Performance Review: ‘Waves’

Performance Review: ‘Waves’

Waves is one aptly titled film. It brings on a flood of emotions that break relentlessly on the shores of one’s heart as it follows an African-American family in South Florida whose members struggle to support one another through life-altering hardships. Audiences should take heed and bring tissues to any screening in case their eyes experience a bit of moisture while viewing. Trey Edward Shults wrote, directed, produced and edited the deeply affecting drama that he says was inspired by his own upbringing and includes some autobiographical elements. He stated in a Los Angeles Times interview that he collaborated with lead actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. to develop his character of Tyler and to capture the “nuance of a black family.”


Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Image via IMDb.com

Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Tyler dominates the first half of the film and causes the tragedy at its midpoint. It’s a big responsibility to shoulder, and Harrison Jr. rises to the occasion. Avy Kaufman did well with the casting choice as the actor believably fits the bill of a high school senior who’s also a gifted athlete. The actor embodies the fervor of youth, infusing his character with a passion for life as well as a devotion to his girlfriend. The actor is only 25, but his remarkable abilities are far beyond his years. Harrison Jr. is fully alive in every scene, dialed-in and present. He brings to the character a certain volatility, and as Tyler travels further down his path of self-destruction, viewers will find themselves holding their breath every time he appears on-screen, unsure of what he’ll do next. 

A shoulder injury that ends his wrestling season prematurely triggers Tyler’s downturn. It’s a heavy blow for a young man whose identity is rooted in his atheleticism and in pleasing his overbearing father Ronald (played by Sterling K. Brown). As Tyler’s world starts to crumble and he turns to drugs and alcohol, Harrison Jr. slowly unveils the depth and intensity of his character’s pain. But even as his character makes one poor choice after another, viewers can empathize with him, a reflection of Harrison Jr.’s astute character work. Because he understands the heart of his flawed, broken character and is able to translate it on-screen, viewers may likely see pieces of themselves in Tyler. This ability to transcend the medium and provide a window into universal elements of the human condition is what art is all about, and it’s proof that Harrison Jr. is a young actor with great things ahead of him. 



Taylor Russell
Image via IMDb.com

Taylor Russell

Once the midpoint of Waves hits with a shocking turn, Tyler exits the story, and his sister Emily takes over as the film’s focus. Russell subtly and beautifully portrays the younger sibling who’s left reeling in the aftermath of her brother’s actions. She imbues into Emily a quiet strength that emerges as she deals with hateful posts on social media and with feeling ostracized in her high school. The actor’s nuanced on-camera presence is a breath of fresh air, especially when it comes to the type of role she tackles. Many actors falter with characters who seemingly possess low self-confidence; their portrayals don’t always ring true. But Russell introduces us to Emily by believably depicting a second child who’s been overlooked by at least one parent. She’s happy to stand in the shadow of her brother’s larger-than-life presence. 

Russell’s a team player who generously assists Harrison Jr.’s character during his half of the film. But once it’s her turn to be the “star player,” the actor shines. Russell smoothly externalizes Emily’s growing confidence, which is encouraged by her newfound love. By the end of the film, Emily is making bold choices that include lying to her parents and taking a cross-country trip to help her boyfriend. Viewers may have doubted that Emily was capable of such actions at the beginning of Waves, but Russell’s patient development of her character makes Emily’s transformation from chrysalis to butterfly feel authentic. Her character is the heartbeat of the film’s second half, and it’s thanks to Russell’s performance that viewers are left with the hope of a new horizon amidst the sea of turbulent emotions in which they find themselves.


Harrison Jr. and Russell are supported by a strong cast that includes Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges, Alexa Demie and Renée Elise Goldsberry. Frank Ocean may even be considered a co-star as his music is featured prominently in the film’s soundtrack. You can experience the work of this talented cast, set against the backdrop of Ocean’s tracks, when Waves hits theaters November 15.


