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!


Flame Broiler

Rate: $500/12 hours | Male, All Ethnicities | Commercial

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

DESCRIPTION  Patreon at the restaurant takes a bite of the food and looks up into the camera in wonderment, not believing the amazing flavors they are experiencing, “Its like Magic!”

Safety Training for Utility Company

Rate:  $500 flat | Female/Male, Caucasian or Latinx | Industrial

ROLES  Principal  GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Female & Male  / 30-60 / Caucasian or Latinx

DESCRIPTION  This is for a safety training video for a utility company. The video series will be produced in both English and Spanish and be approx. 20-25 minutes in length. It will include hypothetical scenarios that provide tips designed to keep utility workers and customers safe while demonstrating their core values. Usage: non-broadcast, internal / training, intranet.


Rate:  $300/10 hours | Female/Male, All Ethnicities | Other

ROLES  Principal  GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Female & Male  / 18-25 / All Ethnicities

DESCRIPTION   Looking for models for a photo shoot for a startup that deals with ideas to reverse the climate crisis by planting trees and joining with brands to really make an impact. We’re doing a photoshoot with a clothing brand for social media posts and press releases Concept: The startup is a group of young people that are not only advocating for a new paradigm in climate justice but they also show up in style. This photo session should be simple and full of color.


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Christian Serratos of ‘The Walking Dead’ to Play Selena in Netflix Bio-Series

Christian Serratos of ‘The Walking Dead’ to Play Selena in Netflix Bio-Series

Netflix has found its Selena Quintanilla-Pérez in The Walking Dead actress Christian Serratos, who will play the Latin singer in the streamer’s upcoming bio-series.

Initially picked up at Netflix in December, Selena: The Series will consist of two parts and will chronicle Selena’s coming-of-age when she “must make tough choices to hold on to family, true love and music,” the project’s logline reads.

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Performance Review: ‘Before You Know It’

Performance Review: ‘Before You Know It’

“Before You Know It” might best be described as a comedic drama. The film is Hannah Pearl Utt’s feature directorial debut, which she also co-wrote with Jen Tullock. Both women also played the leads in the film, and Utt describes their creative style in a Sundance interview with, “Jen and I discovered working together that the intersection of our Venn diagram for funny is pain, and the two are inextricably linked for us.” 

This neatly summarizes the overarching feel of “Before You Know It,” in which Utt’s character Rachel, the younger sister in a small, dysfunctional family unit, struggles to keep everyone afloat. Her father owns a small theater where he is both playwright and actor, and her sister Jackie, played by Tullock, stars in the productions as well. Jackie and Rachel were told their mother died when they were young, but as the trailer reveals, the sisters discover that their mother is in fact alive and thriving as a soap opera actress. They spend the remainder of the film figuring out what this life-changing news means for them as individuals and as a family. Keep reading to find out how the performances of Tullock and Utt stood up against such an extraordinary premise. 


Jen Tullock 

Tullock plays an incredibly complex character with seeming ease. Though holding the advantage of having written the character, she still delivers a beautiful portrayal of Jackie, a role that a lesser actor could have twisted into a larger-than-life caricature. This is because Jackie is very flawed. She’s an irresponsible single parent to her own daughter and becomes jealous whenever attention is focused on someone else, especially on her sister. 

Tullock brings to life a character who acts without thinking and seems to ruin everything she touches, whether it be a borrowed silk dress or a press photo shoot. The actress expertly weaves these negative parts of Jackie together with her big heart and transparent desire to be wanted and appreciated. Tullock’s dynamic, mercurial presence on-screen will have viewers constantly holding their breath to see what Jackie will do next. And her masterful performance will leave audiences eagerly anticipating her next project. 


Hannah Pearl Utt

Utt gives a strong performance in the film, a fact made more impressive when considering she did so while juggling being in front and behind the camera. She subtly plays the exasperation Rachel feels about having to parent both her sister and father while handling the overwhelming responsibility of keeping the theater running by herself. Utt makes the choice that through all the frustrations, Rachel rarely raises her voice. That is, until a key point in the film, which makes its impact that much more potent. Utt has a raw on-screen presence that is poignantly relatable in quality. She has described the film as having “an almost brutal level of emotional reality to it,” and viewers who are working through their own personal challenges will find solidarity in Utt’s portrayal of Rachel. 

