Marisa Munoz is a casting director and manager based in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the owner of M Casting Worldwide, founded in 1998, whose specialty is commercials, print campaigns, music videos, and film. Marisa has thrived and survived during Covid-19 by accepting the circumstances, adapting how she conducts her worldwide business and continuing on her path of supporting creatives, children, and women. She is known as the friendly casting director and pumps up talent as they pursue their chosen craft. People believed in her, and now, her primary motivation is to instill that same self-confidence in those who are fortunate enough to cross her path.
Lily Hansen: Can you tell me a bit about your background?
Marisa Munoz: I grew up in Central California and went to college at Cal Poly University, where I studied graphic design and advertising, both of which I always loved. Before entering the casting industry, I was a dancer and also did musical theater. Dancing, which I began studying at age seven, is my heart and soul. Though I was a scholar shipped into a top-tier school, danced, and did choreography worldwide, I had to ask myself in my mid-twenties, as many dancers often do, what do I want to do with the rest of my life? At the time, I was working in a restaurant in Los Angeles where I asked some regulars, a married couple, working in the film and TV industry, “Can I come along and see what you do?” That was the beginning of my next chapter.
LH: I love that you just went for it. What happened next?
MM: That same married couple and I became close friends and would go to dinner often. Soon, they hired me as their production assistant. They knew I had been in front of the camera and could handle working with talent. Next, I became a talent coordinator, similar to a second AD, which was a position they created for me. Next, I worked closely with a talent for Director Danny Duchovny (brother to actor David Duchovny) and prominent photographer and director Peggy Sirota for several years. While working with Peggy on her Guess Who coffee table book, I received my first casting job for a print campaign with celebrity beauty photographer Matthew Rolston. At that moment, over 20 years ago, I decided to continuously step up and away from fear and say, “I can do that!” The more I did that, the more my career grew.
LH: What was it like transitioning from being “the talent” to selecting the talent?
MM: When I was dancing and auditioning, I never felt like I was given enough direction in the room. Most of the time, I would wing it. So, when I stepped behind the camera and started watching, my first thought was, ‘I wish I would have known how things looked from this angle when I was in front of the camera.’ After being belittled and having my soul crushed in front of rooms of people, especially as a dancer, I made a promise to myself always to be constructive as a casting director. I don’t care how good or bad you are. If this is your passion, then I will never project negativity onto you. There’s no reason for it. Everyone has a dream and prefers to build people up rather than tear them down. This is a philosophy I pride myself on.
LH: Do people recognize how different you are from other casting directors?
MM: I have talent say to me from time to time, ‘You’re one of the nicest casting directors.’ While the job is exhausting and, after a long day, I oftentimes need silence, I also believe in maintaining an empathetic, positive attitude towards each individual and myself.
LH: What’s it like to discover new talent? It must be a super cool feeling!
MM: I’ve hired kids for Target commercials who have grown up and now have their own TV show. Yara Shahidi of “Blackish” is one of them. It’s a lovely feeling to watch talent grow and to have been part of the process.
LH: What’s one way you keep your creativity flowing?
MM: One of my favorite hobbies is people watching. I can sit in a coffee shop or a bar and cast an entire project in my head for a film or music video-ha! Everyone I meet has some sort of role or character—in my head, at least! I like to find the diamond in the rough.
LH: Any favorite casting stories?
MM: When I first moved to Nashville eight years ago, I worked on a big campaign for Ray-Ban sunglasses with photographer Mark Seliger. I was at Target and saw this girl I thought was unique and perfect for the campaign. Of course, I turned around, and she was gone. Then I went out to dinner a few nights later with clients where she was again, and the second I got up to approach her, she was gone. Unbelievable! Finally, I attended an event at the local staple, The Basement, and she was there. I asked if she would allow me to submit her for the job, and she said yes. We sent in her images off, and two weeks later, she was booked for the job. That is what I love about what I do—finding the right face or talent in any place!
LH: That definitely keeps things interesting! Do you have any favorite campaigns or clients you’ve worked with over the years?
