Fresh from her Emmy® win for Location Casting season one of FX’s The Bear, AJ Links has opened up her own casting agency in Chicago.  Her career began over a decade ago at The Theatre School at DePaul when she accepted an internship at Paskal Rudnicke Casting upon graduation.  A year later she joined the shop full time and spent the next 11 years working her way up from assistant  to CD helping cast shows including FX’s Fargo, HBO’s Station Eleven, South Side, and Lovecraft Country, Showtime’s Shameless and Work in Progress, Apple TV+ The Shining Girls, and the upcoming Marvel series Ironheart, as well as many feature films including The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Transformers 4.  

A naturally curious person with a strong desire to expand and deepen her life experiences, casting comes naturally to Links.  “Reflecting now, my brain speaks casting and always has,” says Links. “I think my easiest entry point when listening to a story or watching a play or film, is to recast the characters and relate them to the people and circumstances I know. So, as a kid, watching The Little Mermaid, I’d cast the people in my life in those roles. While my Meyers Briggs test tells me I am 1000% an introvert, I consider myself a people person. Bless the unlucky Lyft driver who gets me as a rider or server at my table – I will try to cast them in something by the time the drive or meal is over.”  

Given her penchant for performance, Links seeks it out both personally and professionally.  On a typical evening you’ll find her doing something creative, whether she’s seeing The Fly Honey Show at Thalia Hall, The Saturday Show at LSI, Freelance Wrestling or Improvised Shakespeare, you can find her in an audience, usually surrounded with her creative friends. Links hadn’t always planned to open her own company, and when the SAG-AFTRA strike ended and production resumed in town, she was contemplating taking a break.  In 2022 she lost her mother to cancer and had planned to pause for a year to focus on personal growth and spend more time with family. “In casting we spend our time cheerleading for other people and investing a lot of energy, so I had hoped that in 2024 I could try turning some of that encouragement inward,” she says. 

That was the plan, until Cap Gun Collective reached out with an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.  They had landed a National SAG-AFTRA commercial project for Lowe’s with director Matt Miller and hoped AJ would cast 24 actors for the project. “The project was incredibly demanding and equally fulfilling,” says Links. “With 14 spots/scripts and 24 total roles, it felt like an episode of television or a small independent film. Each script came with its own set of specific requirements, we looked for real families, couples, and parent/child pairs, dog owners and crafts people with real DIY experience. With a 9 day Chicago shoot, this project required an eye on details, especially actor availability.”  

“I cannot heap enough praise on AJ and her team for wrangling this beast of a job with such skill and aplomb,” says Director Matt Miller. “As a recovering casting director, I know how challenging callback days can be and it's a testament to AJ's preparation, experience, and intuition that our days went so smoothly. Especially commendable was the choice to hold the callbacks in a studio with an actual kitchen. For appliance spots, the authority and grace of an actor's movements really informs the casting choices and those are difficult qualities to evaluate if the actors are just pantomiming. So being able to see actors open actual fridge doors and place cookware in a real microwave made the decision making process so much easier.”

As a hands-on casting director who thinks creatively, Lowe’s was the perfect challenge for her first solo job.  “In all of my former casting experience, I cast projects with a team,” says Links. “As a singular casting director, I am really excited to be able to interact with every part of the casting process from start to finish: from bidding, to booking, to billing. I want to be able to provide a bespoke casting experience that offers my clients the attention to detail their projects deserve. With a hands-on approach in all aspects of the process, I hope to guarantee my stamp is on all elements of the job.” 

An Emmy® win is a career touchpoint for many, but for AJ it was the moments after that resonate.  “My proudest professional moment to date was not the moment we won the Emmy®,” says Links.  “It was the moment, hours later, when I brought it home to an Airbnb where my dad and cousins were staying overnight with me. Awards are earned by communities, not individuals, and bringing my family their much deserved statue was a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.  Working with Mickie Paskal and Jennifer Rudnicke, and for Jeanie Bacharach, Michael Katcher, Chris Storer, Joanna Calo, Josh Senior and the whole team behind The Bear was a dream from start to finish,” says Links. “They are the best in the business, so I felt lucky just to be involved in the conversations for seasons 1 and 2. The Emmy we won was a true cherry on top of what was already an incredible casting experience.”

Since wrapping Lowe’s, AJ has landed several more commercial projects for big national brands and has some exciting projects in the works.  2024 promises to be a busy year, and this is just the start.