Ever heard of Leonor Greyl? Neither had I, until the company hired me to cast a media short. I did a little research, and the more I found out, the more excited I was to be a part of it. Leonor Greyl is a Paris-based popular line of hair products, and was one of the sponsors of the film The Artist, which I was rooting for to win the Oscar for Best Picture last year.
Production on the project was completed before the Oscars aired, and The Artist won 5 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. The concept was to be a representation of this film, and how Leonor Greyl’s products were used throughout.
I set about finding the two leads, who not only would have to bear a striking resemblance to the leads in the movie, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, but also be able to match the mannerisms of the 1930s silent film era as the entertainment industry transitioned to talking pictures. While I firmly believe a well-trained actor can easily adapt to any genre or style of acting, it is not easy to find such talent in Los Angeles for a commercial spec.
I asked the actors I was considering to look up the word dapper and Google Dujardin as he appears in The Artist, and see what they could put together from their closets. They were told to wear dress shoes, black pants, white dress shirt, and a bow tie if they had it. Wetting or slicking their hair back and penciling in a mustache were suggested as well.
Normally I would never suggest an actor try to dress the part they were auditioning for, but since this was so period specific, I thought it would help them create the character for themselves. Let’s face it, even a non-actor behaves differently when he/she is wearing a T-shirt and jeans versus a suit and tie.
I told the actresses to look up the word “flapper” and Google how Bejo was dressed in the film. I stressed that they should not go overboard in looking for a costume, but a dress allowing them to move easily, paired with some costume jewelry, would be a good idea.
I was very impressed with the outfits the actors showed up wearing. Well, for the most part. One actor entered the room wearing a full tuxedo paired with tan, unlaced work boots. He was very good, which made it easy to overlook his baffling choice of footwear. An actress showed up in fishnets and boy shorts with high heels. Perky as all hell, but couldn’t deliver the goods once we turned on the camera.
For the audition, I had each actor sit in a chair and flirt with a styrofoam head attached to a mic stand, then drift off to sleep. We would then change the music and, as if in a dream, the actor was to rise and waltz with the mic stand until we said, “Cut!”
As you probably know, The Artist is a silent film so this project had to be as well. There’s no dialogue for the audition. We just reiterated the premise to the actors, had them slate, played some dance music from that era, and encouraged them to have fun.
Some were brilliant, others not so much. I was surprised at how many men had no idea how to waltz, or how many thought grinding their pelvis against their partner was appropriate for the time period, but I coached them through it from behind the camera and we found our cast within 72 hours.
For those of you interested in the numbers: 486 actors submitted for 2 roles (112 for The Actor and 374 for The Actress). I auditioned 28 men and 19 women; 4 women and 6 men got callbacks.
On-camera featured bits were given to 2 women and 3 men who had auditioned but weren’t quite right for the leads. Our director, Mauro Borrelli, cast a few of his friends, and trusted me to round out the cast with actors I felt had the look and would be fun on set.
In an odd move, he asked me to play The Camera Operator. Since I had loved working with Mauro during the casting process, I accepted. Yes, that’s me below operating the vintage camera, an actual prop used in The Artist. You can see the finished piece on my Recent Projects page.