It’s hard not to love a person who refers to her interns as her children, one of whom actually calls her “mom,” or who allows her partner to handle her favorite parts of being a casting director. It’s even harder when that same person refers to herself as a “cookie monster” as part of her email signature, or who asks so many questions of whomever she’s talking to.
Toss in a charming level of self-deprecation and a repeated insistence that she has nothing interesting to say and that’s Sherrie Henderson for you. A long-time casting director for TV and indie film, she is now holding the hottest hand she’s ever had, having just worked on Amazon’s new hit show, The Other Black Girl.
It’s a big step forward for Henderson, who spoke with us from her home in Los Angeles (where she had many, many interesting things to say).
How did you get into casting in the first place?
Do you want the truth? Or do you want the lie?
Let’s start with the truth, and then go ahead and give me the lie.
The lie is so much better, though (laughs). The truth is super materialistic. My cousin, Linda Jewell, came out here to be a star and ended up as a stunt woman. But when she first got here, I was like, “Listen, hurry up and get famous so that I can be your assistant. And you can pay me, but I’m not actually going to do anything. Like if you want a coffee, I’m gonna tell you to get it yourself.”
She thought that seemed like a super fair idea. That was always the joke and the plan. I was literally just taking a break from school after working on my master’s. I came out to visit her and said, “What can I do to help make you famous? That way, you’re super famous and you’re happy and I’m happy that you’re happy.”
The one thing that we always talked about was movies and TV shows and I would just have my two cents about the casting and the show and everything else. So we decided casting was probably the best thing I could possibly do. Linda got super successful without me. She didn’t need my help and I still haven’t helped her in any way, shape or form. But I really love what I do. I love every single aspect of it.
We’ll come back to that, but first, you have to tell the lie.
The lie is very… Well, it’s still based on truth. I worked at a hospital for children in Dallas. It had a psych unit and depending on the type of patients that were there and what they were there for, some of them got TV time as a privilege. When they got [TV time, they got] to watch half an hour or an hour of whatever show it was that they loved.
I realized when I would go home from work — and they were really, really hard days— I had the exact same reward system. To be able to be a part of that, to give somebody who has nothing to do with the entertainment industry at all, for an hour or half an hour, they get taken out of their day, to have a part of being able to affect people’s lives long after I’m gone, I thought, There’s got to be that type of work out there somewhere.
How is that a lie? That’s beautiful. And it’s clearly true.
It’s more like I don’t actually tell people the real reason I got into it because I feel like it makes me sound like a terrible person. I just love this job so much.
I don’t think it’s possible to be a terrible person and also want to help people escape their lives, but let’s talk about what it is that you love so much about being a casting director.
I love to audition people. I love the fact that there’s an immense amount of work that goes into finding every single actor. Or finding the one who is literally going to be able to carry this whole movie on their back and carry you through this story.
I love the booking process, giving someone the job. That was my favorite part, but now I save those for Alex Amsellem, my partner. I let him actually book people because it’s always super fun.
I stay focused on putting out the breakdown and writing the description if they don’t already have something they want me to use. I love going through the headshots and the submissions, trying to find the right people. I love reading with actors, sometimes doing a call back just to build a relationship, because they made an impression. I love being able to give opportunities to others. I just … I love each and every single different aspect of this job.
What bit of advice or wisdom would you give to an actor coming into your room to audition for you?
I’m the least like of all the auditions that you have. Mine is the one that you should be worried least about. Don’t overthink it.
I’m literally here for you and I think the only thing that you would have to worry about is the fact that I will be a reader. I’m a shit actor (Laughs). Other than that, please come in and have fun and know that you can play like there’s no judgment. I’m not going to let you leave until you feel good about what you’ve done.
I never want people to feel like they didn’t do enough. I will keep bringing you in because I see the talent and I will do my darnedest to make sure that others do, too.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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