MINARI Casting Director Julia Kim on the Standards She Set for the Main Cast
- Writerby KIM Su-bin
After spending 6 weeks together in a rural area of Oklahoma, USA, the actors of Minari came out of their settlement period as one family. Behind this ensemble cast brimming with harmony and personality is casting director Julia KIM, who met Korean communities across the US to find the children who would interpret David and Noel. After working with Sean S. BAKER and Joe TALBOT, she is now nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Casting. Julia KIM told us more about the casting for Minari and her career in Hollywood in an e-mail interview. She is currently working on the casting for Lulu WANG’s upcoming Amazon Original Series, which will star Nicole KIDMAN, and welcomes the higher demand for Asian actors in TV series.
How did you get to work on Minari as casting director?
About a year before Minari, I worked with Christina OH of Plan B on a film called The Last Blackman in San Francisco. She introduced me to Isaac (the Director of Minari), we spoke about his vision and things moved forward pretty quickly from there.
The ensemble cast in Minari stands out. Can you explain how this ensemble was put together?
What points did you consider when you were casting each actor for Minari?
The brother and sister needed to be first-generation Korean Americans, believable as part of a three-generation ensemble, and able to act with bilingual seamlessness. And since Minari is told through the eyes of the young son, the boy’s antics and curiosities had to be endearing - a lovable hellion. The older sister was to be headstrong with just the right amount of disillusionment. Each underage actor would also need a parent able to drop everything to go to Arkansas for the month-long shoot.
Although it was important for the actors cast for this film to correspond to a certain image and have the acting skills to pull off the roles, there must have been the additional imperative of finding actors who would look and feel like a real family.
Yes, believability was the goal. I felt good about things when Noel Kate Cho’s mother told me she thought her daughter looked more like she belonged in the Minari family than her own.
Enabling good chemistry between the veteran actors and the young actors who had no previous experience in acting must have been another key concern.
Isaac has a naturally disarming way about him and Steven can make everyone in the room feel comfortable and light. Together, they set the stage for Noel and Alan to shine during their audition process. Onset, the kids were treated like pros and they responded in kind.
All the cast members of Minari seem to be gaining in the U.S an equal amount of attention and even accolades for their performance. This must make you feel great about your work as the film’s casting director.
I am a fan of everyone’s performance, so to see them each singled out individually and as an ensemble is pretty cool for sure.
Minari tells the story of an immigrant family and came to fruition through the collaboration of creative talents of Korean descent including the director Lee Isaac CHUNG, the producer Christina OH, production designer Yong-ok LEE and more. It must have been quite special for you to participate in this project.
When I was a kid, my dad moved our family to rural California to work on a dairy farm for a year. Like my fellow collaborators, I related to Minari and I am very proud to have been part of this team.
“Julia and the Kim’s - just like so many other immigrant families
Casting director as a profession is more specialized expertise in Hollywood as opposed to Korea. There must be many creative talents and audience members in Korea interested in the role of the casting director. Can you give us some details on what a casting director does when working on a film project?
For me, it all begins with a good story. Then, you sit down with the director and discuss their vision. After that, you talk to the producers and hear about time, budget, and attachment concerns. Then you try to thread the needle with a tapestry of talent that works for everyone involved, while also giving audiences something new and exciting to tune into.
How did you start your career as a casting director?
Many years ago, I answered a classified ad for an internship at an unnamed casting office. It turned out to be for David RUBIN, a highly regarded casting director and current head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences. He was a fantastic mentor and I loved the job right from the start. I would spend hours, days, and weeks on the floor pouring over headshots, learning about actors and how to interact with representatives.
Can you name a few films you participated in that were especially memorable, and which project represented for you a turning point as a casting director?
In addition to Isaac Chung, I have been fortunate to work with talented artists and filmmakers like Sean BAKER, Andrew AHN, Cam ARCHER, Larry CLARK, Paul McCARTHY, and Joe TALBOT. Each of those experiences was nicely game-changing.
You experienced the evolution of the industry since you started working in Hollywood during the 1990s. What kind of actual shifts do you feel occurred as the industry saw the commercial success of Crazy Rich Asians in 2018 and PARASITE sweeping the awards at the Oscars in 2020?
I love it! The popularity and awards of these projects are inspiring a whole new generation of Asian filmmakers.
It seems like more creative film talents such as actors and film directors from Korea now have the opportunity to work in Hollywood following the success of PARASITE. Could you give some advice to Korean creative talents who may wish to work in Hollywood?
You must practice your talent and know what differentiates you from others. It’s also important to learn the Hollywood landscape, lingo and players. And be prepared for when an opportunity enters your orbit.
Can you tell us how auditions or the culture of auditioning in Hollywood have been impacted by COVID-19? Besides, can you give us a few ideas on how actors can respond to and prepare for such changes?
The most significant evolution has been the importance of self-tapes and the live online audition. I recommend that every actor create a dedicated space to perform. I prefer a clean background with no personal or distracting objects. Make sure you have good lighting and sound and try to have someone available to read with you. The more prepared you are, the better your chances of creating a strong audition will be.
What kind of efforts do you make to discover new talents as a casting director?
I’ve been to churches, strip clubs, and down plenty of online rabbit holes - the discovery of new worlds has always been one of my favorite things about searching for fresh talent.
Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?
Very excited to be partnering with David RUBIN on a new Amazon series from Nicole KIDMAN and Lulu WANG. I like the team and the unique international casting challenges.