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Performance Review: ‘Latin History for Morons’

Performance Review: ‘Latin History for Morons’

I had mixed feelings about attending a performance of Latin History for Morons. Prior to my decision, I weighed the pros and cons. In the cons column: it’s a one-man show (I don’t typically enjoy them), it’s 110 minutes with no intermission, and it’s about history. The pros: it features Tony Award-winner John Leguizamo, and I think it’s safe to say he’s the king of the one-man show. So yes, I was in. 

The stage is equipped with an old-school chalkboard, which Leguizamo utilizes as he educates the “morons” of the title (yep, that’s us in the audience) in a lecture style through about 3,000 years of Latin history. It’s a history lesson that most of us will likely find elucidating and fascinating. Stacks of books are piled and scattered about on-stage. It’s in these texts that Leguizamo—after finding out that his son is being bullied by a racist boy in class—hopes to find a historical Latin hero for his son‘s middle-school project.

Unfortunately, our modern-day textbooks aren’t big on divulging the atrocities inflicted upon the indigenous peoples in Latin history as well as major contributions from them. Both have been almost entirely wiped clean from American history lessons. The facts and events presented in the show resonate powerfully in light of current events, and Leguizamo doesn’t waste the opportunity to connect history with the realities of life today as an Latin American in Trump-era America. “Those who cannot remember their past are doomed to repeat it,” as the saying goes.

Its poignancy aside, the show is also packed with entertainment and humor. Leguizamo does impersonations, draws (sometimes lewd) pictures, cracks (sometimes R-rated) jokes, wears costumes, and busts a move or two. You’ll laugh, chuckle, and howl in-between moments of discomfort, anger and sadness. I’m not a laugh-out-loud theatre goer, but I did just that over the entire, nearly two-hour-long show.

Director Tony Taccone (who directed the complete seven-hour Angels in America at the Mark Taper Forum in 1992) succeeds in keeping the production taut, well-paced, and relatively reined in. Leguizamo is relentless in his enthusiasm, energy, and showmanship, and through his conviction, he’s created a work of genius. 

A question I often ask after seeing theatre is, “So what? Does this show pass the ‘so what’ test?” It’s obvious that it did—and with flying colors. This is theatre of enlightenment and entertainment at its finest. 

My favorite words of wisdom, relayed by Leguizamo from his older daughter about her brother’s bully, are too irresistible not to relate: “If a bully is like sandpaper, he is going to hurt you. But in the end, he will wear out, and you will be polished.”


Latin History for Morons

Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave, Los Angeles

Runs through Oct. 20. 8 p.m. Tuesdays–Fridays; 2 & 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sundays. There are exceptions! (check theater website for latest times$30-$135

213-972-4400, www.CenterTheatreGroup.org


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Casting in LA This Week!

Casting in LA This Week!

Every day great roles are added to Casting Billboard. Below are highlighted projects from this week!


Plumbing Buddies

Rate: $350 | Male, Caucasian or Ethnically Ambiguous | Commercial

ROLES  Principal   GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Male / 30-65 / Caucasian or Ethnically Ambiguous

DESCRIPTION  New commercial for Plumbing Buddies. It’ll be an older and a younger man discussing who to go to for your plumbing needs

Caribbean Improv Talent for Holiday Video

Rate:  $500 | Female or Male, African American, Latinx, Ethnically Ambiguous  | Internet

ROLES  Featured  GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Female or Male / 20-40 / African American, Latinx, Ethnically Ambiguous

DESCRIPTION   Featured talent who greets families that are about to be surprised with an unexpected family reunion. Casting a friendly, good-energy host/talent (male or female), originally from Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks and Caicos, or El Salvador, with improv experience to host a heartfelt holiday online video.

Undisclosed Disney Live Action Feature

Rate:  TBA | Female & Male, Any Ethnicity | Feature Film

ROLES  Lead  GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Female & Male / 8-11 / Any Ethnicity

DESCRIPTION   To portray a precocious 8 to 11-year-old girl who is brunette with brown eyes, and an 8 to 11-year-old boy who is blond with blue eyes.


