Casting Director Kim Coleman has been at her profession for more than twenty years now, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more prolific and in-demand member of her profession than she. In 2022 alone, Kim had 19 credits listed to her name. She has become the de facto in-house casting director for Spike Lee – working on ten of his projects over the last twenty years.
But it was her relationship with John Ridley on American Crime that led her to Five Days at Memorial. Her and Ridley clicked on that project, and when Ridley reached out for Five Days, Kim was happy to work with him again.
What Kim has done with Five Days at Memorial is surround stars Vera Farmiga and Cherry Jones with great character actors who enhance, never distract, from the drama taking place on screen. While many of the faces she cast in Five Days are familiar, they are not necessarily household names. Instead, what they were was the best people for the job. The work Kim Coleman did on Five Days at Memorial is an abject case of a person with a job serving the material she was given perfectly. We talked about how some of those decisions came about in our conversation.
Awards Daily: You have 19 credits on IMDB in 2022, and I was thinking there is prolific and then there is Kim Coleman.
Kim Coleman: [Laughs.] I guess it was a busy year during the pandemic. It’s interesting because I work with so many creatives that I’ve been working with for years, so when something comes up naturally, it’s like, yeah, you know I’m available! I wanna make it. And I have a great staff and I try to just stay as organized as I can, so I’m focused on each one of the projects. A lot of it is about staggering. When I’m beginning one, I’m in the middle of one, and one’s about to end. So on paper it may look like, oh my gosh. But as long as I’m organized and we stay focused it seems to work.
Awards Daily: You must take great power naps. [Laughs.] I’ve spoken to Terrence Blanchard a few times and I’m like, oh yeah, she’s part of the Spike Lee mafia too – the people that keep coming back. Spike knows to work with good people consistently.
Kim Coleman: I was just meeting with him last night. That’s funny.
Awards Daily: You had worked with John Ridley on American Crime, which was one of my favorite shows and I can’t even believe regular networks aired it. It was so raw and powerful. Did that relationship with John lead you to this project?
Kim Coleman: Yeah, actually. It did. You know, I initially met John through Spike Lee. We had, years ago, worked on a project together for HBO – it was called the Brick starring John Boyega. He was playing a boxer, sort of like a young Mike Tyson. And, that project didn’t go forward, but that’s how I met John. And then when, when American Crime came up, John gave me a call and he sent it to me. It was great. I mean the writing’s always amazing. American Crime was a great experience working together. And when this came up, he called me, he said, I’d love for you to do it. I’m working with Carlton Cuse. I was very happy that he came to me.
Awards Daily: People are aware of hurricane Katrina writ large, but not as aware of what happened at Memorial Hospital. There were some stories that were circulating at the time, but the sort of in-depth approach that was taken by the show…I imagine for you this felt like a really important project to be a part of.
Kim Coleman: Very, very important. It’s funny because I have to say, I thought I had heard something about it (Memorial), but not a lot. When I was reaching out to certain actors and talking to people, a lot of them said, I heard something about it, but I really wasn’t sure about it. So for me, it was important. The subject matter was very, very tough. It’s a very sad but important story. And the interesting thing was we started shooting during the beginning of COVID, so people were in a very interesting headspace.
A lot of folks were auditioning and self taping and we were working with actors, but it was just also a really weird space. It was almost like – I’m not sure if I’m ready to jump back into this, especially with the subject matter. But the folks involved ended up loving it. The writing is amazing. If you have John Ridley and Carlton Cuse, how can you say no? Each part was its own in depth exploration of what we had to focus on, you know? It was challenging, but it was very interesting because you’re dealing with folks who are real people. And you’re just trying to make it as real and authentic as you can without trying to have actors do an imitation of someone.
Awards Daily: One of the things that I admired so much about the series is that it doesn’t take sides. It presents everyone’s side and lets you make your own decisions about who’s right, who’s wrong, and also of course asks you the question, what the hell would you do? And none of us really knows.
