How do you find five queer people to star in a reality TV show who can see and talk to dead people? That was a necessary task for Hulu’s new Living for the Dead, the first paranormal show with an all-LGBTQ+ cast.
The show, which comes from the producers of Queer Eye, was announced last summer, when narrator Kristen Stewart posted a casting call for “the most gayest, most funnest, most titillating queer ghost-hunting show ever.”
So how did it find its team of “Ghost Hunties,” as they’re called in the show? How do you ensure people who are fabulous and fierce with phantoms—and, of course, authentic and radiant on camera, too?
How about spending two months getting readings over Zoom from prospective, alleged experts in the paranormal?
That’s what Logan Clark did. His casting company The Casting Collective, which cast Living for the Dead, has experience finding more diverse casts than have typically been featured on unscripted shows, though this was their first paranormal show.
The Casting Collective is responsible for casting HBO Max’s terrific ballroom competition Legendary, which had television’s largest Black and trans cast, and Freeform’s Love Trip: Paris, a quietly queer dating series.
Logan Clark, who has a music background—one reason he’s a co-EP on Fox’s I Can See Your Voice and the avatar singing competition Alter Ego—told me that, as a gay man, he found his own connection and purpose in the gay community in the casting process.
“This isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life,” he told me. “We’re in the business—as cheesy as this sounds—of making people’s dreams come true.”
That process often begins before a show’s format is locked in. “Casting has always been the first department that comes on to every project—aside from a showrunner—sometimes. So we are part of shaping the creative,” he said.
Their work of reaching out—often to marginalized communities, or groups who are not usually featured on television—isn’t always easy.
“We build trust with our networks and with the production companies that we will deliver an amazing cast, no matter how big or small, but it’s also about building trust within the community that we’re going after,” Clark said.
“One part of that is building a team that is curated and specific for the show,” he added. The company has “a core group” of casting producers who then work with “a team of freelance contributors to make sure we’re bringing the best people. … It’s not just the same troops hitting the ground running.”
Finding Living for the Dead’s queer ghost hunters
For Living for the Dead’s cast, Logan Clark told me that—in part due to publicity around Kristen Stewart’s involvement—about 2,000 people applied.
As usual in reality TV, the Casting Collective team sorted through those applications, and also reached out to others. They eventually narrowed that pool from thousands to just 100 applicants.
At that point, the casting team did more extensive interviews with prospective cast members, although “interview” doesn’t quite capture the experience.
“I’ve always lived in the middle with paranormal [things]: Do I believe, do I not?” Clark told me. “I think that really helped me through this process of understanding who has a particular skill and who maybe does not.”
That was important because “I spent about eight weeks, six to seven hours a day, receiving readings from all of these people,” he said.
“I was living alone at the time, so I was getting spooked out at night. But I got to know a lot about the spirit guides and understanding what was coming through—and also people that just didn’t have as fine a skill as other people. But man, there were some that were so spot-on with specifics nobody else would know. It really was quite moving.”
Clark told me the story of one person, who was eventually cast, identifying both a specific piece of jewelry and the guilt he had over losing it—something no one else knew about.
“Let me tell you, I got chills again just saying it,” he said. “I don’t know how they would ever know anything about that. But it was one of those moments where I was like, That person has a gift. And it was the moment that I had with all of the five. There’s something special about each and every one of them.”
In his company’s casting reality TV shows, he said, “We like to explore the Z axis of every person—understanding their depth, the story that we can pull out—because that’s for us how incredible stories continue on beyond casting, into production, and onto screens.”
The casting team narrowed 100 to 30 who were capable of that, and those finalists went to Los Angeles for chemistry tests.
“That is part of the special sauce with the Queer Eye guys, AKA Scout Productions—making sure we get everybody in the room, and they feel each other out, and they vibe off each other,” he said.
For a ghost-hunting show, this didn’t take place in an office building: “We started doing different groups and different mixes in this beautiful and spooky mansion in the Hollywood Hills.”
The group they ended up casting for Living for the Dead—Alex Le May, a ghost hunter; Juju Bae, a spiritual healer and witch; Ken Boggle, a tarot card reader; Logan Taylor, a psychic; and Roz Hernandez, a paranormal researcher—”all have skills and gifts that, for whatever reason, are a little unexplainable. But I can tell you firsthand as the bullshit-sifter, they passed my test,” Logan Clark told me.
The group has undeniable chemistry, especially bantering in the RV on in their non-ghost-hunting moments.
During the first episode, while drinking in a bar in Nevada, they start chatting with a woman who says, “I actually have a 17-year-old nonbinary child” and admits, “I still struggle with the name change” but adds, “I can’t imagine what it’s like being inside their head, not knowing and not sure how to feel.”
Ken tells the woman, “I think it’s incredibly important for individuals who are going through this to have supportive parents like you.” Juju adds, “…who is affirming them and their gender, and is trying to use the right pronouns for them.”
This causes Ken to break down unexpectedly. Crying in the bathroom, he tells Roz, “My life would be so much easier if I had a mom like that, you know.”
It’s a raw and real moment, and those are the kinds of scenes that will keep me watching Living for the Dead. Alas, then they need to go talk to ghosts, and haul out the pseudoscience that immediately loses me.
It’s the usual farce: A camera runs out of battery—it must be spirit energy! There’s a spot on a photo—a ghost! A person constantly hears and sees things that are not captured by the show’s cameras or mics, wow!
Because paranormal TV has apparently already used up all the haunted locations willing to let reality TV crews roam around and react to nothing, Living for the Dead first visits the Clown Motel in Nevada, which has already been featured on Ghost Adventures and been the subject of Travel Channel’s Clown Motel: Inside America’s Scariest Overnight Stay.
Clearly, I’m not a fan of ghost-hunting shows! (I’m scared enough of things I can actually see.) But I am a fan of representation, and thus I support queer people having their own nonsense reality shows, too.
Considering how queer and trans people in particular are under attack in the United States by people who use fake biased, error-ridden science to justify their bigotry, I wondered about combining a cast of queer people and the fake science of ghost hunting.
Logan Clark reassured me, though. He said that “there really hasn’t been any type of LGBT ghost paranormal [reality TV show], but there is such a huge parallel between the horror and paranormal space and LGBT people—especially youth, because of the parallels of fear, the parallels of coming out.”
“A lot of those stories were told with the intent of a relatable feeling, whether young or old in between, and how they unpack it, and how they come to a resolution at the end of the episode,” he added. “Again, this is entertainment. But it really does effort to make even a small difference in a few people’s lives.”
I agree that, if kids who are watching this or will watch this can see themselves and and their interests or feelings reflected on TV, that’s worth it.
“Just like any project where we see representation in such a beautiful way—seeing Roz Hernandez as the pinnacle of the poster at bus stops and across LED billboards at LAX—that’s representation. That’s a great opportunity for some kid to say, I feel seen, I feel heard, I feel represented,” Clark said.
“These are all the moments—as cheesy and corny as they may be—that have helped shape all of us, gay, straight and everything in between,” he added. “Seeing yourself and knowing that there is possibility, and maybe it’s not in the LGBT ghost hunting space, but just having somebody that represents you and what you look like is so important.”