The actress’s work is interesting to watch for many reasons, but one that stands out is her skill with allowing the character to figure out what she’s going to say. Viewers get to watch Rachel struggle to find the right words to handle highly excitable, unpredictable family members. Utt’s dexterity with this basic but often-forgotten tenet of acting is even more impressive considering that as the writer, Utt was very familiar with her character’s dialogue. But in a few scenes where Rachel delivers harsh truth, she looks down before giving it. Had the actress found her words higher on the fourth wall, viewers would’ve seen the turmoil that went into Rachel’s decision to say them. Overall, though, Utt gives viewers an incredible window into a strong, complex female character.  


Utt and Tullock are supported by a strong cast, which includes names such as Judith Light and Mandy Patinkin, as well as Alec Baldwin in an entertaining cameo role. But it’s the two writers and leading ladies who carried the film. It’s not the dynamic duo’s first time collaborating, and based on the on-screen magic they created for this film, it’s hopefully not their last. 


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‘After the Wedding’ Director Discovers Dazzling New Talent

‘After the Wedding’ Director Discovers Dazzling New Talent

The latest from director Bart Freundlich, “After the Wedding,” is a remake of the Oscar-nominated 2006 Danish film of the same name. Freundlich’s English-language version, however, takes New York City as its setting instead of Copenhagen and flips the character’s genders, switching the dynamics from two men/one woman to two women/one man.

The new version follows Isabel (Michelle Williams), a manager of an orphanage in India who flies to New York to meet a potential benefactor (Julianne Moore). The benefactor insists Isabel attend the wedding of her daughter (Abby Quinn), and at the event, Isabel realizes she has a past with the woman’s husband, played by Billy Crudup.

Freundlich spoke to Casting Networks about putting together the film, and his go-to repertoire of actors, which includes his own wife—Moore.


This is your fourth film starring your wife. Did you plan on having her in this film from the get-go?

Julie is all about the script. She’s not ever going to say yes to something before there’s a script, no matter if it’s me or someone else. I always intended for her to be in this, and I always assumed I would find a way to write it well enough that she would embrace it. But I wasn’t sure until we were on a family trip, and I gave it to her to read on a plane. When I woke up from a nap and saw that she was crying over by the window seat, that’s when I knew she was going do it. And by the way, there were still a lot of changes after that. Julie had a lot of feedback. It wasn’t like she was saying this is perfect. She was just saying, “I know this person. I want to play her.”


Why do you think she wanted to play the benefactor, the multi-millionaire who was the puppet master of this entire situation?

She’s played so many roles in her life, so you can see a lot of the same elements in them. But this role had a very unusual arc to it. Being able to play a character with such a clear intention, as Julianne’s character does, but to not ever give it away until it all explodes in the third act was a freeing idea for her. As a writer, I relate. Billy Crudup once said, “When I start drifting off during a script and imagining this character walking around in the world, outside of the script, that’s when I know it has me.” So, there was something in that role that immediately had an “in” for her.


Speaking of Billy, this is your third film with him. Do you have a personal repertoire of actors you always turn to?

Absolutely. I start thinking, “Who could this actor that I’ve worked with before play in my new film?” For example, I’ve worked with Michael Shannon, so I’ll think, “Who could Michael Shannon play? How can I work with him again?” There are also people I want to work with, like Amy Ryan, so it’s like, “How can I get Amy Ryan in a movie?” I’ve always wanted to have a kind of troupe of actors. It’s wonderful to go to set and already know the way someone works, that you’re all in it together to tell the story, and you don’t have to deal with the social awkwardness of getting to know someone. Julie and Billy are two actors I always think about, and now I hope that Michelle and Abby can become those people too.


You’d never worked with Michelle before. Did you know her socially or from the awards circuit?

I actually didn’t know Michelle at all, and Julie, being one of the producers of this film, emailed Michelle. Michelle is on my list of people who are a lot like my wife—electric, alive, unpredictable, emotional and transformational. I’ve always recognized Michelle’s spirit on screen, but the decorative part of it—the role—always changes. She’s one of the very few actors like Julianne, and Billy who change from the inside out.


Did Michelle require much convincing to come aboard the project?

Something that helped, other than the fact that Michelle related to that character, was that it was the lead role. Julie was attracted to a role that was technically a supporting role, even though it was a very big supporting role. But Julie’s character wasn’t the one who began and ended the movie. Julie’s wasn’t the one who had the biggest transformation. Michelle had the most opportunity for internal and external change, as well as circumstantial change. That was a lot to offer to someone, and luckily Michelle was available and immediately took to it.


