Casting Call Gives Hundreds Bit Of Hollywood Hope, Hype
Her big break came in exactly the dreamy, luck-of-the-moment way Hollywood promises.
Tammy Smith was working in theater in upstate New York eight years ago when she got a shot at interning for a big-time casting director - Bill Dance - on the movie, “Billy Bathgate.”
“Boom, I was an assistant,” says the gregarious, fast-talking, hand-waving, caffeine-addicted Smith.
Boom, she was lead casting director for Dance.
Boom, she struck out on her own, two years ago, at age 27.
Now one of Hollywood’s youngest casting directors, she was in Coeur d’Alene mesmerizing hundreds of hopefuls Sunday with the prospect of getting even the back of their heads in a crowd scene in a film called “Dante’s Peak.”
Smith’s job is to come up with as many as 2,000 folks to give a “real people” feel to the mythical town of the same name being superimposed over Wallace. Filming is to run from June to August for the $100 million Universal Studios picture.
Smith and her staff will spend long days sorting through photos and biographies, talking to the director, deciding who will make the best festival scene, who will flee the disaster convincingly, who will eat lunch at the local cafe as if they are part of the fabric of a town of 2,000 people.
Fresh off “Heat,” “Waterworld,” and “Men in Black,” Smith says it’s a monumental task to sort out thousands of pictures and people to come up with the right mix.
It’s what makes her tick. “I’m gathering food,” she says of the casting call. “I’ll cook later.”
In a hall outside a Coeur d’Alene Inn auditorium, the hopefuls wait to hear Smith’s pitch. Five-year-old Haley Owen plays Go Fish with his mother, Colleen, a Spokane paralegal who will “do whatever they will let me do.”
“Of course, it would be nice to have a couple of lines,” Colleen Owen says. Her son only shakes his head when asked about his dream part. He’s busy with his card game.
Leo J. McGavick, who splits his life between Hayden, Idaho, and Anchorage, Alaska, is prepared with photographs glued to a sheet of paper that detail all of the different clothes he has to offer.
“I’m from the Alaska State Defense Force so I probably could put my uniform on as a lieutenant colonel or drive my Mercedes-Benz through town. Or my four-wheel-drive - they need cars,” McGavick says.
One auditorium-full at a time, Smith tells the stars of tomorrow what they need to know. First the plot:
Pierce Brosnan brings his James Bondish aura to Dante’s Peak as a scientist checking out a ready-to-blow volcano. An as-yet-unnamed female lead, conveniently a single mother of two, undoubtedly attractive, is mayor of Dante’s Peak.
“I don’t even have a name to leak you,” Smith tells her latest group of nervous recruits, all as attentive as attendees of a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon. “It’s not Sharon Stone.
“Ok, it’s me. They’ve just written in a love scene and …” The crowd relaxes.
After Brosnan figures out a longdormant volcano is about to Mount St. Helens-ize the town, he tries to convince the mayor to convince the townspeople to evacuate.
A town meeting is called in the school auditorium. Here, North Idaho’s reputation should be perfect.
“It’s a very small community, very set in its ways. Why should they believe this guy who’s not from there?” Smith says.
Enter an earthquake. Mass panic erupts, along with a volcano. People fight to get out of town across the single bridge.
Cut to Brosnan and unnamed beautiful mayor, headed up the mountain with her children to rescue the mayor’s grandmother. The outcome? “You will know a lot about the movie, but you won’t know the ending,” Smith says. “It’s suspenseful.”
With this teaser, Smith takes session after session of movie hopefuls through the details of applying. It’s like an hour of comic relief.
Fill out the card - blue for men, pink for women - that asks for everything from your inseam size to your automobile’s color, from your Social Security number to your pets.
“You get paid a little extra bump for bringing Fifi along” if the canine is appropriate for casting, Smith explains to the possible extras. But no cats or snakes, she advises. “I don’t like them.”
“Age: Ladies, real age; men, too. Height and weight: weight you are today, not weight you think you are going to be able to lose by June 1,” Smith says, rolling down the list.
“Bust - guys, keep your eyes straight ahead. Photo - an accurate photo, not you 20 years ago.”
The days will be long - dawn to dusk generally - and the pay about $75 maximum.
Those successful in landing parts as extras will get a telephone call, probably in several weeks.
Interns from Cheryl-Ann Rossi’s local Theatre for Youth are guaranteed parts as extras for helping with the madness of photographing, filing and directing the crowd on hand Sunday. Some may land production assistant jobs.
Rossi - with acting credits ranging from “All My Children” to “A Chorus Line” - lined up the work for her students when the Idaho Film Commission called. “This is an experience for them so they can un-glamorize it,” Rossi says.
“As an extra, you sit for 12 hours and shoot for 10 minutes.”
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