“Emoticon ;)” deals with deep emotions and relationships through the filter of today’s social media, so casting young actors with emotional range and a singular blend of special talents was key to creating a believable world. “It’s a very simple story, but it’s got some nice beautiful things in it,” says casting director James Calleri, who, along with Erica Jensen, worked with writer-director-star Livia de Paolis to cast “Emoticon ;).” Jensen credits their previous work on a theater project with de Paolis for helping make this project successful, because “we had relationship with her before and she already trusted us.”
De Paolis plays Elena, who is dating a father, Walter, (Michael Cristofer) with two adopted children. Calleri says that de Paolis was interested in seeing fresh new talent for the teen roles, “young actors that she didn’t know and hadn’t heard of before.” From their own list and agent suggestions, Calleri and Jensen brought in a handful of actors. “We had at least a few days’ worth of auditions, [but]…it was pretty clear who we were interested in. Who was a good match for which role,” Jensen says.
“We just tend to gravitate towards [actors] that have a really clear point of view and know themselves. You get immediately when they walk into the room what their thing is, what they’re about,” Calleri says. Jensen cites Diane Guerrero, who plays Walter’s daughter Amanda, as an example. “She was just so right for that part when she walked in. Seeing her on ‘Orange Is the New Black’ now is amazing because I think we knew when she walked in.” Calleri notes they also felt that way about Miles Chandler, who plays son Luke. “It just felt like they really came in and felt right. And that was that,” he says.
Because the film was low budget, they didn’t have the luxury of doing an extensive year-long search. “You have to get it in a short amount of time. Which on some level, I think it’s great for all of us because you’re just instinctual," says Jensen. "You just make decisions faster and thankfully [de Paolis] was right and we were right about who she cast. I don’t think we would have done better if we had traveled all over the country.”
One of the more difficult aspects of the project was putting together the families. “There were ethnicities to deal with and the whole situation of one girl is Latina because she has a Latina mother. There were specific things that we had to plug in there and just make sure the families made sense even though there’s some adopted things going on and all that,” Calleri explains.
While they spent time auditioning the young actors, all of the adult roles were direct offers. “We knew with Livia’s mom we needed a woman of a certain ethnic background, so the Sonia Braga thing had come up,” Calleri says. “Michael Cristofer got involved [early on] and I think that was really helpful because he was really collaborative on the whole project with [de Paolis].” And rounding out the supporting cast are big Broadway names such as Carol Kane and Christine Ebersole.
Pictured: Allie Gallerani and Diane Guerrero in "Emoticon ;)" which opens May 30.