A decade ago Goloka Bolte and her business partner Ethan Peterson founded the Casting Firm, and a little over eight years ago they were brought on to cast “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and its subsequent spinoffs. Since then they have been nominated three times for reality casting Emmys and now Bolte, who also acts as president of the company, can be found casting up to seven shows at any one time.
What do you look for when it comes to casting “RuPaul’s Drag Race”?
The queen needs to have a great story and a defined character. We’re looking for things we haven’t seen before. We look for someone who is unique and has many different skills. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is a competition unlike any other. We need to know if they can dance and sing. Will they be good at off-the-cuff humor and comedy?
This show is about being true to your authentic self, how do you draw that from the audition tape?
We’ve received tapes where the audition is shot on a phone, but the raw talent in unmistakable, and sometimes we’ll get an entire production. [But] an authentic sense of self is something you already have, you’re figuring it out, or you don’t have it yet. It’s very obvious when we’re watching the tapes, you can see when the queens have defined characters and know how to play to their strengths. We get some tapes where there is a lot of talent but they just aren’t quite there yet, so we always keep an eye on those queens for future seasons.
What’s the sit-down process once you start going through the tapes?
We put out the casting notice and we’ll reach out to some of our favorites to make sure they want to still do the show and that they’re still excited to go through the whole process. We’ll narrow it down anywhere from 50-75 tapes before we present them to Ru and the World of Wonder team. We want to make sure we present everyone who we think has a shot, everyone that has grown and is an outstanding talent, even if we think they might be an out of the box choice.
How do you and Ethan divide the casting duties?
It’s very digital. We have all the tapes in this grid and we work our way down the list, and we have a color-coding system. We’ll mark the ones we’re undecided over and we’ll watch those in the office. Sometimes one of us will see something that the other one doesn’t. It helps to get another set of eyes before we pitch. It’s a lot of work but it’s so much fun, and we’re so lucky to cast a show that we’re big fans of.
What other research goes into finding queens to dive into their backgrounds before officially bringing them into the family?
We try to catch drag shows as often as possible, but we aren’t just casting in L.A. so we have to keep tabs on who is performing at clubs around the country, who has great performances on YouTube [and] who is getting love on Reddit and gaining popularity on social platforms.
How much vetting do you have to do? For example, Sherry Pie was disqualified after allegations of catfishing emerged when the season began airing, well after she competed.
All contestants who appear on “Drag Race” go through a rigorous background check as well as a psychological evaluation. This is the industry standard for anyone appearing on an unscripted competition series, as we always want to make sure our cast members are safe and can handle an intense filming schedule.
The most recent season featured the first Iranian contestant. What was it about Jackie Cox that stood out?
You see it on the show. She is talented and has a unique point of view and you’ve not seen anyone like that on the show before. I loved that she really knows how to play into her heritage. Diversity is so important to us because it represents the drag community. In addition to making sure our cast is racially, socially, and religiously inclusive, we’re also looking for diversity in skills and style. This season we had some spooky queens, and we haven’t had that before [either].