MM: Working with incredible and legendary talents like Annie Leibovitz, Peggy Sirota, Matthew Rolston, Helmut Newton, and Herb Ritz has been amazing. One day I visited Matthew on set as he was shooting the original Charlie’s Angels and found myself thinking, ‘Wow, okay. Who am I, and how did I get here!?’ Working with Michael Jordan was a huge highlight as well. I was his right arm for his first Air Jordan commercial and didn’t realize who I was with until we walked outside together, and there were thousands of people looking our way. That was a frozen moment for me. Recently, I did a documentary series showing how special needs kids fit into everyday life. I spent half of my days crying because it was so touching and close to my heart.
LH: That’s beautiful. What do you think it is about some people that help them achieve greatness in their chosen craft from your wealth of experience?
MM: Amazing talent speaks for itself. People exude who they are when they walk into a room. Some have that “it” factor, which is a natural-born talent. Others are hustlers with ambition and drive in spades. Lastly, others are fortunate to have it all! Regardless, I love watching each talent work and create. Seeing their thought process, vision, dreams, and drive are all very fascinating to me.
LH: What is one thing most people wouldn’t know about your job?
MM: Casting is a significant and time-consuming part of the filming process; however, casting directors are often overlooked or unrecognized. There is no award for “Best Casting Director” but, you always remember the cast in a specific project. Someone had to spend many hours and days to find those amazing talents and faces. Not many people know who those “someone’s” are.
LH: Well, now they do! What is your favorite thing about what you do?
MM: Human connection and expression. I particularly love to watch actors transform into their characters, share their emotions and stories, and do what they so clearly love. There’s nothing better than observing that transformation and process.
LH: What made you want to become better at your job?
MM: I have been in many casting rooms where clients and casting directors have talked about the talent as though they weren’t in the room. I also experienced that when I was the talent in front of the camera. Therefore, I made a conscious decision never to do that to anyone. I believe in constructive criticism, but I see no reason to break someone down.
LH: The National Association of Professional Women honored you in 2019 to contribute to the casting industry. Congratulations!
MM: Thank you! I’m a firm believer in women supporting women overall. Especially right now. I believe that will help us grow and give us more strength moving forward. Above all, I hope to be an example for other women. Follow your heart, stick to your guns, stand firm, and be as fearless as possible. Go after your dreams! From my own experience, I know that others will pave the way when you follow your heart, help you, and support you.
LH: That’s wonderful. Do you have any personal examples of how this mentality played itself out in real life?
MM: When I did my first casting job, even though I was scared to death and doubted myself, I had a good friend who believed in me, which helped me believe in me. I love what I do and don’t crave exterior recognition. However, I do encourage myself from time to time to stop and think, ‘You should be proud of yourself because you’ve accomplished a lot and worked with some really amazing people.’ The bottom line is that anything is possible. Most recently, I stepped into management because I’m at that place in my life where I want to use the knowledge I’ve acquired to help others achieve. Pay it forward, so to speak. My focus is creatives and kids, as that gives me the most joy!
LH: What is next for you considering the life-altering circumstances of 2020?
MM: The whole casting world has changed since COVID-19 began taking over the States in March 2020. I’ve had to learn more technology than I ever wanted to know yet, it has helped me continue my craft and expand my business worldwide, and for that, I am beyond grateful. As for management, the shutdown has allowed me to hone in and really think about where I want to go with that. Creativity is the direction my heart is leading me. This strange time also allowed me time to take care of me. It’s amazing what you learn about yourself in the silence.
LH: Last question, since you grew up in California and started your career there, what brought you to Nashville?
MM: I needed a life change! A better quality of life. One of my best friends introduced me to country music icon Kenny Chesney, who then introduced me to his music video director Shaun Silva, Tacklebox Films owner. I ended up working for Shaun a bit in LA post introduction. My friends left LA and moved to Nashville. I also started going back and forth for work and play. After about 2 years of that, I fell in love with Nashville, and that was it. I decided to jump ship. As soon as I moved here, I began casting just about every music video on the market and finally moved into commercials, print, and short films. I continue to grow worldwide. That’s my story.