An Emmy nominee for casting Peacock’s deceptively engaging reality competition series, “The Traitors,” Casting Director Jazzy Collins (CSA) has the rare distinction being the first African American two-time Emmy nominee in the Outstanding Reality Casting category.
“The most important part of selecting an ensemble cast is creating a balance. Celebrities like Cody and Rachel from ‘Big Brother’ are going to come in swinging,” shares Collins. “You want to make sure everyday Americans have a chance to shine.”
Collins has found success frequently in her decorated career, having credits on some of the biggest hit reality shows including Lizzo’s “Watch Out For The Big Grrls” (Amazon), “The Circle” (Netflix), “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” (ABC), and “Love Island” (CBS).
Collins spoke to Awards Focus about the highlights of building a career in reality television and casting her latest hit, “The Traitors.”
Awards Focus: With this nomination for Peacock’s “The Traitors,” you’re the first African American two-time Emmy nominee in the Outstanding Reality Casting category. Can you walk us through the day you learned you were nominated?
Jazzy Collins: It truly is an honor. This time around I was watching the nominations come in and then I looked down on my phone and then my phone started buzzing non-stop with “Congratulations!” I screamed so loud that my daughter started crying. Poor girl thought something bad happened!
AF: Can you delve into the cast composition on “The Traitors?” Specifically, you had two pools of cast members–famous faces and everyday Americans. How was this decision made and how did you go about casting these two pools?
Collins: The most important part of selecting an ensemble cast is creating a balance. Celebrities like Cody and Rachel from “Big Brother,” are going to come in swinging. They understand how games like this work and you want to make sure everyday Americans have a chance to shine.
To do that, we made sure the civilian cast was composed of incredible folks with different backgrounds, diversity, and jobs. That way viewers across America could see themselves in these characters and empathize. We had a small-town guy like Michael, a political analyst like Quentin, a hairdresser like Anjelica. The civilian cast really held their own against the celebrities and our team is really proud of it.
AF: Can we be a fly on the wall in the casting room with you for a second? What does the room look like, who’s in it, and how do you work with the individuals auditioning?
Collins: The casting process is rigorous, but it has changed a lot due to the pandemic. What was once boots-on-the-ground scouting and in-person interviews, is now fully remote.
First, our team of associates are on the hunt to find someone they may feel is fit for the show. They use all social media platforms, including Instagram and TikTok. After getting in touch, the associates will have a call with the contestant and get a sense of who they are and their story.
Then they’ll hop on a Zoom call with a producer. This is where the team will have a chance to see how they are on camera and get even more details of what their story is and how they plan to play the game. This 30-minute interview gets cut down into a 2-3 minute casting reel by our casting editors and then pitched out to the network, who will make the final decision. It truly is a team effort.
AF: How does casting for unscripted differ from casting for scripted television?
Collins: Casting Directors on the unscripted side are plucking everyday people off the street and turning them into stars. We source, guide people who have never been interviewed before, and build and edit coherent stories, all while being their biggest cheerleaders when pitching to the network.
AF: What is the “it” factor for you? How do you make your casting decisions, especially when it comes to building an ensemble and finding chemistry?
Collins: I love great storytellers. If I’m going into an interview and asking “Are you competitive?” Don’t just tell me “yes.” Tell me a story about it.
Being able to tell me a great story, that’s concise and to the point, with energy and passion, is the “it” factor for me. When making casting decisions I try to balance personalities, gameplay, and diversity. We need to see a microcosm of America in a cast of 20. Speaking to future cast members over the course of months, you really understand how they would act under pressure and in different environments. That also helps guide us in helping make decisions at the end of the casting process.
AF: How can hopeful talent engage and network with you outside of the casting room?
Collins: Talent can always reach me on Instagram, @JazzyCasting, and I post all the shows I’m casting for there and I engage a lot with other future talent via my direct messages.
AF: You’ve long said that your professional goal is to have your own casting company with BIPOC executives and leaders, and you’ve crafted that dream into a reality with Forced Perspective. This full-service casting boutique and production company is really making some big moves. As the leader and visionary of the company, what do you find is the best way to promote inclusivity and representation in the entertainment industry? And congratulations!
Collins: Thank you! It all starts from within the company. It’s important to consistently hire others that understand the project professionally and personally. If I’m casting something that is for a Latinx audience, I make sure to have someone from that community on my team. I also mentor many women in the BIPOC community who are just starting out in casting.
I will sit down and break down how casting works, take them through how to run interviews, and how to build a pitch. I didn’t have anyone coming up in the industry to show me the ropes due to how competitive this industry is. I also make sure to cast an incredibly wide net with diversity. I like to share untold stories in the diaspora of communities. I want to expose to the world there’s a lot more than what normally makes a cast on TV. You have to be the change in the world you wish to see – so I will do anything I can to make that happen.
AF: What’s your next North Star, professionally or personally?
Collins: I want to continue making great television, telling untold stories, and highlighting the diaspora of BIPOC communities. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and I’m excited to see where it takes me!