Kim Coleman: Right. You don’t know. It’s funny because, in the beginning, a couple actors said, well, I don’t know if I would’ve made that choice. But you don’t know until you’re in that situation., and the situation was really horrible.
Awards Daily: Obviously the show is built around Vera. But—and please correct me if I’m wrong—Vera was brought on pretty early as the sort of center of the show.
Kim Coleman: That’s right; she had worked with Carlton before. Everyone had discussed her and naturally when I came up with a list of actors her name was on the list. And John [Ridley] had met with her and she loved it so yeah, we built around her.
Awards Daily: I’ve spoken to five members of the supporting cast so far. Michael Gaston, Robert Pine, Cornelius, Adepero, and Julie Ann – what I admired so much about the casting in this show is none of those folks are necessarily household names. It was clear that the choices that were made were based on whoever is best for the role.
Kim Coleman: I always try to audition a variety of actors, because I like to give my directors and producers options. I might say, “I know you were thinking this way, but what about this?” For each of those roles we saw so many actors because so many actors wanted to be a part of it. And the actors who were ultimately chosen, they just worked really hard. Like Julie Ann, she fought for the role she wanted, auditioned, and impressed everyone. The same with Damon Sandifer.
For Emmett, we needed someone who was warm, compassionate and like an every man, but not like a caricature, laying in the bed, you know? We wanted actors who were versatile, who had the heart, who had the right tone and their (Julie Ann and Damon) chemistry together was very, very important. And Michael Gaston, I put him on every list of mine for years. I love him. I’m obsessed with him.
Awards Daily: He was so great.
Some of my directors that I work with all the time know Michael’s always on the list. And Cherry Jones. Of course. I mean, come on, she’s Cherry Jones. Each of the actors worked really hard.I think we came up with a really great group of actors who did their jobs.
Awards Daily: One of the most moving relationships is between Julie Ann and Damon. When I met with Julie Ann, we both got choked up talking about Daine and Emmet’s relationship. You had to find two people who would seem so compassionate towards each other, because the lovely thing about Damon’s character is he’s worried about her too.
Kim Coleman: Right, that was the key. Damon was able to, in his situation, which we the audience feel very compassionate toward, you want him to get better and survive, but to have that humanity, to worry about her is what I think what ultimately won him the role. A lot of actors didn’t bring that – you can say the words…but with him, you actually felt that it was authentic and sincere.
Awards Daily: And when you consider the fact that the character Julie Ann is playing is also pregnant, with concerns of her own. You had to find somebody who could give off that sort of compassion, so immediately, which she does so well. I just admired her work so much.
Kim Coleman: Like you said, you see these actors in certain parts, in other projects – you recognize them. You’re not sure where you know them from. So I always feel like it’s the right thing to bring on really great veterans that folks will recognize. Let’s surround our stars with really good actors, solid actors who have been around. Folksmay not know who they are, but they can hang with this group of stars. That was important to me. I was very proud. Like I said, there were quite a few actors who auditioned for a lot for these roles and these actors, they just won it.
Awards Daily: the other relationship, the one-to-one relationship that I really loved was, gas Gaston and Molly Hager. I wish there was a logical way to have a spinoff of those two characters going off on other adventures, because the chemistry was amazing.
Kim Coleman: Initially Michael was cast, and then we auditioned for Molly’s role, and it just seemed like I wanted someone who was a little younger, with maybe a different point of view, but not so opposite. She brought that she’s young, she’s new, she has a point of view, but you know, there’s that level of respect between the two of them. Michael’s character has this situation, his personal situation, and they just felt like a team, like a young person and, and the veteran. Someone you can learn from, but they learn from each other.
Awards Daily: And, and then you have someone like Robert Pine, who has been around for a very, very long time. And he’s this veteran character actor who has to go toe to toe with Vera Farmiga, who is a big star and incredible in her own right. What did you see in Robert that made you say “he can do this”?