How do you cast the role of Julianne and Billy’s daughter? The character is at such a precarious age, and has her own growth in the film as mysteries are revealed.

This was a very delicate role. It needed to be someone that looked the right way, but also someone who was at this age where, at 23 years old, she could legally get married, but maybe was also a little too young to get married. This is where [casting directors] Doug [Aibel] and Henry [Russell Bergstein] came in. Doug and Henry cast Abby in “Landline,” which was a movie with Edie Falco, Jenny Slate and John Turturro. In that film, Abby was unbelievably free and natural—a problematic teenager who would smoke and drink. She was a totally different character than in my film, but Doug said to me very early on, before we auditioned 100 people for the role, “I think you’re going want Abby.” She’s like an old soul. She’s available. As an actor, she’s doesn’t feel the need to communicate a result. She is just available. Billy said that to me on day one with her, “Oh my God, she’s just there!”


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Casting ‘Brian Banks’ Came Down to Luck, Talent, and Grace

Casting ‘Brian Banks’ Came Down to Luck, Talent, and Grace

Tom Shadyac has directed numerous blockbuster comedies starring some of the funniest actors of all time from Jim Carrey (Bruce Almighty) to Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor) to the late Robin Williams (Patch Adams) among others. But his current film, “Brian Banks,” is perhaps more important and relevant than any of his gag-filled comedies as it confronts the difficult issues of sexual assault allegations and their aftermath.

Based on a real-life story, “Brian Banks” follows the eponymous character, a promising football star with a USC scholarship, who is wrongfully convicted of raping a female student. After serving jail time, Brian is forced to register as a sex offender and wear an ankle monitoring bracelet, which impedes his ability to get work and return to his football dreams. He finally decides to fight to regain his life, thus beginning a challenging journey to freedom with the help of attorney Justin Brooks, founder of the pro bono legal service The California Innocence Project

Shadyac spoke to Casting Networks about how he cast a film whose characters are real people, some of them public figures and others continuing to struggle to this day.


In its review of the film, The Hollywood Reporter calls Aldis Hodge’s performance “a career-defining portrayal.” How do you cast someone to play such a formidable character to anchor your film?

That was a big question for us. We would not have proceeded had we not found Aldis. First of all, 90 percent of the actor pool is eliminated just because of physicality. Brian is 6 feet 5 inches and has the body of an NFL linebacker. He’s super athletic, super strong, so we had to find someone who could at least fit in the ballpark of that kind of physically imposing stature. Luckily, we got graced in to Aldis Hodge. He walked in to the casting office. We already knew his work. We already knew how talented he was, but he blew us away during the audition.


Was his physicality and his audition enough to get the role?

The other important thing for me was that the actor have some experience in his life that could be used to draw on to bring out the depth of Brian’s darkness. I didn’t want someone to come in and just
“act” that. I wanted someone who had been gutted in some form by life. Aldis has a story of incredible challenges and difficulties that, just like Brian, he chose to push through with positivity. We saw the pain, the struggle and the perseverance in Aldis’ performance, and when he left the casting office, I called my producer and said, “We found him.”


The real Justin Brooks started a legal service to free the innocent, and he has never taken a dime for this work. How do you find an actor to fill the shoes of a man who is world-weary but still maintains a sense of idealism?

Justin Brooks is his own kind of imposing character. He’s so intelligent, so passionate, so good. He’s got a sense of humor. I heard that Greg Kinnear read the script. Greg was on a very short list of people we were interested in. We met and had one of those half-hour meetings that turned in to a four-hour meeting. Greg had a passion for the part. He also had a lot of Justin’s qualities. Greg is affable and intelligent about material. He has a sense of justice rooted deeply in him, and he’s funny. We needed somebody to be light because the film could be heavy at times, and the real Justin Brooks walks through that heaviness with a lightness. After that four-hour meeting, I knew Greg was our guy.


You cast sitcom actress and TV host Sheri Shepherd as Brian’s mom. There seems to be no trace of her comedic past on screen as we only see a mother’s love for her son and her pain at the injustice that happened. Why her for the role?

