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Casting Director Tracy "Twinkie" Byrd Talks 'Black Nativity,' 'Fruitvale Station,' Writing Her Memoir, and More

Photo of Jai Tiggett By Jai Tiggett | Shadow and Act August 8, 2013 at 8:20PM

It's been over a year since casting director Tracy "Twinkie" Byrd spoke with Shadow & Act about her career and projects, which at the time included work on Sparkle, Woman Thou Art Loosed: On The 7th Day, and Sundance feature Filly Brown.
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Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd
Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd

It's been over a year since casting director Tracy "Twinkie" Byrd spoke with Shadow & Act about her career and projects, which at the time included work on Sparkle, Woman Thou Art Loosed: On The 7th Day, and Sundance feature Filly Brown. 

Since then we've seen a few more of her projects come to light - Being Mary Jane which aired on BET, the well received Fruitvale Station, and Black Nativity, the highly anticipated next feature from director Kasi Lemmons, which comes to theaters in November. So there's been plenty to catch up on, and Ms. Byrd made time check in with S&A about her current work and what she's up to in the future. 

SHADOW&ACT: Fruitvale Station has been very well received. Tell me about your experience working on the project. 

TWINKIE BYRD: Love, love, love! I also cast Ryan Coogler's student film, Fig, at USC. I met him through his producers, who chased me down in a wonderful way because they said they loved Notorious. I've been truly blessed to work with such great directors. Even on his student project, he knew what he wanted and knew the story that he was trying to tell. In Fig, much like Fruitvale, it's about showing the humanity of people regardless of their background or what your preconceived notions may be about who they are. 

Sometimes we make not-so-positive choices and are working to change our focus and change our path. And sometimes, unfortunately, a life is cut short in the middle of that change, and it grips and touches us. I'm really glad that he chooses to explore that. Because I feel it's something that we need to see a bit more of. 

S&A: Black Nativity was your first project with Kasi Lemmons. Tell me about working with her. 

TB: She's a visionary. She knows what she wants. When I met her for lunch in Harlem and we talked about the project, I had a bunch of visuals for her in terms of cast and she had visuals for me in terms of design, sets, locations, and how she wanted the tone and feel. This woman is brilliant. She's definitely an inspiration to me and has been for a long time, and I'm glad I got a chance to work with her.  It definitely won't be the last time.

S&A: You've worked on a few different musical projects at this point. Is it more challenging to find actors who can sing or singers who can act?

TB: A lot of artists out there are a triple threat and have gone through performing arts schools, so you'd be surprised at who does what. We've learned that Forest Whitaker can sing and Angela Bassett, she sings. It may not be that they sing opera, but they can hold a note and work that muscle because it was part of their study in the past.

S&A: Tell me about casting Being Mary Jane. How do you go about finding chemistry between actors when you're trying to cast a couple or a group?

TB: When it comes to the Akils, we sit down and I come in with my ideas and lists and they have theirs. And lots of times they're very similar, which is what I love about the people I work with. With each different person you get into their head in terms of what they like, and my job is to bring what I like and blend the two. And I'm thankful for having those types of relationships where I can play, where I can bring in people that are completely left of center, and the director's got a crinkle in their forehead saying, "What is Twinkie thinking?" And then sometimes that crinkle turns into, "Oh, I see it now." 

Sometimes you do chemistry tests and see how people work together, much like in Sparkle. And once you get that, you know you've got magic. Then I just give them over to my brilliant director, and Salim is going to take it from there. I only do a small part of the job.

S&A: You work with established talent and have a sense of who's out there. Where are you finding new actors these days? 

TB: I find them everywhere. They could be in a play, or a short film, or a student film. They could be on certain networks that people aren't necessarily paying attention to, or in webisodes. I meet them on planes when I'm traveling. I have a gregarious personality and if I'm interested, if I see something, I will walk up to you. I also have great relationships with agents and managers and there are times when they introduce me to actors. Some of the acting coaches that I work with closely let me know who's hot and who's right up my alley. They don't waste my time. They know who Twinkie would like, and who's ready for Twinkie.

This article is related to: Fruitvale Station, Kasi Lemmons, Ryan Coogler, Salim Akil


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