A multifaceted FX drama looking at three segments of society in ‘80s New York, including the world of ball culture, Pose was a challenging project to cast, in the sense that it was going where no TV series had gone before.
At a moment in time when onscreen representation is still seriously lacking, particularly when it comes to the LGBTQ community, this series from Ryan Murphy, Steven Canals and Brad Falchuk has made history, boasting the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles ever to be seen on the small screen.
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Naturally, the degree to which Pose has pushed TV inclusivity forward made the series a lock for an Emmy nom in the category of Outstanding Casting. At the same time, casting director Alexa L. Fogel (Atlanta, Ozark, The Deuce)—a three-time Emmy winner and eight-time nominee—earned her spot with Pose, putting in many hours and logging many miles to bring the series to fruition, in accordance with Murphy’s vision.
Embarking on a six-month, nationwide casting search, Fogel brought many a fresh face to Pose, giving actors like Jason A. Rodriguez and Angel Bismark Curiel their first television parts.
Having reteamed with Murphy on his upcoming musical comedy The Politician—one of the creator’s first original series for Netflix—Fogel spoke with Deadline about that series, the status of Atlanta Season 3 and the joy in putting together a singular ensemble for Pose.
How did you get involved with Pose, having never before worked with Ryan Murphy? What made the project an exciting one to take on?
FX, who I had a relationship with because of Atlanta, asked me to sit down with him, because they knew this was coming up, and that I was based in New York. This was around the time that I moved to New York; I had lost a lot of people to the AIDS crisis, and I was really interested in revisiting that part of my life now that I’m older. We just connected, in terms of that time in New York—both of us, having been there—and the idea of finding these people, I just didn’t want anyone else to do it. I wanted to be able to do it.
What did Murphy convey to you early on, in terms of his conception of how the series would be cast?
This story, in terms of it being inspired by Paris Is Burning, was a little closer to that than what it ended up being. But it was just really clear from the very beginning that the women that were in the script were going to be trans women. That was the mandate, what made it unique and exciting for both of us.
Murphy seems to enjoy working with the same actors time and time again, Evan Peters being one member of his repertory company to appear in Pose. Did Murphy specify, early on, which actors in his stable he was looking at for this show?
No, we didn’t talk about any known people at that stage at all. It was really just about the other characters. That’s why [the casting process] started so early, because that was the focus.
So it was important to him to feature a lot of fresh faces?
Well, I mean there aren’t a lot of people that were well known at that point from [the trans] community. I guess there were some people who’d been on a few shows, but it was very loose. He wanted me to go out and do the work, and we knew what the parameters were, and that’s what we did. The thing that was interesting and sort of thrilling about the casting process, once I made inroads into the community and started seeing people, is that when we started seeing people together, things began to morph. Some characters went away, and some characters were added based on people that we found.
You went through a six-month, nationwide search to bring the Pose cast together. What was that process like? What major discoveries came out of it?
I think you’ve seen the major discoveries because they’re on the show. [laughs] Some people were recommended to me by people in the ball community, and there was one person who was actually recommended to me by somebody in my office. We had a couple of ambassadors who were really generous with their time in the ball community who gave me a lot of information, gave me a lot of places to go, and some people would just recommend people to me. Jeremy McClain, I can’t remember what his day job was, but it’s something having nothing to do with what he’s doing on the show. The person who runs my business and is my producing partner knew him socially, and sent me all his Instagram stuff, so sometimes it’s just that.
The iconic Dominique Jackson shines in a pivotal role, portraying house mother Elektra Abundance. Why did you seek her out, and how were you able to get her on board?
Well, she was known in the ball world. She was one of the few people that really did come out of that world, and she was also an activist, so I had heard about her. That role was obviously going to be incredibly difficult to find the right person for because she’s imperious, and she also speaks in two-page monologues, which is hard for any actor to do. And I think because she came up through the ball culture at a certain era before this time, she learned from those grande dames, so she really understood that diva aspect. She just understood it, and that’s not something that you can really teach somebody. She innately knew these ladies, so that’s just my unbelievable good fortune.
In terms of big names, you also had Sandra Bernhard, Trudie Styler and Christopher Meloni amongst the cast. Were these artists that you had a prior relationship with?
I cast Chris Meloni on Oz, so I have an old relationship with him, and I also know that he is up for anything. I mean, he’s just completely game. So, I did think of him right away for that role [of Dick Ford]. Ryan, I think, had a relationship with Sandra, and Trudie, I just thought of for the part and suggested it to Ryan, and he liked the idea.
There are often different ways you approach this stuff. You have a creative conversation about what, beyond what’s on the page, Ryan’s looking for, and then once he does that, I can come up with a list of what I think are good ideas. We discuss them and then decide, hopefully, who’s going to say yes, and who he likes, and usually it works out.
Evan Peters and Kate Mara make for a strong pairing as troubled upper class couple Stan and Patty Bowes…
Well, that’s all Ryan. I think he had a relationship with both of them from previous things. I mean, we had talked about those roles a little bit, but it was later in the process. My focus early on was really about these other characters, and once we got to those characters, I think he just had an idea of who he wanted to use.
Then, you have James Van Der Beek, playing against type as aggressive Wall Street type Matt Bromley. What made him the right fit for that part?
I just loved the idea of him playing that role and sort of against the way that we often think of him. I thought he was so great in the part, and Ryan sort of saw that as well when we talked about it. James is such an incredibly wonderful spirit, and again, was sort of up for anything. So, sometimes it’s about that. It’s about seeing that actors have other muscles than the ones that you’ve seen before, and letting them surprise people.
What have you found most challenging about the Pose casting process?
The show has been a blast to cast. It’s a crazy schedule, but it’s a total pleasure to work on. I think the biggest challenge, which is behind me, was the idea of trying to find Elektra. That was terrifying, but thank God it worked out.
How did you feel, seeing Billy Porter earn his first Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for his work on the series?
Oh, it’s incredibly meaningful. You know, I live in New York. I came up in the theater, too. I’ve known Billy for many, many years, and [Pray Tell] really is the role of the lifetime for him. He’s so deserving of this, and he is just shining. It’s thrilling.
It must have also meant a lot to be part of a project that is historic in terms of its inclusivity, featuring the largest cast of transgender actors and the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever seen on television.
It is meaningful, but I have to say that it was meaningful before now. It was meaningful when we were in the tiny audition room, hearing everybody’s story. It would have been meaningful whether it was successful or not. The experience was meaningful. It’s been a privilege to work on, and it’s extraordinary that it’s had the success, and that it’s moving things forward, and that people are talking about it. But it was meaningful from week one.
You’ve reteamed with Ryan on his upcoming Netflix series The Politician, coming this fall. Creatively, what was the draw to that project?
Oh my god, everything was exciting about working on it. It’s a completely different style of material, and for me, it’s in some ways like going back to my theater roots. It’s like Noël Coward; you have to be really at the top of your game to keep up with it, and I had a total blast working on it. It was so much fun.
Is there a sense now that you’ll be partnering with Ryan Murphy for the long haul?
You know, I think that we work on the things that are right for us to work on together. He has an awful lot of stuff going on, but I think there’s certain projects that make sense for us to work on together, and those are the ones that we seem to end up doing.
You also cast Atlanta, which will return for a fourth season, as was announced today. But have you even started casting for Season 3?
I have no idea what’s happening with next season. [laughs] I would love to work on it.
So, it’s still early days?
Yeah, I would say that that is absolutely true, but it’s so fun to work on.