There are a lot of actors in this movie whose foundations lie in comedy. I’m a comedy director. Sheri is from comedy. Aldis had done standup. Greg, of course, comes from comedy. I know that comedians are much more than the jokes they tell. They come from a place of pain, they come from a place of longing, and I’ve seen over and over again—from Robin Williams to Jim Carey to Eddie Murphy. These guys churn out incredible, dramatic performances. Sheri had confidence. She sent us an audition tape, and the bottom line is I couldn’t deny how brilliant her audition tape was. She even looks like the mother, Leomia. Coupled that with the fact that she is also a mother of a special-needs child. Sheri knows what it’s like to fight for your child, to long for your child to have access and opportunities.


Morgan Freeman played God in your film Bruce Almighty. Was it a no-brainer to ask him to play Jerome Johnson, Brian’s juvenile hall teacher who appears in the film as an almost otherworldly character?

It was a necessary phone call. When we crafted the character, of course I wanted Morgan. But it was also a low-budget movie so I didn’t think we could get Morgan, schedule-wise or budget-wise. We actually cast someone else, and he was a great actor. But that actor became ill the week we needed him on set. He was unable to travel, and it was serious enough that we couldn’t just put the shoot off a week. That’s when the call to Morgan became necessary. I asked him to read the script. He was gracious and read it right away. As fate would have it, we were shooting in Memphis, and Morgan lived only an hour and a half from us. He drove in to the set and gave us under a week’s worth of his time out of his grace. I’m so grateful. The character of Jerome needed to have some gravitas because he is in Brian’s life every day, every moment. But he’s not in the movie that much, so we needed a powerful presence when he appears on screen, and of course, that’s Morgan.


The character of Kennisha, Brian’s accuser, does exist, but you changed her name to protect the real-life woman from any vitriol that could have come her way. How do you show that character, warts and all, without vilifying her or degrading her?

We wanted to tell that story in as accurate a way as we could. We had tapes of her demeanor and her mannerisms, etc., because those exist. You can see there has been some damage, some challenge, some unpredictability to the way she walks in the world. It was really hard to get that character done right. In every movie, the dramatic rule is that your antagonist has to be as strong or stronger than your protagonist because that’s what he has to come up against. Kennisha’s levels, her layers, her unpredictability, her volatility—the audiences must realize that Brian is up against something that is uncontrollable. I think Xosha Roquemore (“The Mindy Project”) gave an incredibly nuanced performance in that role.


How did you know Xosha could play all those nuances? If she couldn’t, the audience simply wouldn’t buy her and then that would invalidate Brian’s entire fight.

Did we know Xosha was going to be that good? We sure hoped so. There’s never any way of knowing until you turn on the camera on that day. Xosha gave a great audition. She understood the character. Again, this is a woman who comes out of comedy. But she was able to tap in to a reality, the nuances levels and layers of this character, and give it a reality base and all the complexities it demanded. She blew us all away. It’s up there with one of the strongest performances in the movie.


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Why I Became a Casting Director: An Interview with Julia Kim

Why I Became a Casting Director: An Interview with Julia Kim

Many casting directors say that actors need to relax in the audition room. This can be a challenge when actors often view the person behind the table as a daunting entity with the power to make or break their careers. If you’re an actor feeling undue pressure during an audition, it’s important to keep in mind that the casting director is just a person, too. Like actors, casting people have dedicated their lives to the acting profession, albeit by a different path. It’s that mutual commitment that brings you, the actor, and the casting director in the same space for your read. To help actors better connect and relax the next time they’re in her room, Julia Kim, known for “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and “Starlet,” spoke with Casting Networks to share how she became a casting director.


Casting Director Julia Kim

What got you into casting? 

[It was] accidental. I am an avid film lover. I’m born and raised in LA. You know, the film industry is one of our town’s main industries, but I just kind of worked my way into casting. I started as a PA on “The Simpsons,” which kind of got me into the business. But I wasn’t fulfilled creatively and started to explore other channels. I ended up interning at a casting office of David Rubin, who was just named the president of the Motion Picture Academy. So, I got into it through interning and ended up loving it and having a knack for it.

When I started, we opened up every headshot that was sent to our office, and we organized them by types, by agencies and by roles. That very manual process really helped me get familiar with the aspects of casting. It helped me get familiar with agencies and what kinds of people they represent. It helped me get to know agents’ actual names, develop relationships and also get to be familiar with emerging talent versus established talent. All those things really helped solidify the confidence that I knew this was the job for me.

