How do parents get excitable young boys, most of whom are too young to read, to memorize dialogue and sit for hours on a Saturday in a hot office Downtown? It's simple: ask them if they want to be movie stars.
That was what roughly 50 parents did yesterday at an open casting call to find a 5- or 6-year-old boy to star opposite Russell Crowe in a film shooting here late next month. Truth be told there was something in it for the parents too -- the chance, however remote, that they could turn the natural abilities of their boys to exaggerate, ham it up and try new things into cash and fame.
"We saw it as something interesting to do," Wexford's Steve Braksator said, noting his son has already tried hockey, drums and soccer. "And watermelon," his son Adam, 6, added.
"Ethan is already such a good actor whenever he wants to get toys or something," said Tricia Davis, a Mt. Lebanon attorney, of her 5-year-old. "We found a picture where he looked like Russell Crowe's oldest son Charlie, and we thought we should go down" to the audition.
"We thought we'd give it a shot," said another mother who asked not to be identified. "If we get this, maybe it pays for college."
"The Next Three Days" starts shooting Sept. 21, directed by Paul Haggis and starring Mr. Crowe as teacher whose wife is in prison for a murder she says she did not commit, and his efforts to free her. Casting directors are looking in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and New York for someone to play Mr. Crowe's son, who has an important role in the thriller.
The role presents special problems. Besides not being able to read, few children that young are skilled as actors. Those who are often live in L.A. or New York -- which is why there are auditions there -- but producers would rather have a child from Pittsburgh in order to save on travel, teaching and other expenses.
About 20 boys in the Pittsburgh region who have talent agents met with Pittsburgh-based casting agent Donna Belajac last weekend.
"It's like finding a needle in a haystack," said Ms. Belajac, who was reading the scenes with the most promising boys yesterday. "You're looking for kids who have it -- a natural ability to pretend and be in the moment and lack self-consciousness."
About 200 families responded to Ms. Belajac's original casting call, though more than half dropped out after being sent the movie scenes for memorizing. Some boys who did show yesterday had trouble with the dialogue -- which included talks with Mr. Crowe's character about a fight at school and another with the character's mother -- and were sent home before meeting the casting director.
Ms. Belajac and her staff taped each audition and sent them directly via the Internet to a casting agency in Los Angeles. She is not sure when, if ever, the boys interviewed yesterday will hear back on their decisions, but ultimately screen tests are planned alongside Mr. Crowe on the West Coast.
"You hope for a miracle," Ms. Belajac said.
Casting information for two other films being filmed in the Pittsburgh area this fall -- "Unstoppable" and "Love and Other Drugs" -- is available at the Pittsburgh Film Office Web site at http://www.pghfilm.org/
Tim McNulty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1581.