Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
After ten years of hosting Casting Networks’ Inside the Industry Seminars one Saturday a month, I have retired!
For my last free member seminar on November 22, it was my pleasure to host the award winning Fruitvale Station’s savvy and kick-butt casting director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd. Upon meeting Twinkie 16 years ago, I knew that she was a dynamic force to be reckoned with and that she was going places! The seminar was a record-breaking, “sold out” house in attendance with even our wonderful volunteers giving up their chairs for attendees. Here is Twinkie’s bio-
Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd is a Brooklyn-born and raised casting director with more than 20 years of experience in the industry. Madonna, the Black Eyed Peas, 50 Cent, Prince, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Katy Perry are among the artists who have counted on Byrd to find talent who can bring their songs to life on the small screen. Byrd has the vision spot actors who can bring complicated and nuanced storylines from page to motion picture. Her work on Stomp the Yard, The Blind Side, Notorious, Jumping the Broom, Filly Brown, Sparkle, Black Nativity and FRUITVALE STATION prove as much. Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd has spent decades channeling her super power of finding the perfect person for every character.
Byrd not only brings names to her projects, she seeks and develops talent. Byrd gave Tika Sumpter her first movie role — before Gossip Girl. She picked Naturi Naughton, formerly of 90s girl group 3LW, to play the hard-core rapper Lil Kim in NOTORIOUS. Byrd is responsible for introducing the masses to The Blind Side’s breakout star, Quinton Aaron. Her insight put Laz Alonso in Stomp the Yard and Jumping the Broom, before he joined the cast for the hit series Mysteries of Laura. She took Jordin Sparks from American Idol to Hollywood star for the film SPARKLE. “It’s a gut feeling,” explains the veteran casting director. “I get tunnel vision and I can feel the actor in a role.”
Byrd’s gut feeling translates to magic on the screen. When Sparkle hit theatres last August, Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd proved once again that she knows films, gets actors, and she understands characters. “It is my trifecta,” she says of the film that she calls one of the most amazing experiences of her life. “It is a musical, it is a period piece, it is a remake.” Terrence J and Derek Luke will share the screen, Tika Sumpter will continue her road of success and the film marks the last time audiences will see the amazing Whitney Houston in a major motion picture. It is another casting about which Twinkie had no doubts.
Her eye for raw talent, one of her keys to success is her belief that no project is too big or too small. She has worked on a number of independent and student projects including Ryan Coogler’s Fig, which appeared on HBO and currently cast his hit feature film “FRUITVALE STATION”. With her feet planted firmly in multiple worlds, Byrd often surprises producers and directors with her spot-on casting and leaves them exclaiming, “Where’d you find this actor?”
Today, actors and producers alike are drawn to Byrd’s warm spirit. While she notes that people ultimately work with people they like, it is her hard work, attention to detail, and demand for quality that has sustained her in such a tumultuous industry for more than two decades.
Passionate, charismatic, and tough Twinkie Byrd has built a career on relationships and dedication. She went from casting child look-a-likes for album covers during Bad Boys heyday and the Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance,” video to choosing Jamal Woolard to play the late MC in his biopic. The fact that her career is packed with full-circle moments is attributed to her great work personality, but also her amazingly strong work ethic. What’s next for Twinkie, “Aaliyah” : The Princess of R&B and “With This Ring” for Lifetime Television.
“I demand the best from myself and I want the best from others.”
This is a brief overview of some of the things Twinkie covered-
Twinkie began with, “It’s Saturday morning. You all should be out riding your bikes or something! [laughter] I’m just being honest. THAT’S what I’d be doing right now…so thank you all for coming. I appreciate you. I’m ready for the questions. I’ve had my B-12 and now I’m having my coffee. All of these things help, trust me. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I’ve been casting for 24 years. I started in music videos. I’ve done everything from Stomp The Yard to Notorious to Sparkle to the famous and yet infamous Aaliyah. Gosh, what do I have coming out now? I have another Lifetime film coming out called With This Ring and I’m doing a thriller for Sony/Screen Gems called When The Bough Breaks and going back to Being Mary Jane, season three. [applause] I’m very excited about that, so let’s rock. I’m ready for some questions. I have a question though. I hope somebody answers this, really, really well. What are your expectations and why are you here? Don’t give me the existential answers and responses…’Why am I here in the Universe?’ because that’s so not going to work! I am all about being specific and strategic.”
