Behind the scenes with a Hollywood casting director

Jennifer Venditti, casting director behind Euphoria, Uncut Gems and Honey Boy, talks to us about finding the right person to convey personal stories, and the balancing act of casting first timers opposite Hollywood stars

“You know how kids get mesmerised by the screen? I was obsessed with people-watching. I wanted to go to the mall or to busy places to watch people. I remember going to the airport where you could still say goodbye to people or drop people off at the gate, I just thought it was so dramatic watching people reunite or say goodbye.”

Growing up, Jennifer Venditti didn’t care much for TV or cartoons as most children do. She was more interested in human behaviour, even from a young age. It’s this fixation on the human condition that has most influenced the New York-based casting director in her work, which includes the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems and Heaven Knows What, Honey Boy and American Honey (both of which star Shia LaBoeuf), and HBO hit drama Euphoria.

An initial interest in a career in psychology morphed into working in fashion, where she first saw how powerful it can be to see people express themselves through clothes. However, the tunnel-visioned outlook of the fashion world at the time, particularly in terms of what is deemed ‘beautiful’, left her unfulfilled. “I was really frustrated by the limitations of characters that I saw in fashion. This was way before this thing now, with real people and everyday beauty – this was like 20 years ago … there wasn’t diversity in terms of race then. It was one kind of beauty.”

When one of Venditti’s friends, a nascent fashion photographer, asked her to cast a shoot, it was an opportunity to explore a broader definition of beauty. “It was the beginning of the mixing of high-fashion models with real people. That wasn’t really happening but I started just doing it,” she recalls. “Through that, because I was walking around talking to people and picking these people in the street, I was then interested in the stories behind those people.”