The Untold Memos of a Casting Director: Jennifer Starr

The Untold Memos of a Casting Director: Jennifer Starr

V sits down with the industry's most iconic casting directors to hear their stories of discovery and adventure.

V sits down with the industry's most iconic casting directors to hear their stories of discovery and adventure.

Text: Christina Cacouris

It's been well documented that the modeling industry has changed immensely with the advent of social media—but what about that of casting directors? V speaks to Jennifer Starr about the changing landscape of casting, which has come a long way from the days she spent casting for legendary photographers Richard Avedon and Bruce Weber (including long stints working on the ultra exclusive Pirelli calendar), with weeks on end to travel around the world with her Polaroid camera scouting the newest faces in the unlikeliest of places.

How important is social media to casting nowadays and selecting your models?

Extremely! I submit a model's portfolio to my client along with her Instagram account. It’s almost more important. High numbers is a major bonus. I want to see who they are, how they present themselves and if they are on-brand with my brand. Personally, I am a people person, and I got into this because I liked to travel around the world and talk to people and learn. Sitting in front of a computer finding people on Instagram is far less interesting to me. But, since time does not allow for much travel these days, finding incredible makers around the world [online] is still great.

"MAYBE IF YOU'RE GREAT, YOU'RE MEANT TO BE FOUND."

IVAN DE PINEDA FOR VERSACE

Aside from Instagram, where did you make the best finds?  

When you do this job, it’s everywhere. It’s on the street, it’s in line for a movie, it’s the guy playing the banjo in the Subway (that was for Levi's). I found Ivan De Pineda in Argentina for Versace.  For Abercrombie, I would rent a van and go from surf competition to surf competition from LA to San Diego—that’s how I learned to surf! I would rent a surfboard and head out there so I could see what the surfers looked like, and gain a little respect from them, and maybe then they would let me take their picture. Quite often I would attend Fraternity and Sorority parties! It was kind of like being undercover.

Have there been any discoveries that stuck with you?

I was in Australia and I was casting for H&M, and I stopped this handsome surfer; he said “if you really want a gorgeous person, it’s not me, it’s my girlfriend. You should check her out.” Everyone says this. So I said ok, come by my hotel tonight, and they came to the hotel, they pulled up in some cool old car, and walked into the hotel barefoot—and it was Abbey Lee [Kershaw]. She was amazing. He was right. She had a broken leg at the time so she wasn’t really modeling, but she was this incredible spirit walking around barefoot and was super special. Maybe if you’re great, you’re meant to be found.

"[CASTING] WAS KIND OF LIKE BEING UNDERCOVER."

SHOT BY STEVEN MEISEL FOR D&G, 1999

Speaking of—you yourself ended up in a campaign! Tell me how that happened.

I was casting real couples for a series of D&G campaigns with Steven Meisel and he was not convinced about one of the couples that I really liked. He asked me if he could shoot me and my partner. I don’t love having my picture taken, and I really believed this other couple was great and told him to please shoot them and if he wasn’t happy, then I would do it. I never thought I would get a call from the set saying he wasn’t happy with them and that I made a promise! So, we got into a car and headed to the house in Queens where they were shooting. He actually made it so painless for me; told me to pick anywhere in the house that I liked and to put on what I felt comfortable wearing. The picture took about 15 minutes. I think Pat McGrath put Vaseline on my face, and I was like—can I have some makeup? It was such a good experience being on the other side and of course, an honor to have been photographed by Steven Meisel. It was completely bizarre when I was on a billboard on Times Square.

You also did a lot of work for Calvin Klein.

Bruce Weber generously introduced me to Calvin while we were out at a party. Calvin then called me. He knew what he wanted.  He would say “I want a blond boy with a great body with the charm of Christopher Atkins from the Blue Lagoon,” so I found him Travis Fimmel. For the relaunch of CK One with Steven Meisel and Fabion Baron, they wanted me to travel globally to find 40 amazing kids. That became Rita Ora, Sky Ferreira, and Rob Evans’s first job. Sky was so interesting on camera.  I asked her to sing to me and she gave me her rendition of Happy Birthday. Last year, again for CK, it was a return to old fashion street casting, models, influencers, social activists and celebs.

"SKY WAS SO INTERESTING ON CAMERA. I ASKED HER TO SING TO ME AND SHE GAVE ME HER RENDITION OF HAPPY BIRTHDAY."

SKY FERREIRA, RITA ORA AND ROB EVANS FOR CK ONE

Why did you stop casting for editorials?

I was doing an editorial for Peter Lindbergh with Italian Vogue. It was a [Mike] Disfarmer-inspired story. I spent a month during Thanksgiving trying to find incredible faces. It was a 30 page story, and they agreed to give me on-page casting credit. I went to farmstands and all around upstate. I found a bread delivery guy who had amazing white hair, great dark skin, really good weathered face, and I introduced myself and said “I’m casting for L’Uomo Vogue,” and he was like “L’Uomo who?”

I said, “We could pay you $150 a day”—and that was of interest! But he couldn’t get out of his bread delivery run to be in the story. So I said I would take over his run so he could be in it, and that’s what happened. So we go through all sorts of lengths, casting directors, to get the right person for the picture. I couldn’t wait for the pictures to come out, and when they did, I was in a magazine store and flipped into the story and it says: “Casting by Starworks.” I sort of lost it and vowed never to do an editorial again. I regret that I was so adamant about that, but I couldn’t believe that people didn’t verify credits. I spent so much time and effort, and I was so excited about it…

And you did bread delivery.

I did bread delivery! [laughs] And then they credited the wrong person.

Credits: COVER IMAGE BY MAX PAPENDIECK

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