I’ve been working in Hollywood one way or another (casting, producing, assistant at a top agency) for the last several decades. As you can imagine, I’ve seen a lot and have some juicy stories, one more shocking than the next. Most of them I can’t share until I write my book when I’ve long retired from the business, because I’d never work again.
A few years ago I was casting a television pilot and looking for a nine-year-old boy who used a wheelchair in real life. It was an essential part of the role as it was based on the son of the lead actor, who was starring in this real-life scripted pilot for NBC.
We had seen the few actor boys in Los Angeles who used a wheelchair and set about doing a nationwide search for actors and civilians who would fit the part. Using my social-media know-how and a press release, we got about 50 self-submitted auditions—pretty amazing considering how shallow that talent pool is. Part of this story ended up in my speech for the 140 Characters Conference about social media.
At the same time as our nationwide open call, we started seeing non-actor kids based in Los Angeles who used a wheelchair. One nice-looking 10-year-old came to audition, and we wanted to get to know more about him. I like to talk to the actors coming in to read for me to get a sense of who they are. He talked about being adopted and how if he hadn’t been adopted he’d probably be in jail. We laughed—he wasn’t kidding. He won an acting contest, and his parents sold their house in Florida to move out here so he could act. At this point he had already stolen our hearts. Then he did the scene. He was actually kind of good, and we started getting really excited. When I’m casting a project and an actor comes in who seems to “get” what we’re doing and grasps the character, it’s a thrill. When we’re casting a difficult-to-find role working with non-actors, it’s even more exciting to find someone who can handle all the aspects of the role.
We delicately asked all the kids how handicapable they were, because some could walk a little. That’s when he told us he could walk. This kid then proceeded to get up out of the chair and tell us that his parents rented the chair and he could walk just fine. He had just sat out in our waiting room in a rented wheelchair with other kids who had mobility issues and faked it. I should have seen the red flag when he wheeled himself in in one of those giant hospital wheelchairs. All the other kids had those cool lightweight ones so that they could maneuver better.
I was gobsmacked, felt utterly manipulated, and after having just gone through 53 self-submitted auditions from kids across the country dealing with their real issues, was very upset at his parents. He got up out of the wheelchair and walked out into the waiting room to greet his folks. You can’t imagine the look on everyone’s face. I took his parents aside and calmly explained how inappropriate this was. Surely this wasn’t the child’s fault—his adults are supposed to watch out for him and teach him honesty and integrity.
Later that day, my actor friend ran into the kid and his parents in the parking lot after her audition and started talking to the family. She sent me an email to say how “cool” she thought it was that he took such a risk, and good for him. Since then I’ve asked a number of actor friends what they thought about this situation, and I’m shocked to say that I get a fifty-fifty response. Half think what this kid’s parents did was reprehensible, and half think it was great.
What do you think? Faker or risk taker?
Known for her work in film and television, Casting Director Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Waters, Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird, and Herbert Ross. While working at Fenton-Feinberg Casting, she, along with Mike Fenton, cast such films as “A Christmas Story," “Poltergeist," “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial," “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and “Blade Runner." After establishing her own casting company in 1983, Liroff cast “Footloose," “St. Elmo's Fire," “Pretty in Pink," “The Iron Giant," “The Spitfire Grill," “Untamed Heart," “Freaky Friday," “Mean Girls," “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and the upcoming “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which she produced as well.
Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light. The class spawned a DVD, which features the highlights of the Audition Bootcamp classes.