Kim Coleman: Well, from the start, I had put together a list of, really great character actors. They were people I know have the skill level to go toe to toe with our main stars. But I kept thinking about Robert because he had such a likeability to him. We wanted him to be likable, because you know, that part could be played several different ways. And Robert just had this aura of, well, I’m just doing my job, but at the same time you had to like him. You didn’t want to hate him. And while he had that likeability he also had the gravitas that we needed. And then, the chemistry between him and Vera and the rest of the cast just worked. We all agreed on Robert Pine and were very happy when he said yes. We were lucky to have him.
Awards Daily: When I was talking to Cornelius, I suggested that, in part, his character reflected a level of anger that black people have when their agency is taken away. You can almost see him boiling in the part.
Kim Coleman: He’s someone who really fought for the role. It was a very difficult role because again some actors would look at us and say, I don’t know about making that decision, you know? In the end I don’t know if I’m comfortable in that, but I think he found a way to balance it, to make it feel real. And it’s like you had to really sit back and say, I don’t know what I would’ve done. if it was me. It wasn’t about judging him, you know? He just kind of pulled it off. The anger was real, you know, dealing with his colleagues and all the levels of emotion that he had to contain and at the right time. He was great.
Awards Daily: And then there’s Adepero Oduye’s character who is not only a nurse in the midst of all this chaos, but also the head of the ethics committee at the hospital, when the question of ethics, under these circumstances, is a very open one. When you were thinking about casting Oduye’s part of Karen, I imagine you were looking for both compassion and this ability to say, man, I don’t know what the hell to do here. You know?
Kim Coleman: Exactly. That is true. And, she was so perfect for the role too. It is important to me when I’m casting that even though you’re putting together a great group of actors, a great ensemble, it’s like a puzzle, you know? If one piece of the puzzle feels off, then everything else feels off. Especially with her character, I wanted her to feel and look like she really works there at this hospital. That was important for a lot of the characters. We need to feel that when we walk into a hospital, we can see people like this. And she, for me, just, just physically and just in my mind, I kept saying, she’d be perfect.
These were very difficult roles for a lot of these actors and they just pulled it off. They were so into it. It was so real and authentic and I think the ensemble came together because to me, each one of them had their own story within the story. That was important too, They each had their own stories to tell within the bigger picture.
Awards Daily: Then after episode five, once you essentially leave the hospital, it almost turns into a different show. It becomes more procedural and investigative. At the same time, the show never loses track of the pain.
Kim Coleman: And dealing with the aftermath of the disaster, and how do you go on with your life?
Awards Daily: Every actor/character seems to be very much haunted. Interestingly, I think Vera’s character seems to be the most sure of what she did.
Kim Coleman: She seemed very clear about her decisions she made and what she did. She seemed to be clear about the idea that I did my job and this is the decision I had to make.
Awards Daily: I think it’s a different interpretation to the idea of “first do no harm.” Does that mean to preserve life at all costs, or to limit suffering? There’s no easy answer.
Kim Coleman: And you don’t know if anybody’s coming. Are you playing God? I mean, who are you to do so? Who are you to make that decision? It’s very unique and touchy.
Awards Daily: One thing I’ve heard from everybody I’ve talked to about this show is that it is one of the best experiences they ever had on a production. That they turned into a real family and they almost had to because they were essentially sequestered for large portions of the shoot. Considering all the challenges with the material, the emotional weight of their characters, and the unique circumstances of the shoot, you must feel very proud of the work you do bringing this incredible ensemble together.
Kim Coleman: I’m very proud of it. It’s now part of my resume. I was just so happy to have worked with John again and with Carlton and they both are very collaborative. They let you do your job. They don’t try to step in and say, this is what we want. I said, if you tell me what you want, I’m gonna try to deliver for you. So they just let you do you, and, I said, look, I’ll bring you the best actors I can bring to you. I think we were all successful and wound up on the same page.
Awards Daily: I know this was for TV, but there needs to be an Oscar for casting directors.
Kim Coleman: Absolutely. Oh, from your lips to god’s ears.