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From Casting to Directing, Valerie McCaffrey Shares Tips, Secrets, and What She Loves about the Biz

From Casting to Directing, Valerie McCaffrey Shares Tips, Secrets, and What She Loves about the Biz

Valerie McCaffrey has worked both as an in-house casting director (for Universal Pictures and New Line Cinema) and as an independent casting director. A few of her many notable accomplishments include casting Edward Norton and Eddie Furlong in American History X, Ellen Page in Hard Candy, and Jeremy Renner in Neo Ned (which she also produced).

McCaffrey is also a filmmaker who’s directed features, television, shorts, videos and documentaries. Now, she’s bringing her most personal project to date in front of audiences—the short film Dirty Bomb, which she wrote, directed, produced, and of course, cast.

Set during World War II, Dirty Bomb follows the experiences of McCaffrey’s Armenian uncle, who fought on behalf of the U.S. just as many Jews in Nazi concentration camps were sabotaging the construction of the V-2 bomb they were being forced to build. Their clandestine act saved the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers, though it meant the executions of the Jews who saved them.

“I had to make this movie,” McCaffrey told Casting Networks. “These Jewish prisoners risked their lives saving my uncle’s life, and contributed to the end of World War II. I grew up listening to my uncle’s stories of about the war and did months and months of research before I wrote the script. This was a very ambitious effort.”

McCaffrey took some time over a rare free weekend to speak to Casting Networks on topics ranging from her experience casting and directing Dirty Bomb to how technology has changed the way casting directors do business. She offered some thoughts and tips for actors on such topics as showcases and self-tapes, and what an actor should never do at an audition.


Tell me about the casting process for Dirty Bomb.

Ido Samuel (Fill the Void) was the first actor cast. I’d worked with him personally before and told him this story. He said he’d never heard of it. I said, “Then I’m going make it and you’re going star in it.” Robert Arce was someone I’d seen in a showcase and said to myself, “One day, I’m going cast him in something.” He’s so interesting and has such a period face. I did have auditions. I cast Hunter Dohan, who I manage, because I wanted someone who was young and naïve because all these U.S. soldiers were very young.


And the one role of the woman at the concentration camp?

I shot the concentration camp scenes in Fresno, so I had to find someone very thin out of Fresno. I was recommended Windy Hamilton who in real life is actually a deaf actress.


This is a short film, but your foray into directing began with a full-length feature in 1999 called Wish You Were Dead. How was that experience?

I loved it, but at the time, I was so focused on creating my own independent casting company that I took a break from directing. I always loved directing. Thirty years of being around all these great filmmakers and great actors, you can’t help but pick up some things. They always say write what you know, so with Dirty Bomb, it became this huge passion project. Now it’s segueing into something bigger, a full-length feature film. I already have the script for it.


Let’s pick your brain on the casting front. You mentioned you cast an actor in Dirty Bomb based off a showcase. Obviously, showcases work for you in terms of finding talent, right?

They do work, yes. Do I support the pay-to-play? No. But showcases, when handled properly, are opportunities for people like me to meet actors that I don’t have specific roles I’m casting for at the moment. It’s also a great opportunity for TV casting associates and casting directors to meet other actors other than the ones they already know. Television moves at such a fast pace. There’s so much more product out there now with all the new streaming platforms, so we’re always looking for new talent.


What type of actor benefits most from showcases?

Showcases are opportunities for young actors to be seen. For example, if they just graduated from drama school and don’t have a reel, navigating in the business can be hard. It’s an opportunity to go in there and perform. There are good actors at these showcases that casting directors get exposed to. I think it’s a good thing.


What if actors don’t have any acting credits on their resume, will you still see them?

I look at training. I look to see if they’ve done theater. Even if they have no film or TV credits to speak of, those two things can matter.


How has technology impacted your work as a casting director?

Well, for starters, I don’t get the big packages anymore when I’m casting. I used to sit on the floor with tons and tons of packages and look through all the pictures. Today, a lot of actors submit themselves, so it’s about going through each picture and each profile and picking the people that come up on your screen up until page 10. Technology is kind of limited in how far you can go in setting up your sessions because after page 10 of seeing 500 actors, you might just quit and have your session already. I encourage young actors to have all their media organized. Those that have their media and shots go up first.


