Are you for real?
by Nancy Nayor
There was a film I was casting a few years ago called Godspeed. It was reminiscent of Open Water in that the story was about a small group of friends in their early 30’s, who go out for an afternoon on a sleek sail boat in the Mediterranean, all jump in the water, but the host, due to a variety of circumstances, forgets to put down the ladders. Due to the boat’s design to protect against pirates coming on board, it turns out there is no way to get back on the deck. So they all drown. Based on a true story.
The title, Godspeed, was based on the name of the sailing vessel they sailed on, and was also symbolic of the audience wishing them to “fare well” in dangerous waters, yet in this particular story, they do not. Instead they suffer a tragic demise.
Short of auditioning in a pool or a lake, we required the actors during their auditions to create a sense of being in the water. They came to my office, and we didn’t hose them down, but they needed to pretend, or somehow create the sense of treading water. The characters would be in the water 90 percent of their screen time. The film was to shoot in a saltwater tank in Malta, which is off the coast of Italy, by the way. Expensive plane ticket. Long journey. Many miles from Los Angeles.
So we chose our cast after weeks of sessions with actors mixing and matching throughout numerous chemistry readings. We finally booked our carefully chosen ensemble. Production booked their travel and they were on their way to rehearse and shoot on the island of Malta. All good. Or so I thought.
A week later I woke up in the early morning to a startling email from one of the producers. “We have a problem… ” it began. I read on.
“One of the actresses has a deathly fear of the water.”
Ummm… What?! How is that possible, I thought? What part of the script did she not read?
“She had a near drowning incident as a child,” the producer continued, “and it didn’t resurface until she got into the ocean to rehearse.”
OMG. Okay. Hard to believe it was happening but here we were. So, we did what we do in cases of emergency. We re-cast. But it still begs the question: What part of the script did this actor not read? The movie takes place primarily in the water!
Not sure if this really was a repressed memory, but the producers had spent the money on a ticket, had faith in an actress who had represented a willingness and ability to spend time in the water, which turned out not to be the case. So yes, many have heard the phrase, “fake it till you make it,” but this process can be risky.
Here’s another example. I recently I cast a film about tennis called Break Point. Starred Jeremy Sisto, Amy Smart, J.K. Simmons, David Walton and Joshua Rush. Adorable romantic comedy set in the world of competitive tennis so several characters in their late 20’s would be required to play tennis at a highly competitive level.
I explained our requirement in bold caps on the Breakdown: ACTORS APPLYING FOR THE FOLLOWING ROLES MUST BE ABLE TO PLAY TENNIS AT AN EXPERT OR PROFESSIONAL LEVEL.
Each time my office would set up an appointment, they would reiterate verbally to the agents and managers: “Now you are absolutely sure that the actor you are sending over to audition has expert, high-level tennis skills?”
“Absolutely!” the reps would confirm.
One by one the actors arrived. Before they would begin their audition I would ask: “When is the last time you played tennis?”
“In kindergarten,” said one. “Oh, it’s been a while,” said another, “but I can fake it.”
Really? You can fake professional tennis? Okay, I thought, when an actor would present a solid reading, let’s put this to the test. “Go out on a tennis court,” I suggested, “and have someone video you playing tennis and send it to me by email.”
The results were fascinating. One actor, who swore he was a great player, played probably at the level that my grandmother could play at, and she is deceased. I wasn’t trying to be pessimistic about their chances of winning the role. I prayed they would be perfect. I wanted to cast the role sooner than later. I would’ve been thrilled if they really could’ve faked it beautifully. But it was rare. So my words of caution are: “Know thyself!”
Don’t promise to fake it if you cannot. It just wastes time. And the casting director might think of you as untrustworthy.
We are all as good as our word. If you can’t swim, don’t misrepresent yourself.If you recently gained 30 pounds, don’t send a skinny head shot from a year ago.
If you’re not in Cirque du Soleil, don’t swear you’re a seasoned acrobat who can juggle 12 siblings, while balanced on a pole 50 feet off the ground. You’ll only hurt yourself. Don’t fake fluency in Farsi if you really can’t deliver.
I understand we are in a business of smoke and mirrors. The allure of show business is its bold creativity and an actor’s life is to constantly transform into someone they are not. But within the realm of the fantastical, be realistic about your boundaries. Or it may come back to bite you.
That said, every successful actor can recount a spectacular tale of an impossible challenge they overcame by faking it, so, there is no hard and fast rule. Proceed with discernment at your own risk.
I wish you all your desired success. Godspeed…Tags: Actor, Amy Smart, Casting Director, David Walton, Godspeed, Hollywood, J.K. Simmons, Jeremy Sisto, Joshua Rush, Know thyself, Nancy Nayor, Open Water, Tennis, You are only as good as your word