Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Casting Part II: The Bad Boy

Welcome to part II of our ongoing series concerning the casting of "Humboldt County." Our aim, as always, is to give you an insider's perspective into how we ended up with the amazing actors we had in our film. Today, we talk about casting the part of "Max" played brilliantly by Mr. Chris Messina. This story's a douzy so hang onto your hats...

First of all, Chris Messina was not the first person we hired for the role. The first person we hired for the role was....ahhh...we better not say, actually. Truth be told we had several actors attached to the picture in this role over the course of our nine month casting process.

For a variety of reasons, we ended up parting ways with a number of really great actors. Most of the time, it was because the actors we had, though truly fantastic, were not exactly right for the part like we had thought they would be. One of the strange things about Hollywood is that the more well known you are, the less you have to audition for roles. Many talent agents will flat out refuse to let their clients audition for movies, believing the actors have already proven their ability in previous films and TV parts. There is some truth to that. However, someone’s past work doesn’t necessarily tell you whether or not he would be good for a specific part. In absence of auditions, then, there is little to go on and sometimes wrong decisions are made.

This was the case for the early actors we were considering for the part. Either they just weren’t right or their vision for the film did not align with ours. In fact, the last actor we had attached to the project before Chris was very helpful: coming to auditions for the other roles in the movie and reading with actors for eight hour marathon session, giving input on the script and even personally lobbying big profile thespians to come join the project.

However, soon, Darren and I became personally aware of the oft-used Hollywood term “creative differences.” We had it with our actor in spades. In addition to not playing the character how we had imagined it, the actor simply did not understand the kind of movie Darren and I wanted to make. Soon, it became clear that something had to be done. We had hired the wrong actor for the role.

However, we were only one month away from shooting at this point. Darren and I were set to head up to Humboldt for pre-production in a matter of days. We couldn’t possibly fire one of our lead actors so late in the process….could we?

The answer was “you bet.” Independent filmmaking is all about working with limited resources, limited time, and insufficient EVERYTHING. Nothing ever happens the way you think it will. So, with a big, deep inhale, we took the plunge and let our actor go. It was a scary day.

And this is where pure, blind luck came knocking on our door. When Jeremy Strong (Peter) came to LA to focus on his role, he was staying at the home of a good friend of his who he had known for years back in New York. In fact, he had even borrowed his friend's shoes as he was fleshing out the character of "Peter." That friend's name? Chris Messina.

That's right, our eventual "Max" had been living with our lead for several weeks. When our previous actor fell off the radar, we were scrambling, trying to audition anyone we could. We didn't have much time and so when Jeremy suggested Chris and brought him to our house for an impromptu audition.

Chris, as you can expect, was unbelievable. Darren and I were relatively unfamiliar with his work and so didn't know what to expect. But Chris came in and was electrifying. In our dining room, he played a scene with Jeremy that was so intensely real and powerful that when he left, Darren and I had to just sit in silence while we decompressed. We had found our Max.

In hindsight, it was a good thing we weren't familiar with Chris's work. He had recently played an uptight Republican on the final season of "Six Feet Under" and had also completed shooting on Jennifer Westfeldt's new film "Ira and Abby" in which Chris played an uptight New Yorker. If we had watched his work, we would have been uncertain Chris could pull off such a wholly different character and might not have brought him in. But the gods were smiling upon us and we were rewarded for our ignorance.

Throughout shooting, Chris was truly amazing. He came on board the project later than we would have liked obviously, and as such, we were worried that he wouldn't quite have a fully formed character ready by the time we began shooting. But Chris, as always, allayed our fears.

And since shooting "Humboldt," Chris has been on a hot streak. "Ira and Abby" came out to excellent reviews and Chris then shot a pilot for J.J. Abrams. Chris now has a whole slate of new films ready to be released in 2008: There's the Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) film, "Towelhead" with Aaron Eckhart and Toni Collette, the Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan romantic comedy "Made of Honor", and, most exciting for us, the Woody Allen film "Vicky Christina Barcelona" with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson.

Next, Chris is set to star alongside Amy Adams and Meryl Streep in "Julie and Julia" which will be shooting, no doubt, as soon as this blasted writer's strike ends. Finally, Chris was named in Variety as one of Hollywood's ten most promising actors.

How lucky were we, huh? Looking back on the saga now, it seems like fate. At the time, however, I can tell you that we were scared out of our minds. And so it goes...

And, oh yea, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!! We’re so excited that 2008 is going to be the year that we get to finally unleash “Humboldt County” to its audience. We hope you like the film as much as we do.


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