Emmy award winning casting director, Ms. Robi Reed has the magic touch! Blessed with an eye for talent and a gift for spotting a diamond in the rough her career spans over 30 years. Reed has had a hand in the careers of many and is known for taking the ordinary and creating the extraordinary.
You’ve heard of Jamie Foxx and Derek Luke, right? Why? Because Ms. Reed gave these two their big opportunity. We’ve laughed and cried to some of the sitcoms and movies she’s casted like the “Best Man,” “Soul Food,” “In Living Color” and one of our favorites “Girlfriends!” She’s had a hand in helping to shape our culture and give a voice to our communities that will live on forever.
21Ninety caught up with the iconic casting director to talk all things film and television, the ups and downs of casting in Hollywood, this years BET Awards, new ventures and more!
Liz Smith: I am so honored and so excited to speak with you today! Let’s get right into it. You’ve been a part of history in television and film so many times. One of those times was when you danced on “Soul Train!” You mentioned that your interest into casting sparked when you went to an audition with your brother but do you also believe that being in an environment of “Soul Train” created by black man also influenced your desire to go into casting?
Robi Reed: I’m sure it did have some kind of influence, you know, inspiration in it. I was 16 and I knew I wanted to cast at the age of 15. So it probably reinforced that if anything because having images of that on a grand scale with Mr. Cornelius was larger than life. So yeah for sure.
LS: When the pandemic hit a lot of industries, had to think of new ways to get the job done and learn how to pivot. The film and television industry was a part of that transition and casting went from being in person to online. Now, do you think this change has helped or hurt the industry and maybe change the way actors and casting directors are able to interact with each other?
RR: Definitely changed the way we interact, obviously, being in the room is not the same as being on Zoom. There are things that come organically by being in the room with someone. However, the thing that is awesome is that we can continue to work and exist and be creative and kind of keep the flow going by having it as an option. We had already kind of moved into the world of self tapes so it was easy to adjust and we were able to do without meeting in person and never miss a beat, so yeah.
LS: Makes sense. Now as a casting director, you’ve opened doors for many black women that at one point didn’t exist. Can you talk about the progression of roles that black women are now being casted for?
RR: Well, what is beautiful about it is that people are a lot more sensitive and will feel a bit more of a responsibility to getting it right. You know, I always have approached it in thinking what does the world look like? If the world isn’t all one color then why cast that way? So I think now people just feel much more responsibility in being organic and truthful.
LL: Right, so true. If you could think of any particular actress or actresses that you believe are on the forefront of helping this change come about in Hollywood who wold that be?
RR: Oh, wow. Yeah, I mean, there are quite a few! I’d say Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Aunjanue L. Ellis. Um, Tisha Campbell, I mean I can go back…Diane Carol. To bringing it forward to Taraji P. Henson, Regina Hall, Regina King. I mean there are many Zazie Beetz and Tessa Thompson…there are so many that are extremely talented and stellar performances with bodies of work. They are very full and confident with who they are and how they look and continue to support and promote others that are the same and look like them.
LS: Speaking of the variety of roles, what kind of roles do you want to see black women play now and maybe in the future that we haven’t seen before?
RR: That we haven’t seen? Whoa. I think that we’ve seen so many that I know we want to see more. If we actually just told our own stories, we would never run out of movies and TV shows and things to see and learn from. So what I would just love to see is more of historic figures. It doesn’t have to be 50 or 100 years ago, maybe five or 10 years ago, you know! Black women in every aspect. We have many stories to tell and nothing is hard to believe when it comes to black women. We’re everywhere, have done everything so that’s a story.
LS: Amen! Our stories birthed classics like “Love Jones” which you casted! Do you find it surprising that that film is still as popular today as it was 25 years ago? And in your opinion, what do you think made that cast just so special?
RR: You know, a classic is a classic. I think what makes things classics, is that it touches you somewhere deep! That can be your heart, it could be your soul, whatever it is but it hits home. I think most people unless you are just a gremlin, have a thing for love right? Especially seeing black love. But honestly any love, will allow people to truly identify with the characters and for “Love Jones” Theodore Witcher, writer and director, just had that ability to create characters that were so real and relatable. I think that’s what people grasp on to. Seeing something on screen that you might actually know and experience in your own life and being able to recognize or long for.
LS: Just as the industry has had to pivot, actors have as well. Nowadays we see individuals getting opportunities or big gigs because they have maybe a million followers on Tik Tok or Instagram but not necessarily the talent? Is social media something actors must now focus more on? Do you think that this trend will always be around? Or is it just for this time being?
RR: Hmm, that’s a good question. I don’t think it should be in lieu of really? Well, let me back up, I think what you have to first know, is if you want a career or if you want fame, it’s different. Make that decision, then your approach is going to follow suit. If you want a career then you’re going to put the time in, you’re going to study, you’re going to take your classes and your approach is going to be completely different. I think the advantage that social media has provided is a platform and you can make that platform work for you! However, I think too many people grasp at the immediate and don’t think about the long term. Now, if that’s what you want it’s okay to want that and just understand what you sign up for.
LS: A word! Now I want to talk about the Reed for Hope Foundation, where you all raise funds to support sickle cell disease awareness, HIV AIDS awareness and prevention organizations, women and children’s health initiatives and disease prevention, and healthy lifestyle living platforms. You did a poetry slam one year with Common and Doug E. Fresh and it was amazing. I wish I was there. Do you see yourself curating that event again? Especially with more and more black poets gaining recognition and notary on social media and other avenues.
RR: I’m so glad you brought that up! So yes, yes we are! Being a nonprofit means you go through phases and sometimes it’s a bit more of a challenge. We had taken some time and paused to kind of rebuild and that is one of the things that is at the top of our list because we really utilized talent and obviously that’s up my alley. I love finding untapped talent it’s so great. So continuing to do that, and then allowing people to use their voice in positive ways plus having Common was great! Him lending his support to finance was awesome so I’ll be right back knocking on his door!
LS: I’ll be in attendance this time! Now, earlier you mentioned Taraji P. Henson and seeing where she started to where she is now is a true testament of how we said “hard work and determination paying off.” News was released that she’ll be hosting this year’s “BET Awards” super excited to see that! So can you give us a hint of what viewers may be able to expect out of this year’s show?
RR: Nope! Just know that it’s going to be amazing and entertaining! You soon will know. Taraji is great at everything she does. She actually hosted “Soultrain” for us a couple of years ago and one year was she and Terrence Howard. So she’ll be great and entertaining and talk about somebody who’s focused and has been from day one. I mean, I’ve known Taraji since before all of this kind of happened for her. And trust she put in the work. I remember just bringing her in to do table reads and Taraji was one of the actresses that I would call on to come and do a reading she was always open game. That’s great, it’s such a great opportunity for actors to get the experience and get the exposure. She was really focused and determined, so it’s no surprise that she is where she is.
LS: Before I let you go, where do you see yourself in the next five years? Are there any roles or positions that you haven’t done yet that you can see yourself doing?
RR: There are plenty! However, I love casting I really do and I believe it’s what I was born to do. I also have a book that will be written and I keep saying I gotta hurry up and do it. Well, the time has come so definitely be on the lookout for that.