This Is A Test...
On an overcast afternoon in early May of 2013, I took an elevator up to the high-rise rehearsal space I’d booked for our screen-tests. I was early, but as I stepped out of the elevator, I saw that someone else was earlier. I recognized him from the headshots and videos I’d seen, but his hesitation reminded me he’d never seen my face. “Hi, Ryan?” I asked. Without quite relaxing, he shook my hand.
Dave and I had paired Ryan with an actress—I would later learn that he assumed she’d already gotten the part, and was anxiously trying to gauge his chemistry with her—and we’d given each of them a long dialogue scene from the script to familiarize themselves with at home. In the small, bare windowless room, Dave and I asked them to read the scene cold, and then I gave them a bit of direction; this was the real purpose of the day, to see if Ryan, this actress, and the two other pairs we’d meet later, were people I could find a rapport with. I already knew they were talented, so as much as I wanted to see them act, I wanted to watch them interact with each other and with us. In between readings, I asked each of them what had brought them to acting, what they loved about the profession. Ryan and I quickly fell into a rapturous conversation about our shared love of Bruce Springsteen, and we went on so long, Dave had to prompt me to come back to Earth and do another reading of the scene. We definitely had a rapport.
When Ryan left, he still seemed worried that he could have done a better job, and I couldn’t help wondering where his anxiety came from. He did this all the time, didn’t he? It lingered with me—I always thought actors were cocky, smooth operators. This guy was the opposite, and that quality made his the audition I returned to the most over the next few days.
The following week, I flew to LA, where I met Cam at a house we’d rented through AirBnB. I hadn’t seen him since we were students in Maine, and though he offered a hand to shake, I threw my arms around him. We were about to do something crazy. No reason to stand on formality.
In the morning, we drove to another rehearsal space, this one in Hollywood, where we had an appointment with another actor, and an actress named Kelsey. She wasn’t early; she arrived right on time, strolling into the room, slouching into a chair, and shaking out her hair. She and the actor read the scene, and she instantly embodied the part, but during her interview, she struck me as wry in a distant sort of way, with just a hint of prickliness.
After she left, I mentioned her demeanor to Cam—did she really want this part? Cam laughed. “She was playing the role from the minute she walked into this room,” he told me.
And, indeed, when I called Kelsey a few days later to offer her the part, she was a whole different person, eager and charming. “When I saw you calling,” she told me, “I figured it had to be good news.” She wanted this part.
My experiences with Ryan and Kelsey’s screen-tests taught me my first valuable lesson about choosing actors: in the room, it’s as much about who they are when they’re not acting. Both of them had essential qualities—Kelsey’s ease slipping into a tough persona, and Ryan’s eagerness to impress—that brought as much to their performances as their considerable training and experience.
Before I left LA, I met Kelsey for a coffee at LACMA—she told me that as a northeastern girl, she loved the oasis of art in the middle of the Hollywood glitz—and when I got home, I went back to New York to get a drink with Ryan and an actress named Halli, whom we’d screen-tested for Jane before deciding we wanted her to play a different crucial role. Away from the pressures of auditioning, we all relaxed, and talked over what the summer was going to bring. I tried my hardest to scare all of them off with big talk of how grueling this shoot was going to be, but they were all resolute that they were 100% in. It was hard to tell if they were less anxious than they needed to be, or if I was more, whether I was trying to convince them it would be hard, or they were trying to convince me it wouldn’t. And at the end of the night, we said, see you in Chicago in a few weeks, come what may.
But first, we still needed to lock down the money to make this movie, so check back next week for a little crowdfunding…