One actress said that she wanted to find out how to be “on top of the pile” of actors to be called in. Another actress just getting back into the business wanted to “absorb knowledge and figure out who’s who in the industry now.” Yet another well-known European actress who had recently relocated to the United States told Twinkie that she was in her dream last night, to which the room laughed and Twinkie yelled, “Security! Dreaming about me already! Now everybody is warmed up!” It was very funny.
Another actor stated that this (acting) was his “career of choice” and that he wanted to “pick her brain” to which Twinkie responded, “This is your career of choice? Hmmm…that’s interesting. Let’s talk about that for a second because this is ‘my career of no choice.’ I have no choice. This is the gift God gave me. I had no choice. I lost every job I ever got. [laughter] I was fired from every job. I came home with a box and a plant from every job. Do you know why I got fired from every job? I talked too much on the phone [laughter] and I attract people. So…after getting fired from every job or talking too much on the phone and attracting people, my parents decided that, ‘We’re not going to pray for her to keep a job…what we are going to pray for is for her to have a job where she can talk on the phone and attract people. [laughter then applause] I had no choice. It’s always been a burning desire even before I understood what the burning desire was. I have said it on You Tube, at Film Independent, and I’ve stated it many places, growing up, I knew all the names of The Brady Bunch (actors) and the Good Times children and my mother asked why I needed to know their real names and I said, ‘Because when I meet them, I am going to call them by their real names.’ She said, ‘What makes you think that you’re going to meet them?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. It’s a feeling. Either way, when I meet Eve Plumb, I am going to call her by her real name.’ So I met her in 1998 at Sunset-Gower (Studios) and called her by her real name. It was something that was instilled within me. I don’t disparage anyone for whom it’s a choice. It’s like a burning desire for me. I’m so thirsty for information, knowledge and performances, that I cannot stop watching films, television, behind-the-scenes, documentaries, where-are-they-nows, and Inside The Actors Studio. It is kind of ridiculous actually. I’ve lost friends because of it, because you can’t talk to me in a movie theatre. I don’t exactly know why that is but to me, ‘Ear muffs. Shhhhh…the movie is on.’ Then I have to watch it a second time for the music, then a third time for the background actors and another time again for performances, so basically, I have to watch is ten times in order to get the whole thing. I remember each different scene and it gets on peoples’ nerves, so when they come up and do scenes for me, I’ll say, Okay but what was the significance of the pin and the box and the reason you wanted your wedding there? What is the friendship?’ They look at me like, ‘What is wrong with you lady?’ [laughter]
Twinkie continued, “You have understand that words are thoughts and ideas. You have to understand that it is not just words on the page. It’s supposed to come from your spirit and out. As Alex Shipp’s mother says, ‘Your holes.’ She says, ‘Let the light shine through all of your holes.’ So that is how I feel about the industry I’m in, the passion that I have and the choice that I did not make.”
Twinkie made an excellent point when an actress who is also a grandmother and lives in Orange County had just joined SAG-AFTRA, stated that there was so much that she did not know yet. Twinkie replied, “I talked to a young lady and her mom last night. The mom said to me, ‘There are so many walls’ and I said, ‘Really?’ She said, ‘You must have come across them as a black woman in this industry.’ I said, ‘No, not walls. Hurdles but not walls.’ When you see walls, you deal with walls. When you see hurdles, you jump over them. So, I’m a hurdle girl.”
Twinkie spoke of the power of social networking and said that she is very active on Twitter. She then told of how she had received an email from a particular actor, “I had gotten a huge email yesterday about trying to find an agent. I was reading this email and I could just hear the angst, the anxiety, tension and the stress through this email, so that I was just inspired to send out a ‘Twinkizm’ (on Twitter.)
