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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

S&A: What does it mean to be "ready"?

TB: A lot of actors think they're ready. I hear that a lot. But "ready" to me is one take, maybe two. I don't want to have to do four takes of you trying to get emotionally there. But there are lots of things we can do to prepare. "Ready" to me is a passport - do you have one? Because if they want you in New Zealand tomorrow, you have to be ready.  It's a lot, but each step makes you more prepared for the next. In this microwave generation we want everything now. "I want to be on the red carpet now. I want to be a star now." It's all feeding ego and it has nothing to do with craft. You have to be careful of ego, because ego can really be the end of it all. Take your steps just like a baby. Crawl before you walk, walk before you run. It's important. 

The things that I learned from music videos helped me to get to each next thing. I did Biggie's music video years ago in order to do Notorious the feature film. Casting music videos for Mary J. Blige and 112, I came through that era and it helped inform Notorious. Working with George Tillman on music videos, with Brett Ratner, with Spike Jonze and Tim Story. So many of them started out in music videos.  So the steps are so important to take, and not to rush them. Enjoy the ride you're on right now. You can't look over at the other roller coaster and say, "I wish I was on it." You're on a ride. Enjoy this one.

S&A: Tell me about 'Twinkie's Monologue Slam.'

TB: This is the third year of it at the Hollywood Black Film Festival. It is truly a slam with monologues under two minutes. There's a panel of judges, and this year we did a new format. Actors had to audition on tape and put it up online for the judges and I to take a look at. We choose 10 finalists from those who submit and invite them to the slam, then let them come here and slam it out. We cut it down to 10 so that we can also have a discussion and Q&A. The judges will be announced shortly.  We're filming it this year. We've got a whole new format, so it's going to be pretty fabulous.

We have great relationships so last year we had a lot of surprise guests, directors, and producers in the room. A lot of young people were approached afterwords. The winner and runners-up got to take meetings with agents, they got to sit down with me over lunch and ask questions, they got hands-on mentoring from the judges, they got headshots. My dear friend Tasha Smith always donates coaching. So this year we're packaging some equally great prizes for the winners.

S&A: What are you working on next?

TB: I'm reading two scripts now that I'm interested in, an independent script and a studio script. There's another script floating around, circling me, that I hope to read as well. There are some projects that I go after. Not everything comes to me. There's always work to be done and when you're done working, you're working on working. 

S&A: Any advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps and get involved in casting?

TB: Intern. Find ways to work with casting directors. Build a strong vocabulary of film. Make sure you have a Netflix account, Redbox account, cable. Watch lots of film and television. And listen more than you talk. There are books you can read and podcasts you can listen to, and interviews and symposiums and panels. With some of my mentors, I've never met them, but they mentored me through their books. 

S&A: And you're working on a book as well.

TB: Yes, initially it was a book with tips for actors. But I had to take a step back and realize that it's important to discuss who I am. I should put out there where I came from, how I got to here from there. And so now that's what I'm writing. I'm pulling back the curtain and letting people see into what my life was like, who my mentors were, how my parents raised me, what was instilled in me and what the foundation was. And whatever it is that you can glean from that to help mentor or encourage you, please take from that because it came from great people. 

S&A: When do you expect your book to be finished and available?

TB: By the end of this year, I am done. It is happening and I'm writing it myself. So that's the challenge. Everyone's giving me the whole, "You should get a ghostwriter." But I feel the need to do this myself. No one can tell my story better than me.

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


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