What’s been a downside to that technology?

With self-tape, an actor will do the scene twenty times and upload the takes they like. It’s created a bad habit because we find that when actors get on set, they can’t deliver in one or two takes anymore. You should be prepared for self-tape like you’re going into an audition. It is not a time to be learning your lines. By the time you do the self-tape, you should do three takes, and pick one or two to upload. Your self-tape should be done within 30 minutes, not an hour.


How do you deal with self-tapes as a casting director?

For me, I like viewing actors on self-tapes who I may not be familiar with. I get to see new talent. However, many actors wait until the last minute to submit their tapes. As I mentioned before, in television because of the fast pace, casting directors are already looking at the self-tapes that have come in first. They’re already giving out callbacks or producers sessions. I encourage actors that the minute they get their audition, work on it, and get it uploaded.

Can you imagine, as a casting director, getting 50 self-tapes at the last minute? It can be frustrating because I also have a deadline, and the director is waiting for me to submit my choices.


What does nobody do anymore that you wish they still did?

Nobody gives out 8 x 10s anymore. Wouldn’t it be interesting if you actually sent your 8 x 10 into a casting director with a nice note? The 8 x 10s that I get with a resume are so very few and far between, that I actually do look at them. I read the credits. And I have asked some of those people to come in and read something. It’s a great marketing tool because who sends them now? No one. Why not you?


Now you might get flooded with 8 x 10s with stapled resumes on the back.

It’s okay. I kind of miss it.


What are some things that an actor should never do at an audition?

Number one: Don’t read from your iPhone. Casting directors don’t like that. I’ve never met one who does. Number two: Don’t tell me that you couldn’t prepare for my audition because you had six other auditions to prepare for that day. What are you doing here then? Because you’re obviously not prepared, and you’re wasting your time and mine. Those are the two big ones.


How important is attitude in a casting session?

You should have the attitude in your head of—not in an arrogant way—that the job needs you more than you need the job. Actors should come in with a certain confidence about themselves and about their work. Casting directors can feel it when somebody comes across as too desperate. Likability is very important. We should like you. On that note, if you’re coming to see us in character, please let somebody know. Hugh Grant came in character as the villain for Hard Target and because he didn’t bother telling anyone, we all thought he was not a nice person.


How do you deal with the quandary of casting someone who is good for the role versus someone who is bankable and can secure financing?

It does become a catch-22, so you try to find a balance where you get both out of the actor—name value and somebody that’s right for the role. I don’t think I’ve ever cast a lead actor that didn’t hit on both counts. The challenge of casting is showing producers and directors that you know an actor’s body of work, and they must trust you when you say, “Listen, this choice is good for you.” Sometimes, a new filmmaker doesn’t have the trained eye and is more concerned about a celebrity’s Instagram followers instead of their acting abilities. I know a lot of casting directors who fight with that. We don’t care about Instagram followers, we care about your craft.


Did you ever have to fight for an actor to be cast in a project?

Yes. In American History X, I fought for Ethan Suplee as opposed to Jack Black for that role. Not that Jack Black was a bad actor. Not at all. He’s a great actor, and he did a great audition. I had two actors who were equally the same. In a situation like that, the next step is, okay, who physically fits more into this world? I thought Ethan Suplee was more menacing. The director agreed with me in the end.


How does your work as a casting director help you as a filmmaker?

I’ve seen so many actors throughout the years, and when you direct and re-direct them in the room, you develop a skill of being able to take them from one place to another. And because I also write screenplays, all those years of reading scripts, some from the top writers in Hollywood, you begin to see the difference between a good script and not-so-good script. Also, I am a lover of film and when I watch them, I watch shots. That’s how my brain works.


When you were directing Dirty Bomb, what was guiding you most?

