or have you been doing it long enough now to tell by watching?

(Laughs) I’ve been doing it long enough now where I can hear it and I don’t have to close my eyes, because I also like watching the performance. We go see a lot of theater, a lot of live shows for that reason because it’s that same thing. You have to make someone with the worst seats in the house feel everything that the person with the best seats in the house is feeling.

Now that you’ve been doing animation casting for a while, do you think you’ve found a permanent home here?

I think if you asked me this a year ago, I would have a different answer. But as of now, yes, I do. I love it. I think that there’s such a joy. I love being able to work with actors in this way. I love seeing people who can change their voices within seconds. It’s such a talent and so cool to see. Especially at our studio, where we do the musicals. It sounds so corny, but it’s a magical place. (Laughs) I hate saying that, but it’s true.

What advice or bit of wisdom would you give to someone coming in to audition for you?

I would say there are two things. The first is that the people in the room always want you to win. That’s always good to know. Knowing that, ask the questions that you want to ask because you have however long the casting director is going to give you. [If it’s] 15, 20 minutes, whatever it may be, that time is fully yours.

Ask the questions and get clarity, because when you leave the room, you have to leave it all behind. I hate when the audition is over and the actor asks me the question where I’m like, “Why didn’t you ask me that at the start?” Have that confidence to ask all the questions that you need to ask to understand the character better.

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