Plus, I love actors. My love of actors just comes from when I watch something, it’s the performances that move me the most. And it’s the actors that really move me when they’re delivering something so raw and authentic. So it was just a natural gravitational pull for me. I worked with a lot of topnotch casting directors and sort of figured out who I was. When I was ready to put up my own business and start my own casting company, it was drawing from other experts in the industry and in the field going, “Oh, I like the way they did that.” Or, “Actually, I would probably do it a different way.” 


What made you stay in casting? 

For me, it’s always about starting with a script that grabs me. When I read a script, I love thinking about names as I read it. So besides putting the story on paper, [casting directors] are some of the first people to come on creatively and to start painting a picture of how the story is going to be told. [That includes] who are the right people or who are some of the creative actors that would be best in telling the story that the filmmaker has to tell. 

So I love the collaborative aspect of that and of talking about certain actors and then also bringing in a few surprises. I think that part of our job is to think outside the box and bring in unexpected choices. And that is what I love: the unexpected magic that happens in a very bland room when an actor is just sitting in a chair and reading from their sides. You’re watching these words come out of their mouth, and they’re taking you where the filmmaker had in mind for you to go. Seeing that unfold never gets tiring. I love that. I love making the director and writer see things that they hadn’t seen before.

Kim’s backstory, her journey from P.A. to running her own casting office, reveals how casting directors are on the same creative journey as actors. If called into her office, that sense of connection can help ease the actor’s nerves. And the passion she displays for her job and for actors can help—not intimidate—them as they go into their next audition. They can walk into the room ready to bring the magic because they know the person on the other side of the table is eager to see it.


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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!


African American Actor/Model

Rate: $600 | Male, African American | Print

ROLES  Principal   GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Male / 20-35 / African American

DESCRIPTION  We are looking for an African American Actor/Model, Average/medium build and height. 5’8-5’10 Print/Acting experience is a requirement. PLEASE SUBMIT CURRENT FULL BODY PHOTOS AND MEASUREMENTS TO BE CONSIDERED.


Rate:  TBA | Female, African American | Feature Film

ROLES  Lead  GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Female  / 10-14 / African American

DESCRIPTION  African American girl to play ages 10-14. Charismatic child prodigy. At times painfully shy, at other times joyful, especially when playing the piano and singing. MUST SING WELL, IDEALLY WITH A SOARING GOSPEL SOPRANO. PLAYING PIANO IS A PLUS. LEAD.

The Swimmers

Rate:  TBA | Female, Middle Eastern | Feature Film

ROLES  Lead  GENDER/AGE/ETHNICITIES  Female  / 17-20 / Middle Eastern

DESCRIPTION   Teenage sisters YUSRA and SARA, both competitive swimmers, were facing a promising future until the Syrian civil war spread in 2015 and they were forced to flee for Europe. On their crossing, their lifeboat began sinking and both sisters jumped into the ocean and swam for hours, saving the lives of their fellow refugees. After enduring a terrifying journey they eventually made it to Berlin and sought out a swimming coach. Heartbreakingly, Sara discovered that she was no longer a good enough swimmer, but Yusra showed incredible promise and after months of hard work, she swam for the first-ever Team Refugee at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Yusra is now a UNHCR goodwill ambassador and bastion of hope for refugees the world over.


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Performance Review: ‘Blinded By the Light’

Performance Review: ‘Blinded By the Light’

If you’ve ever been a teenager, you’ll be able to relate to “Blinded by the Light.” Universal relatability is a mark of accomplished acting, something this delightful movie displays in spades. Javed, played by newcomer Viveik Kalra, is a Pakistani British teen coming of age in a London suburb in 1987. He’s under the thumb of his overbearing, traditional father, but upon discovering the music of Bruce Springsteen, Javed feels inspired to express himself and hone his skills at writing. Kalra delivers a breakout performance with a level of excellence that’s matched by an effective supporting cast. 


Viveik Kalra. Image via IMDb.com.

Viveik Kalra

Kalra has only two completed credits on IMDb outside of “Blinded by the Light.” He’s slated to appear next opposite Colin Farrell in the upcoming sci-fi thriller “Voyagers,” and based on his winning performance in “Light,” credits will not be in short supply for this budding actor moving forward. The film owes much of its relatability to his work. Even if viewers have zero experience with British or Pakistani culture, they’ll be able to relate to the alienation and yearning that Kalra beautifully portrays. With telling expressions and gestures, Klara capably mirrors his character’s thoughts and emotions, whether it’s the frustration over a controlling parent or the joy at newfound freedom. This connected, transparent presence isn’t easily achieved, especially by a relatively green actor, but he pulls it off thanks to his incredible focus. He’s dialed-in and present in every scene, resulting in a consistently engaging performance. 


