Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Question of Casting

Casting questions seem to be to the fore of late, given the apparent uncertainty over who will play the female lead in "Spread." It must have been resolved, and although not always correct nor official, the infamous IMDB page for the new David Mackenzie directed film has been updated and now shows Laura Linney in the part that Jennifer Jason Leigh had previously been announced to be portraying. With the status now set as "filming," some new crew names etc are on the page, including the DoP Steven Poster. Mr. Poster who shot a couple funny films in the past including those most excellent of hosers Doug and Bob (beauty eh?) , but also did fine work on films such as Mrs. Harris and esp Donnie Darko (*ignores the blight on the record of Rocky V*), so this news gives me some idea of the light tone to this film.

On a more somber note however, is a report today that Rounding Up Donkeys has an issue with a cast member who apparently wants to sue Sigma Films. The Scotsman has an article online, where actor Andy Armour, who had portrayed Alfred, Kate Dickie's character's father-in-law, in Red Road, claims he "was ditched from Rounding Up Donkeys and the role handed to the younger and better-known James Cosmo." Quoting Mr. Armour as saying "They have gone back on their word.That promise is broken and I'm broken," the article continues to note "Armour considers he has been treated "shockingly badly". He said he had a contract for all three films and is initiating legal action for compensation. "My union Equity are suing Sigma Films. We are trying to get some compensation, but of course it doesn't make up for it."

Clearly this is an unfortunate situation to say the least. The head of Sigma and one of the film's producer's Gillian Berrie is quoted as openly saying that the film went thru two writers, changes of titles and the character of Alfred is now much different than originally conceived. She openly says they changed their rules on sticking with the same cast for all three films of the Advance Party series but it was something that needed to be done.Quotage from Gillian:

"It was a very, very horrible and difficult and emotional time for us, because we didn't want to break the rules and we didn't want to hurt Andy." She said there were lengthy meetings and discussions over the issue. "But in the end it's got to be the film first and we broke the rules. "What we really liked about Cosmo was this contradiction of this huge man, but very, very soft, a big teddy bear. It wasn't age, it wasn't talent, ability or anything. It was personality and size and tone… It was very much a collective decision."

Now having been in situations (non film!) where I've been on the receiving end of what seems to be an unfair decision, as well as the one who has to make some truly hard decisions, I fully understand how emotional situations similar to all this can be. Bottom line always wins the day though, and ultimately if a certain actor isn't right for the part, then he/she isnt; it is just inherent in the film business and I gather that at one point or another all actors have to face this sort of disappointment along the way. No WAY do I have skin thick enough to take on that kind of job that is for certain! Now these decisions aren't always fair, nor certainly easy to bear as a person, but I gather when casting movies these type of situations happen from time to time. I remember reading before about some casting flap when Stuart Townsend was supposed to be Aragon in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and there was much ado when he was replaced with Viggo Mortensen. As I am certain emotions were high like they are in this Rounding up Donkey's case, this ultimately proved to be an excellent casting decision, for Viggo OWNED as Aragorn in the multi-Oscar winning LotR as did all the casting done on that film-no way can I imagine for example anyone other than Ian Mckellan playing Gandalf.

I realize too there are other influencing elements afoot such as the thoughts of first time (well for a major film) director and what she wants, the feelings of all various producers involved as well as the ones all putting up the money for the movie (there seem to be both the various Scottish agencies as well as the Danish company Zentropa), so perhaps there is more to this than we know at this point, but most probably Armour just flat out didn't suit the part as it now is written in the final script. I tend to believe this because Armour had been cast before, no reason to believe he disappointed in the role then, and given the part has changed since- and again Sigma fully admits they changed their own rules- it doesn't seem to outrageous to think they might want to recast the part. I would hope they would consider breaking their own rules (as much as that flies in the face of what they were trying to achieve at the start by setting such a high bar) and see this follow up film to Red Road have the same quality of performance and characters that draw you in honestly and continue with the high level of film making than make sacrifices by not changing actors; if it means recasting certain parts then so be it. Cold and cruel I guess coming from miss creampuff emotional person me but thats how I see it. Side note: Still no word if Tony Curran will be in this film alas. Tony Curran, whose performance was so good in Red Road and his flawed character so intriguing, would make such another great appearance in this second film, I really hope we get an update on this soon.

Anyway, I think casting director Sigma uses has been pretty good so far, and she would have a certain influence in this I should think. Kahleen Crawford did a great job with casting Hallam Foe (and is also to head casting for Colin's I Love Luci short film I think) ie Jamie Bell IS Hallam Foe, and frankly her casting people like Maurice Roeves and Ewan Bremner was completely inspired, as they gave great background performances and were a true highlight of the movie. The best casting I thought she did though was Claire Forlani as Verity in Hallam Foe, who gave just a spot on EXCELLENT performance, better imo than Sophia Myles, but I digress.

There is one thing that troubles me in that the article seems to subtly imply that age discrimination is a factor here. The Glasgow Film Office blog says the part is for "64 year-old Alfred Patterson," who "facing a serious, life-threatening illness, [] decides to make amends for his past errors and neglect of his family. He seeks out his estranged daughter Jackie and her twelve-year-old child but the more he tries to do the right thing, the more he continues to do wrong." Armour is 74, and while it was noted this change had nothing to do with age, its understandable that is his upset about loosing a starring role at this point in his career. Besides if past films are proof enough, Maurice Roeves is an older man, they surely could have given that part to any number of actors who can turn a comedic role, so to imply they are anti old people is off base. As for Mr Armour, true he's not had any leading roles before and this must be a huge disappointment to him obviously as he lamented "You don't get chances like that. They are once in a lifetime."

My feelings: If Sigma truly did break their contract then they should try to settle this without it becoming a media circus, although this news surely wasnt 'broken' by them I should think, and I hope this matter is resolved quickly and quietly. However by implying it has to do with with something more serious than a simple recast, gives one pause of course and should be taken seriously if there were any proof or validity to this, but frankly my instincts feel that Mr Armour is just speaking in the heat (heartache) of the moment and this is not at all about age discrimination, just a bad break. Lets hope this is resolved soon, so we can move on to the details of the film making and progress of the movie.

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