Friday, January 25, 2008

Casting Part IV: Earth Mother

Greetings, still unnamed brethren & sistren of Humboldt County (see previous post):

It is time to rejoice in another edition of our ongoing series examining the casting process for Humboldt County. Today, we revisit the saga that resulted in our having the good fortune to work with the wonderful Frances Conroy, who plays Rosie Truman in our picture.

Rosie Truman, you see, is the character in the picture who is loosely inspired by real-life-living-person and future blogger Aunt Laura.

It's significant to note that the "Humboldt" characters featured in this film, while complex and hopefully realistic, represent only one type of resident of the county rather than the county as a whole. It would be impossible to tell the story of an entire community of people in an intimate, character-driven picture like this one. The characters we explore in this film are representative of people I came to know as a child. Members of my family and others like them moved from cities around the country into the woods (and not into Humboldt's more densely populated areas) to remove themselves from the temptations, luxuries and (from their perspective) evils of modern urban society. They did this in search of a better life. Did they find it in Humboldt? Well, for that you're going to have to see for yourself.

And that brings us back to Rosie, who is a woman of great knowledge and experience, yet she also finds herself completely comfortable in this simple ascetic lifestyle nestled in the arms of nature. Rosie has taken on the role of a spiritual earth mother herself, and in many ways she is the emotional core of this family and, thus, the picture as a whole.

Needless to say, a difficult role to cast. Like our experience in casting Jack (an experience documented quite well, I dare say, by Danny a few posts ago), we had the difficulty of going out to actresses (who we could not audition) through agents (who we could not be sure were even passing the script along to said actresses).

We had nibbles from some incredibly talented actresses but we just had not yet found the magical connection between actress and character. It's a tough combination to pull off: wise and wordly, yet earthy and loving. These are seemingly contradictory characteristics that require an actress of great talent and skill.

Similar to our experience casting Max and Jack, we were fast approaching our start date and the role was not cast. "Nervous" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but it does not sufficiently describe the cold-sweat anxiety that keeps you awake at night as you imagine calling "action" to an empty space where an actress should be. We were a week away from beginning principal photography. We had finally found our Max in Chris Messina. Brad Dourif was about to sign on as Jack. But we had no Rosie.

I was up in Humboldt meeting with crew, scouting locations, generally working that end of preproduction, while Danny was holding down the fort in LA. We were, in a word, panicked.

Then, a fateful day. For we had been intrigued by an actress who had wowed us on HBOs Six Feet Under, but we had held our excitement in check, doubting the likelihood of our being able to get the scipt to her. She was, after all, a Golden Globe and SAG Award winner, as well as a three-time Emmy nominee.

But on September 18, 2006, 7 days before we were to begin principal photgraphy, I received the following email from our intrepid producer, CD:

"I just got a call from Frances Conroy's agent. She (Francis) read the script and is interested."

My jaw dropped. That night, I spoke with Frannie on the phone, and my jaw dropped some more. The first word I like to use about Frances Conroy is this: inquisitive. She asked more questions in that phone call and gobbled up more information than I thought possible. And not just information about the character, either. She asked about my background, Danny's, how we knew each other, how we decided to write this script, what our ideas were for the themes we wanted to explore, etc. She was genuinely interested in the answers to these questions, and this seemed to be a part of her process. We laughed about common past experiences and shared our impressions about the characters and their lifestyles. Needless to say, we hired Frances the next morning, and all was well.

I remember picking up Frannie and Brad at the airport in Eureka -- there they were, the Rosie and Jack that had been in our heads for so long were now standing in front of me -- and sitting back to just observe these two acting greats connect over shared friends and experiences. How could we be the first to put these two together on screen? I still have no idea, but I count my lucky stars we were. We lunched that first day at Arcata Pizza & Deli (not to be missed if you ever make it to Arcata, CA), and Brad and Frannie regaled us with stories about their experiences in the industry and beyond. The old nervous anxiety was replaced with unadulterated joy.

Needless to say, they connected and made these two characters more vivid and true than Danny or I could have ever imagined. It's funny to look back and remember the panic, as we wondered if we were going to find the right actors and how it was possibly going to work out. But now, I can't imagine anyone else playing any of the parts in the film. Stay tuned for the next in our casting series in a few days.

Fondly appreciating our amazing cast,


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