Kulvinder Ghir. Image via IMDb.com.

Kulvinder Ghir

Ghir has on-camera credits going back to 1985 and has worked with “Light” director Gurinder Chadha before, including in the PBS miniseries “Beecham House,” in which Kalra also starred. But viewers may still be unfamiliar with the actor, and if that’s the case, they’ll get to be impressed by his character work. Ghir plays Malik, Javed’s domineering father who doesn’t understand or support Javed’s dream of becoming a writer. Ghir’s portrayal of Malik shows he’s put in the work to delve into his character’s motives so that viewers can understand him beyond the clichés of a controlling parent. Malik has a well-developed character arc, and Ghir deftly maneuvers a radical turn it takes at the end of the film. The actor’s ability to weave this “emotional 180” into his character, rounding out his sharp edges and exposing a rather generous heart, adds to his overall first-rate work.


Nell Williams. Image via IMDb.com.

Nell Williams

Williams has a few more credits under her name than Kalra but is still likely to be a fresh face for most viewers, unless they remember her as young Cersei Lannister from a 2015 episode of “Game of Thrones.” But based on her performance as Javed’s love interest Eliza, the young actress will leave viewers wishing to see her in more projects. Williams brings a depth and kindness to a rebellious character that other actors would’ve rendered into a bundle of clichés. The actress has strong on-screen chemistry with Kalra and effortlessly navigates the highs and lows of young love in a way that will leave viewers reminiscing about class crushes and clandestine make-out sessions. While working within the framework of a supporting role, Williams matches Kalra’s charm and affability and delivers a character we come to care about.


Hayley Atwell. Image via IMDb.com.

Hayley Atwell

Thanks to her role as Peggy Carter in the “Captain America” series, it’s likely Atwell is the most recognizable name on the cast list. While hers is a relatively small part, Atwell does a lot with the character of Ms. Clay, Javed’s persistently caring teacher who doesn’t balk at the challenges his father presents. Think Hilary Swank in “Freedom Writers,” only more “woke.” Atwell isn’t given a large character arc or much emotional range, but she uses her limited on-screen time to infuse the character with nuance. Ms. Clay is direct with her students and unafraid to air negative feelings toward the prime minister in front of them. When she’s not on the clock, the teacher actively protests racism and encourages Javed’s writing efforts. Atwell knits all these character traits together into a real, dynamic creation. 


Thanks to incredible work from its cast, it’s no wonder Variety calls the film “one of the biggest discoveries out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival” as well as “Chadha’s best movie since ‘Bend It Like Beckham.’” Whether you’re a fan of Bruce Springsteen or not, you can connect with this warm coming-of-age comedy-drama about the challenges of discovering your own identity and aspirations, separate from those of your parents. The actors’ heartfelt portrayals of relatable characters will leave viewers of any age inspired. 


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How Guy Nattiv Gave ‘Skin’ Its Heart, Guts and Soul

How Guy Nattiv Gave ‘Skin’ Its Heart, Guts and Soul

When Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv moved to Los Angeles five years ago, he knew he wanted his American feature debut to be about a group of neo-Nazi skinheads. The idea was inspired by the 2011 MSNBC documentary “Erasing Hate,” about a man named Bryon Widner who, after falling in love, makes the decision to turn his back on the white power movement. But the movement was not ready to let go of him. Widner worked with the FBI to expose his gang and went through an immensely painful process of removing the racist tattoos that riddled his body and defined his identity.

Nattiv’s script about Widner’s journey, titled “Skin,” was well received in Hollywood but no one wanted to step up with funding. So Nattiv and his wife Jamie Ray Newman decided to make a short film of the same name as a sort of calling card to show producers. It worked. Financiers came on board, actors signed on, and the feature film made its big screen debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall with Jamie Bell as Bryon Widner.

Rolling Stone called Bell’s performance an “awards-buzzed tour de force.” Movieweb wrote that Bell delivers a “career best performance” pointing out that, together with the actor’s work as Elton John’s Jewish songwriting partner Bernie Taupin in “Rocketman,” one cannot “imagine two more disparate roles.”