When I was doing the short, it wasn’t about words or about looks. It was the moments in between that translate to the audience what they should be feeling, and then working with the actors to get to that point. Also, I love bringing the best technicians in the world to come play with me in my little world: the best costume designer, the best production designer, etc. It’s kind of like casting—getting the best person for every job and creating a team of amazing people that have the same passion as you. When all that happens, all of a sudden, the movie transforms into something beautiful.


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Weirdest Auditions: Giving Birth In-Office, Golf Puns with Strangers, and More

Weirdest Auditions: Giving Birth In-Office, Golf Puns with Strangers, and More

Welcome to Casting Networks’ newest series, Weirdest Auditions, where we’ll be sharing anecdotes by actors regarding their craziest, most memorable auditions. The series, we hope, will provide a unique window into the world of casting from an actor’s perspective. If you’re a thespian yourself, you may find a lot to relate to here and the reassurance that you’re not the only one in this town who’s put up with some weird auditions. Academy Award winner Olivia Colman, for instance, shared during a recent interview that, in an effort to win a role, she once ate a cigarette butt. Check out the following actors’ stories to see how far they went in pursuit of their craft. 


Amelia Meyers
Image via IMDb.com

Amelia Meyers

Known for General Hospital and The Eves

Throughout the years, I’ve had countless odd, eccentric and unpredictable auditions. One that stands out was for a project where I had to go into labor during the audition. They wanted me to really go for it, not to worry about the frame and to just let it go. I said, “Really?” And they said, “Show us what you’ve got!” Keep in mind, the room was very tiny, and there wasn’t a lot of area in front of the table to move or to make the space my own. But they said to go for it, right? 

I got down on the floor, facing the table, and spread my legs wide as if they were in stirrups. I put down the sides, grabbed my knees and went for it! We wound up improvising some, as well. I went from moaning during a contraction to full-on screaming bloody murder while the baby was “crowning.” I did not stop until they said “cut.” There was a moment of silence, and then everybody burst out laughing!  They wanted to hug me and thanked me for truly bringing it. I walked out, and the other girls in the waiting room were all looking at me bug-eyed. I laughed, shrugged and headed out. It was definitely an experience to remember!



Joel Ambo
Image via IMDb.com

Joel Ambo

Known for How to Get Away with Murder and Grimm

One thing that comes to mind is an audition for a hospital industrial where they held auditions in the actual hospital. So I dressed up in a lab coat, and when I walked in, the whole staff was saying “hi” to me like they knew I worked there but had just forgotten my name. Even the parking guy was like, “Good to see you.” It was funny because I thought that if they mistook me for anyone, it would be the new, young doctor or resident. But they kept greeting me as though I was that one coworker you see all the time but don’t have any relationship with! I also remember one commercial callback where the casting director took me to a public park to improvise with strangers and to inject as many golf puns into a conversation that I naturally could. Like, “Hey, that outfit looks nice on you. Was it TaylorMade?” Or, “I couldn’t wear my nice shoes today because I got a hole in one.” 



Kenneth Hodges
Image via IMDb.com

Kenneth Hodges

Known for Sorry for Your Loss and Superstore

I had an audition years ago for an indie film that required me to pretend like I was playing bass guitar during a concert. Every actress coming in that day to audition ended up getting paired with me, and we both had to mimic playing guitars “on-stage” opposite one other. So I had to keep doing the same thing with every appointment that came in. After a while, I really started to sweat, and the auditions felt like they were dragging on a bit longer than needed. I feel like you don’t need to see that action for more than a couple of seconds to get the gist of it, but it felt like each audition would drag on for at least a minute and a half or two.

I mean, obviously casting knew what they needed, so it’s not like they intentionally pushed it. And it was a cool group of people that I auditioned for, really nice people. But it was just awkward. You do that audition once or twice, and it’s fine. But if you do it over and over again, you’ll become drenched in sweat while pretending to play a guitar that you don’t know how to play to a fake audience. And you’ll be doing it with a bunch of different people that you don’t know. It was one of those situations where you think you’re going to be cool and fine, but you’re just not. 


