This month we’ve chosen to feature Keli Lee, our recent Inspiration Awards honoree, in the Q&A spotlight!
Keli Lee is the executive vice president, casting, ABC Entertainment Group where she oversees all casting for ABC Television Network and ABC Studios. Series under her oversight include the multi-award-winning hits, Modern Family, Desperate Housewives, and Grey’s Anatomy, the international hits, Lost and Alias, popular series Castle, Criminal Minds, and Happy Endings, and new favorites Revenge, Once Upon a Time, and Suburgatory. Keli manages the casting for all 22 primetime series and the 27 pilots produced for ABC this season. She also oversees negotiations for all talent deals for the ABC Entertainment Group.
A Luminary Circle member of Step Up for five years, Keli has served as a mentor for Step Up women and girls alike. Here, she chats with fellow Step Up supporters everywhere.
Step Up Women’s Network: You are known for being an advocate for women and diverse talent in entertainment. What has made you so passionate about creating an inclusive industry?
Keli Lee: I am grateful for and will always remember the generosity of the amazing women and men who gave me opportunities early in my career. As an Asian American woman, I feel lucky to be in a position where I can provide opportunities to other women and diverse talent. I grew up in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world, where diversity is not a choice but an everyday reality. Thirty eight years ago when my family moved to the U.S., and even just a few years ago, it was unusual to see diverse faces on television. I’m proud to be part of ABC where strong female characters and executives are empowered, and diversity is valued and promoted.
SUWN: What can viewers look forward to this fall on ABC?
KL: Viewers can look forward to amazing new dramas and my personal favorites: Nashville, starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere; Radha Mitchell in Red Widow from Melissa Rosenberg (Twilight, Dexter); a deliciously sexy new show called Mistresses starring Alyssa Milano and Yunjin Kim (Lost); a hilarious new comedy called The Neighbors from Dan Fogelman (Crazy Stupid Love, Cars) with Jamie Gertz; How to Live With Your Parents for the Rest of your Life starring Sarah Chalke, Elizabeth Perkins, and Brad Garrett; and returning shows like Revenge and Once Upon a Time.
SUWN: Where is the most fascinating place you’ve visited?
KL: I’ve traveled extensively around the world. Traveling is truly one of my passions. I’ve been to more than 50+ countries and 500+ cities around the world. The most memorable trip was traveling through Africa: the history, the animals, the culture, and most importantly the people I encountered who were so full of joy. It was a spectacular and magical place.
SUWN: What does a ‘typical’ day in the life of Keli Lee look like?
KL: Not very exciting. I wake up at 6:30 a.m. (although I just returned from my vacation in Europe and have been waking up at 1:30 a.m. or 2:30 a.m.!), work out if I can get myself motivated, have breakfast, and then head to the office.
Once in the office, I check emails, return and make calls, watch demo links of new actors and/or auditions of actors testing for new roles, meet new actors, meet my staff and discuss updates of our new and current series and new actors we should get to know, strategize ways to find new talent such as the Latino and Asian Talent Outreach Initiatives we started last year, and attend pitches and other department meetings.
SUWN: Tell us about one decision you are very glad you made.
KL: In 1995, I was happily living in NY and working at ABC. In September of that year, I was offered a few opportunities, all based in Los Angeles. One of the positions I seriously considered was at Disney/Touchstone. I wrestled with the decision for two months and finally decided that perhaps I should see the opportunities as a sign or a message and that I should consider moving to LA. Although I will always love NY and my closest childhood friends still live there, I’m happy I made the decision to move and can’t imagine what my life would look like now had I stayed.