In 2020, you can trace some of television’s most captivating performances to one individual. That woman, Emmy winner Alexa L. Fogel, is one of the hardest working and in-demand casting directors with credits on Netflix’s Ozark, HBO’s The Outsider, and FX’s Pose and Atlanta to name a few.
The New York based casting director has her fingerprints on numerous Emmy trophies, including last year’s supporting actress winner, Julia Garner. Fogel started on the ground floor of Ozark, working with series star and producer Jason Bateman and showrunner Chris Mundy.
Fogel spends much of her time in the New York theatre scene, studying and making notes on actors she sees over the course of their careers. Awards Focus spoke with Fogel about her relationship with Chris Mundy and Jason Bateman, discovering Julia Garner and Tom Pelphrey, and her process deciding on scenes for auditions.
Awards Focus: What’s it like working with Chris Mundy and Jason Bateman over the last few years?
Alexa L. Fogel: We have a very harmonious way of working together after three seasons, we think along the same wavelength in terms of actors and acting. We go through what the season looks like and we list out the new characters. Once I have material, I’ll start making my lists and seeing people.
AF: One of the great finds in season one was Marc Menchaca as Russ Langmore who was Ruth Langmore’s closeted homosexual uncle. He’s also cast in Bateman’s follow up project, The Outsider, which you helmed. How do you feel when you discover an actor that ends up in multiple projects with the same director? Did you know Mark prior to when he came in for season one?
Fogel: I cast Mark in a HBO miniseries of David Simon’s called Generation Kill, I’ve known him for a long time and completely believe in his abilities.
The unique thing about working with Chris and Jason is how much mutual trust there is. Jason cares about what he sees and believes in what an actor can do, he’s not swayed by credits. Mark gave a great audition for Ozark season one, and then also for The Outsider.
AF: How often do you have success finding an actor like Julia Garner, an Emmy winner under twenty-five?
Fogel: An interesting a part of my job is to know actors over a long period of time. Julia auditioned for me when she was still in high school, and more recently for other projects. When Ozark came along she just immediately came to mind. She’s an incredibly versatile actor and just a wonderful person.
AF: Chris Monday mentioned that you have a knack for finding really great New York theater actors, is that a certain methodology you have, do you go to a lot of shows in New York?
Fogel: All New York casting directors spent a lot of time in the theater, I think it’s part of our job. We have to know the whole body of work of an actor, so if I’ve seen somebody in a play, and they were terrific, that helps me to understand that they can be right to come in to audition for something. It also makes those conversations with Chris and Jason easier because they know that I’m at those shows, and they trust me.
AF: When we spoke with Tom Pelphrey he mentioned his audition scenes were more subtle than the larger bipolar moments of the character later in the season? How are the sides chosen for a particular role?
Fogel: I make the decision on sides, that’s not something I discuss with Chris or Jason. It’s interesting that that’s Tom’s perception of it, part of my job is to be able to give scenes that will show us what we need to see in terms of the character and where the character is going in the script.
He had three scenes, we needed to see that the actor could make us believe that he and Wendy had been siblings for their entire lives, that kind of warmth and pain is really important. You also need to see him with Ruth because of the way that relationship develops. Lastly, I needed a scene where you could see a certain amount of inexplicable, very fast rage come to the surface and be pushed back or suppressed.
I’ve known Tom for a long time, I casted him in Banshee so I really know his body of work, and it was a great audition. There were things that he showed us that were so believable, but also not doing too much to make it melodrama, but showing us the kind of fissures in this character’s psyche.
Tom is just now getting that larger visibility, but our casting approach isn’t about well-known people, it’s about the best actors and the most naturalistic performances.