Keeping in mind the entertainment value of these stories from Meyers, Ambo, and Hodges, you might now fully embrace your own weird audition story or welcome a future noteworthy experience if you don’t already have one. Because as Colman teaches us, if you end up winning an Oscar and want to give a memorable interview, it’s a handy anecdote to have in your back pocket. 


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Casting in LA This Week!

Casting in LA This Week!

Every day great roles are added to Casting Billboard. Below are highlighted projects from this week!


Tech Company – Back to School

Rate: $1,000 | Female & Male, All Ethnicities | Print

ROLES  Print Model   GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Female & Male / 40-59 / All Ethnicities

DESCRIPTION  Looking for a stylish professional-looking man and woman to play employees in a modern office for an upcoming stills shoot for a tech company. Will only work ONE day within range.

Believe Health

Rate:  $500 | Female, All Ethnicities | Industrial

ROLES  Principal  GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Female / 28-38 / All Ethnicities

DESCRIPTION  Our Believe Health Rep is a confident, professional woman. She’s smart, friendly, and excited to tell you how BH is going to help your practice make more money.

In the Middle

Rate:  TBA | Male, Hawaiian/Polynesian | Feature Film

ROLES  Lead  GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Male / 14-23 (to play 16) / Hawaiian, Polynesian

DESCRIPTION   Sent by Social Services to live with his mother in Las Vegas, Adam keeps his distance emotionally, relying on a quiet sarcasm and a detached attitude to protect himself. Even though he seems to find some stability with his new school, new mentor, new football team, and new girlfriend, he ultimately begins to explore his place in the world through an understanding of the Hawaiian Mahu tradition and the balance of a masculine and feminine spirit.


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Seeking Fresh Faces for Lead Role in Feature Film “In the Middle”

Seeking Fresh Faces for Lead Role in Feature Film “In the Middle”

Leslie Woo Casting (Silicon Valley, The Farewell) is conducting a talent search for the lead role in the upcoming feature film In the MiddleThis film follows 16 year-old-Adam, sent by Social Services to live with his mother in Las Vegas, after being raised by his recently deceased grandfather. He keeps his distance emotionally, relying on a quiet sarcasm and a detached attitude to protect himself. Even though he seems to find some stability with his new school, new mentor, new football team, and new girlfriend, he ultimately begins to explore his place in the world through an understanding of the Hawaiian Mahu tradition and the balance of a masculine and feminine spirit.

Levantine Films (Beasts of No Nation, Hidden Figures) is producing the feature. In the Middle will shoot in Hawaii and Las Vegas tentatively starting January/February through March/April 2020. Actors will need to be fully available and willing to relocate during these shoot dates.

Casting is seeking male actors, 14 to 23 years old (to play 16) with true and-or partial Polynesian descent (Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, Maori, etc). Football and/or hula experience is a plus! If submitting a non-binary performer, please include their preferred pronoun. For more information and to submit, click here.


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Casting in LA This Week!

Casting in LA This Week!

Every day great roles are added to Casting Billboard. Below are highlighted projects from this week!


Health Video

Rate: $1,200 | Male, Latinx | Commercial

ROLES  Lead   GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Male / 50-70 / Latinx

DESCRIPTION  Brand anthem video for a healthcare service company.

WOW Superheroes 2020

Rate:  $225/day to $1000, depending on role | Female, All Ethnicities | Television

ROLES  Principal  GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Female / 21-35 / All Ethnicities

DESCRIPTION This is not just an acting gig. You will be trained and become a professional entertainment wrestler. WOW WOMEN OF WRESTLING currently airs in AXS TV and we are seeking female heroines and bad-ass villains for the new season of WOW-WOMEN OF WRESTLING. If you have a big personality, are athletic, and willing to be trained in high flying stage combat this casting is for you. We are seeking themed characters with all nationalities/ethnicities and languages desired. Prior experience in gymnastics, tumbling, dance, and sports a plus!

