‘Pose’ Casting Director on Importance of Finding ‘Ambassadors in the Ball Scene’

Alexa Fogel was studying theater directing in college and working on an “off-off-Broadway” production, she recalls, when the casting director left mid-process and she “pieced it together.” Although may she joke that she fell into a career in casting in that moment, she ended up filling her resume with ground-breaking small screen series from “Oz” to “Atlanta” to “Pose.”

How do you choose projects at this point in your career?

I’m really devoted to material. That’s what it’s all about to me: character and storytelling, and that’s what motivates me. And as I’ve gotten older the other really important factor is who I’m working with. In the beginning you can’t make choices; you’re just trying to keep your head above water, but I was really fortunate. “Oz” was my first big job on my own, and I was working with Tom Fontana and learning so many important things. I was also really fortunate to work with a lot of writer-producers who love actors. You have to be able to work in a collaborative environment, and when I say that, I mean I care very much about their material but I also care about them understanding that how we people this world is a collaborative process. I understand languages of actors and acting, so I bring a lot to that. Working with people who love actors and acting, and understand that what they bring to what’s on the page can lift it, is really important.

How did you build that collaborative relationship with Ryan Murphy for “Pose”?

I had never worked with Ryan before; I had one conversation with him, but it was a great conversation about New York in this period, when I moved here and he also spent time here. It was when I got out of college and I lost a lot of people to AIDS. It was very powerful to work on something that recreated that time period in my life. This is going to sound incredibly egoistic but the reason I really wanted to do it was I didn’t want anyone else to do it. I really wanted to find these characters, I was up for this challenge, and I thought it would be really thrilling.

People often say you have to work harder to find untapped talent from underrepresented communities; what was the process like for you when it came to casting trans actors for “Pose”?

I’ve cast many things that were far outside my very obvious world, and I think whenever you do that, you have to do a little bit more research. You have to find whatever that community is and find your ambassadors. In the case of “Pose,” we did that: We reached out to communities; we found ambassadors in the ball scene. The truth is, it just takes a little extra time, but it wasn’t harder. It’s not so different from what I did on “Generation Kill” when it came to Recon Marines. You just have to be smart about it and be patient and listen to what people are telling you.

How integral did getting to know the real-life ball culture become?

The interesting thing about “Pose” was I was told early on that the ball community was going to be very closed and I was going to have a difficult time with that, as opposed to the drag community. But I found that very untrue. People were constantly referring other people to me. I don’t know if that’s because Ryan has a certain reputation or once people started coming through the audition room it was all very legit, but I found people were very open.

What did you need to feel from the actors to know they could bring something great to the role?

If you see a little bit of an ability to play the scene naturally, and I know this sounds really simplistic, then you can usually work with that person. If it’s in there, you can usually pull it out. If somebody has a certain quality that we’re looking for, you have to take the time. For the character of Elektra, I knew that was going to be incredibly challenging because the character spoke in two-page monologues, and that’s really tough for anybody. So the challenges were embedded in what we were looking for.

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