My Twinkizm yesterday was-
“Twinkizm: Please be Advised: Ur Talent exists whether u have an agent or Not.”
She said, “It’s really a good thing to have to challenge that hurdle. It’s a good thing to know and to have the knowledge of marketing yourself, and pushing yourself, and being the first person to speak of yourself. Your ‘elevator pitch’ so to speak. It’s a good thing if you can just kind of flip it because I know it’s challenging when you hear, ‘Oh, I have to have an agent… I need a manager and I have got to get into these rooms…’ Let me just say that all those thoughts, ideas and emotions that you are having with anxiety and stress are bricks that you are building this huge wall that you are making against yourself. It’s all already here. It’s all already done and it’s all alright. If you can just breathe though that everyday and practice it, you will become less anxious and more aware of what you are actually accomplishing every single moment of every single day. When you speak of yourself, when you shake a hand, you are building relationships. To be honest, I have an agent and he is awesome but all of my work has come from everybody that I already know. Daniel Kim handles the deal and I am thankful for that…and they invite me to really great screenings. [laughter] The screenings are awesome and there are some other really great perks that happen and it is nice to be able to say ‘CAA.’ My agent and I are together on that. Everytime I call him, I say, ‘This is who I really want to meet…’ and I have a list. He’s like, ‘Okay.’ ‘I’ve got this list and you know we’re going to manifest this and have a great day.’ That’s it. That’s our relationship because we honestly do manifest it.’
Twinkie went on to say, “So there were two directors that I wanted to meet: Kathryn Bigelow and Catherine Hardwicke. So my agent has these screenings at their screening room…it sounds so crazy…and afterwards, they have the reception with the wine aflowing and the glasses atinkling [laughter] and who’s there but Catherine Hardwicke and Kathryn Bigelow. I’m manifesting. I speak to both of them and had a really great conversation. I come to find out that after my cousin introduces me…yes, we are each other’s best publicists and she does the Fruitvale thing…(The Fruitvale thing gets a lot of head turns…I like that.) They were like, ‘Oh my God…I’m a fan!’ Yes! Now the conversation begins. Now I have a relationship with both and their agents and it’s really, really great. The thing about this town is, and I’m such a New Yorker, is that there is zero degrees of seperation. You’re just not paying attention. Literally, zero degrees of seperation.”
Twinkie told a child actress one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard. The child actress said that she wondered what the casting directors were thinking during her auditions. Twinkie said, “Every child actor runs into a wall. There is that weird, awkward stage that happens in between there and they run into a wall. During that wall time, that’s when you should be working on craft. Children come from complete truth and somewhere in there in those teens, you start to get really self-conscious and your truth wanes. There is no more truth. You don’t want to talk about things that make you uncomfortable. You’re getting new boobs or your monthly is coming. It’s the uncomfortable stuff. Your nose gets big…your ears get big. [laughter] You know what I mean? It’s the uncomfortable stuff. Maybe you need eyeglasses or maybe you can’t figure out what to do with your hair. It’s an uncomfortable, awkward stage and it’s during that time that you really need to dig into craft hard because that’s going to be the fork in the road and I’ve seen it. When you get home, pull up some VH1 on demand and watch all the behind-the-scenes stories of all the girls who are teenagers and look at who is working and look at who is not working. You will see that that is the reason why. Do that self-work so you don’t have to worry about what everybody else is thinking.” [applause]
(I then thanked Twinkie for that important wisdom because that young lady will have a career now for the rest of her life should she follow that advice.)
- “It is not personal. Do not take it personally.”
- “The process is good, if you think it is.”
- “My two favorite words are AUDACITY and TENACITY.”
- “I want to work with people whom I admire.”
Thank you Twinkie for being such a candid, fun, open and enjoyable guest! I’m so glad that I asked you to speak and you were able to with your uber busy schedule!
Follow Twinkie on Twitter- @twinkie_byrd
Email Tracy, or find her on IMDB