‘Queer Eye’ Casting Director Jessica Jorgensen on Her Emmy Nomination
Posted on: Sep 05, 2023
Jessica Jorgensen is a development casting director at ITV America, scouting and producing talent for series across the company’s six vertical production labels – ITV Entertainment, Leftfield Pictures, Sirens Media, Thinkfactory Media, High Noon Entertainment and Good Caper Content. She recently received an Emmy nomination in the Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program category for her work on Season 7 of Netflix’s smash hit Queer Eye and has over 17 years of experience.
Congratulations on the Emmy nomination for Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program for Queer Eye!
Thank you so much. There were a ton of amazing shows that were up for nominations, so you’re always like, “Are we going to make the cut?” I really love the season so much. I am very excited, very honored and pumped.
What is the process like for casting?
Whenever we’re going to a city, we think about what makes the city tick. You start off with the broad strokes and we’re casting a wide net. I’ll reach out to different bureaus like [the] tourism bureau, the chamber of commerce, etcetera. Then we start really thinking more about what makes this city this incredible. With New Orleans, you think of food, Mardi Gras, music, there’s so many different aspects of culture in that city. There’s a giant team of people that works really, really hard to find great people. When we find people that we love, we’re just like, “We’re going to fight for you.”
It’s a character in itself.
Yeah. It’s a character in itself. We think of ways to tap into that and then we go from there. For instance, with Super Fan Steph, I was sitting there one day thinking I want somebody who’s a super fan of New Orleans. I started Googling “super fan.” I found a video about Steph online, about how she was the first person ever to be voted number-one fan for the Saints. I started to dig for her name and I found it.
How about the frat episode, how did that come to be?
The producers wanted something big. We were like, “Okay, we’re going to see if we can find a fraternity.” It’s very difficult to get a fraternity to say yes to this kind of thing. I reached out to the University of New Orleans. There was a page that had the president of Lambda Chi on there and I reached out to him and he got back to me and said he had talked to the brothers and they were interested.
We hopped on a call and I started talking to him about the show and seeing who could possibly be involved. He’d already identified the brothers that would be interested in being on camera. Then the interviews began, it was 11 hours of Skype in order to get it done. When I met these guys, I just knew that they would be perfect for the show. They were fantastic.
I think that was one of my favorite transformations.
What they also needed was a community space where they could bring in people and feel better about themselves. Because when you’re casting, you discover what’s missing, that’s what was making this fraternity feel down. They weren’t getting the numbers that they needed. They had confidence issues. We wanted them to go from boys to men, they wanted to have positive masculinity. Those were issues that we really wanted to cover in the show.
It was really beautiful to watch. I think I cry every episode.
I do too. You’re not the only one, especially when we see it laid out. “Superfan Steph” is one of those episodes for me. I found it really personal when I discovered that she had been othered and I immediately connected the fact that she was dressing as a super fan. Every episode that I’ve cast, there’s something that happens within the interview process where we’re talking to these people. The episodes that I cast were Jenni Seckel, the frat, Stephanie, Dan Stein and Michael.
Jenni was the teacher, right?
Yeah. I loved that episode. I loved Jenni. My job is to hold space for these people and let them talk and listen to their stories and ask them questions. It’s a very Socratic method. I’m constantly going, “Why? Tell me more. Why does that happen? Why do you think that way?” Then they start telling me what the issues are. With Jenni [it was] wanting to have a child, wanting to have a relationship, feeling that her clock is ticking. I’m digging for that relatability, but I’m also sitting there listening to her as a person and feeling her pain.
These episodes are so personal for me. That’s why I love working on Queer Eye, because it is a feel-good show and I feel really good about what I’m doing when I’m doing it and holding space for these people who I feel like really need it.
It takes a lot of empathy and it’s also a form of therapy.
Right. I think that they appreciate that. Everyone wants to be heard, to be seen and I’m there for that. My favorite part of the casting process is to listen to the stories. I love listening to people telling me about their lives. My second favorite is putting it all together in a casting reel because then I’m really able to tell the story. Ultimately we’re looking for that one major thing that’s holding them back and affecting all those verticals [food, style, home, grooming, mentality).
What got you started in reality casting?
I was a PA for Late Night With Conan O’Brien. It was the best. I loved it. I interned there first and then I got the PA job. Anybody who’s ever interned or PA’d at Conan always wanted to get back there. I had an amazing mentor and boss while I worked there and she was like, “Look, if you really want to move up to producer, associate producer, it’s probably not going to happen here because everything moves more slowly and people don’t leave. What you should do is go outside of the city and then try to come back.” I had a friend that was working for HGTV and she’s like, “We’re looking for an associate producer. Do you want to do this?” I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a shot.”
Which show was that on?
It was called Mission: Organization. I was working in the field and casting at the same time. I’ve got to do a little bit of both. When that ended, I worked at BBC America for a while. I was in development there as an AP. I was a producer on a kids’ show for Comcast for a year. Then I got hired to work on Wife Swap. I really learned how to dig deep there.
From there I knew that casting would be my path. I was only [in] casting after that and I did some coordinating on the side. Coordinating was cool, but casting was way more fun, because like I mentioned before, I really love that storytelling part of it all.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a casting director?
I’d say the biggest piece of advice is just be a good listener. Some people I’ve experienced and they’re more concentrating on, “I need to get this bite or that bite.” I’m like, “No, what you need to do is calm down and really listen to people and their stories.” My number-one piece of advice for just becoming a casting director is being a really good listener and wanting to hear the story.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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