If all that weren’t enough, the “Skin” short (based on similar themes but no relation to the documentary) won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short this past March, earning Nattiv not only an Oscar statuette but also an invitation to join the Academy.

Nattiv spoke to Casting Networks about how he put together his cast and what the process taught him.


Since the characters in this film are based on real people, how important was it to find the right resemblance versus the right actor?

It was important to me that the actors look similar to the characters because the characters were somewhat public figures because of the documentary. Jamie Bell and Bryan Widner are the same size and have similar features. My producer Oren Moverman suggested Jamie for the role, and after I met him, I knew that, with the right physical change, he would look like Bryan. Jamie gained 30 pounds, shaved his head, changed his nose, his eye color and got covered in tattoos.


Was Jamie cast first, and then you built everyone around that choice?

Danielle [Macdonald] was the first to sign on because she was in the short. My wife and I put all our retirement money into the short, and so many people came to together to make it happen, including Danielle. She’s our neighbor. The character she played in the short was similar to that of Julie Price in the feature. I wanted her to continue that role in the film because she was so wonderful in the short.


Danielle is known for films like “Patty Cake$” and “Dumplin’,” but unlike those two projects, this film makes no reference to her appearance at all. In fact, it had no bearing on the character at all.

Talent agents were telling me, “Why don’t you cast so-and-so?” And they would mention some hot, female movie star. I wanted this film to be real and raw. I think Danielle is not only sexy, but a real woman. And the actual woman Julie Price did look similar to Danielle in real life.


In the short, Danielle’s character has a husband and son. In the film, as Julie, she is a single mom with three daughters. How did you find those three girls, played by Zoe Colletti, Kyle Rogers and Colbi Gannett?

Julie had three girls so I based the casting on her actual daughters. They looked like angels, every one of them. It was important that in this chaotic, grim hell that was Bryan’s world, these girls would be three little angels that would represent a different type of family for him, something other than what he was used to seeing—an angel’s touch in a way. Our casting director Laura Rosenthal and her team did a phenomenal job bringing in all sorts of girls. It was hard to choose because there were so many amazing kids. With the ones we chose, I didn’t have to do anything specific to direct them. I had to fine-tune them a bit, but they came ready.


Vera Farmiga plays one half of a couple (with actor Bill Camp) as Shareen and Fred, otherwise known as Ma and Pa. They lure disenfranchised street kids and groom them to participate in things like beating up non-whites and burning down mosques. Did this couple actually exist?

Ma and Pa existed but in a different gang. So, I borrowed them and used it to build this gang, this family. The character of Ma was not that layered in the script. Vera brought such an amazing depth to Shareen. She did all the research, she built that character. When she and I spoke, she’d already built in her head who Shareen was. I gave her a background story of what happened to my wife and me when we went through a horrible stillbirth years ago. Vera used that in the script. for the character’s motivation to create the best family that Shareen didn’t have, the sons that she never had and the kids that she wanted to have. She brought a lot of explanation, a lot of depth to her character. I give Vera big props for that.


In an early scene, we see how Ma and Pa bring in their newest “son” off the streets, a teenager named Gavin and indoctrinate him into their neo-Nazi family. This character, played by actor Russell Posner, was a composite of so many young men who are vulnerable and susceptible to these types of recruiters. Did you have more freedom in casting that character because he was not based on one particular person?

For me, Gavin represented the young Bryan. I asked the real Bryan to show me photos of himself as a 14-year-old, the exact moment he was kicked out of the house and became a street kid. That’s how I built Gavin. Also, it was important for Laura Rosenthal and me that we shape Gavin as someone who was naïve but still with a tendency to be curious and go for it and be willing to shave his head and change from the geeky guy we first meet to the violent racist he becomes.


“Skin” is your first American feature film. What did you learn from the casting process?

I learned that it’s a long process to find your people. It takes time. You cannot rush casting. We worked so hard on “Skin” to really build the right family, putting those photos on the wall and seeing how this family came to life. You have to have time and patience to find the right person. Even if you have the budget and there is an actor who says yes, it doesn’t mean they are the right person. I also believe in breaking the cliché, breaking the typecast. Danielle Macdonald and Jamie Bell are not the typical go-to Hollywood actors for “Skin.” That’s why you need to have guts, and you need to have producers with guts. Then you can make ballsy decisions about casting and your producers will support you. I feel like we did that. I had that support.


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