Hollywood Concept Shoot

Rate:  $1,000 | Female & Male, Caucasian | Print

ROLES  Print Model  GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Female & Male / 18-30 / Caucasian

DESCRIPTION   Photo doubles for a print concept shoot. Images will only be used internally within the company for proof of concept. Talent will be needed for one day. Modeling experience preferred. “Hollywood” is a new series created by Ryan Murphy for Netflix.


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Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker: A Look into Casting the Iconic Character

Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker: A Look into Casting the Iconic Character

The Todd Phillips-directed Joker doesn’t release until October 4, but its trailers are already generating a lot of buzz as well as controversy. Jury members at the Venice Film Festival also turned out to be fans and awarded Joker the coveted Golden Lion. The prize is a good omen for the film’s Oscar chances as previous winners include Roma and The Shape of Water. Let’s take a closer look at this iteration of the notorious and iconic DC Comics villain and what went into the process of casting Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. 

Phillips’ vision for Joker includes inspiration from gritty period pieces like Taxi Driver and Mean Streets. And while this film is a perfect example of how comedy and pain are often closely linked, Joker is more than a slight departure from Phillip’s previous laugh-riot outings like The Hangover and Due Date. The origin story follows Arthur Fleck, a stand-up comedian who suffers public humiliation by a talk-show host (played by Robert De Niro), which triggers his downward spiral into crime. It’s being labeled as a “cautionary tale” and shows what can happen to a person marginalized by society.

Phillips reportedly had Phoenix in mind for the role while writing it. The choice may come as no surprise considering the actor’s track record with portraying dark, volatile characters. In You Were Never Really Here, for instance, he portrayed a trauma-wracked veteran who violently rescues kidnapped girls. Phoenix played another veteran in The Master, a character also prone to psychological issues and violent outbursts. And one can’t forget his breakthrough role as the deranged and murderous Commodus in Gladiator

While the casting choice made sense, Phoenix wasn’t automatically on board. According to Phillips, the actor never fully committed to the project and appeared only one day for a wardrobe fitting. Phoenix hasn’t gravitated to comic book roles though he’s considered them. He was reportedly in talks for the title role in Dr. Strange but ended up passing.

Phillips’ vision for a grittier, comparatively low-budget standalone portrait of the DC villain is a far cry from Marvel’s bright, slickly produced serialized blockbusters. And this iconoclastic quality may have been what secured the elusive actor’s interest. In an interview with The New York Times, he singled out the thrill of the unknown—of portraying a character difficult to define—as a chief reason he agreed to the role.

Based on the accolades Joker has already received, Phoenix seems to have achieved another career hallmark. His performance could well be ranked among the most memorable variants of the Clown Prince of Crime. Jack Nicholson’s signature take on the role for Tim Burton’s Batman undoubtedly contributed to the 1989 film’s success. Mark Hamill also gained positive notices for voicing the character in multiple animated projects. And one can’t forget another actor who donned the purple suit: Heath Ledger, who was posthumously awarded an Oscar for his indelible portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight.

Thus far, Phoenix has received three Oscar nominations, and all indications are that Joker will bring him a fourth. Regardless, considering the film’s warm reception at the Venice Film Festival, Phoenix is probably relieved and grateful that he didn’t let this comic book role go to Benedict Cumberbatch.


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‘Sound of Silence’ Director Michael Tyburski on Making the Leap to Features

‘Sound of Silence’ Director Michael Tyburski on Making the Leap to Features

Award-winning short-film writer-director Michael Tyburski makes his feature debut with The Sound of Silence. The intimate drama stars Peter Sarsgaard as a New York City “house tuner,” a technician of sorts who diagnoses and calibrates the ambient noises in his client’s homes in order to cure their mood disorders. He gets stumped when he can’t solve why a new client (Rashida Jones) is chronically exhausted, despite the adjustments he keeps making. 

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year, where it was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize. Tyburski spoke to Casting Networks about nabbing his two leads, working with casting director Rori Bergman and coming full circle with a project that actually began as a Sundance short five years earlier.


This is your first feature film. How did you manage to land the cast that you did?

Peter Sarsgaard was actually my first pick for the house tuner. I was able to get him the script through mutual acquaintances at Anonymous Content. I wrote Peter a letter, waxed poetic on why I loved him, his unique voice and his ability to be like a chameleon and slip into parts. Fortunately, he liked the script.


Then you built out your cast from there?

From there, we brought in a casting director, Rori Bergman in New York. She recommended Rashida Jones for the part of Ellen. I have to admit I only knew Rashida through her comedy roles, which she is very good at. Even though there is humor in this film, I didn’t want it to be perceived as a romantic comedy. So, I did a deep dive into Rashida’s work, and I found some non-comedic roles. I found this campaign she did for Sofia Coppola where she wasn’t wearing any makeup and saw a completely different side of Rashida Jones I’d never seen before. I was really taken. Then we spoke, and I knew she really got the role. She’s a wonderful filmmaker and writer in her own right, with very strong opinions, so she was able to flesh that character out, which I was very excited about.


Who else did Rori recommend that may not have been at the forefront of your mind?

Toni Revolori came recommended. I loved him in Grand Budapest Hotel. He’s such a sweet gentleman to work with. With this film, no one actually read for roles. It was about looking at who they were, what they did and having conversations with them. Tony was someone who was jazzed about the role.


Any dream castings you were able to fulfill?

I always wanted to work with the great Austin Pendelton. I first saw him perform in Shakespeare in the Park back in 2007 when he was in a production of Romeo and Juliet. I’ve loved him for years, and I consider him a great New York character actor. I wanted my film to be populated by very New York actors and be full of New York characters. He was immediately the person I wanted for the role of Peter’s mentor, Robert. Turned out, Austin worked with Peter before. He directed Peter [in a stage production of Uncle Vanya in 2009], so there was kind of this inherent mentor figure already in place that transitioned into their roles. I got to have a lot of fun with that.


What was your relationship like with Rori during casting?

I try and find collaborators that I trust and want to work with for that reason. I am very hands on. I like to be involved in every detail of the moviemaking process—to an unhealthy degree, I suppose, at times. But I loved Rori because she had specifically cast projects that had the types of New York characters that I was looking for. I knew she would be able to put forward an eclectic group for the film, and she did.


The Sound of Silence began as a short film in 2013 called Palimpsest and won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance. When you and the short’s co-writer Ben Nabors adapted it as a full-length film, did you already have set ideas for the characters born out of the short?

Because it started as a short, I had a very specific look in mind for the lead: a bearded gentleman who looked good in a blazer, kind of professorial. But I wanted a clean slate when I made the feature. When I was writing it, I was really just picturing the character rather than who’d be filling those shoes. Once Peter became attached, and we continued developing the film, then I was picturing him in the role. At a certain point, Peter did get into my head because we recorded the script together in audio form, and I was able to take that audio and tailor the script more towards Peter in ways that I thought would work really great.


Any reason why you didn’t just stick with the same cast as the short?

When I made the short, I didn’t intend to make it into a feature. That was kind of an organic process that happened. We shot it in earnest in 2012, and it premiered at Sundance 2013, so by the time we got to the feature, a lot of time had passed. I had great actors in the short, but I wanted a clean slate. I even shot the film with an entirely new crew.



I suppose I didn’t want to repeat myself, even though it’s the same story. When you get a chance to do a feature based on a short, you get a chance to try something new. Plus, the role of the tuner also had evolved so much. We really fleshed out that world and that character for the feature. I also have to admit it was very challenging to finance this project. Having names like Peter’s and Rashida’s helped us get the movie made.


Are there any more iterations of this project for you, like a series, or are you ready to move on?

Because the project has been with me for so long, I had a little separation anxiety once this film premiered at Sundance this year, I was like, “Okay, I have to properly move on. I’ve told their stories, and that world is complete to me.” I’m looking forward to moving on and doing something completely fresh on the next one.

The Sound of Silence is currently in theaters and on VOD.


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