One of the challenges of casting a piece where you are trying to stay true to “real” people or historical figures is that you have a point of reference on their lives that you must abide by. Not only do you want to be true to their character, personality, background, etc. but you are forced to take into account their physical appearance. Obviously, if you did a film on President Obama, you couldn’t cast Tom Hanks or Harrison Ford to the play the president, regardless of how talented you think they are. You would need someone who resembles him in some way so as not to be forced to suspend disbelief so much so that it affects the integrity of the story.
Well, in Walt Before Mickey, we had this issue on more than one occasion. Not only did we have to match Walt (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Roy (Jon Heder) as brothers whom we’ve seen in pictures thousands of times but we also had to match Walt in three stages of his life. We had to get young male actors who could feasibly be him at 7 years old and at 13 years old. We also had to match other characters in the film to their real life counterparts. This all adds to the authenticity of the picture.
One of our most important things was making sure that Lillian Disney (Kate Katzman), Walt’s wife looked like the real Lillian. Well, our lovely leading lady, Kate, had the most beautiful “Blue” eyes and blonde hair which would not have worked. So, other than the obvious brown haired wig that we could use, we also had to use colored contacts for her and it completely changed her look. It also, by no surprise, was very uncomfortable for her to work with and changed her expression quite a bit.
I know that, sitting with her on set, she complained that it was totally different seeing through the colored contacts and it affected her quite a bit. In the end, she soldiered through and was able to stay true to the character. As an actor, it’s always quite a sight to be see yourself in pictures or on screen, looking totally unlike yourself. However, sometimes it can truly help to be able to not only create the character’s life internally and find their voice but also, with the help of costume, wigs, makeup and accessories transform yourself physically for a role.
Growing up in the acting world, my favorite actors were never the personality actors, the ones who looked and sounded the same in every role but I had much more appreciation for the character actors who weren’t afraid to completely embody another person’s looks forsaking their own good looks and comfort.
In the end, it’s just another piece of the story telling puzzle that adds validity, integrity and truth to the final product.
Don’t forget to come and see Khoa and I and the rest of the Walt Before Mickey family at the Skyway International Film Festival on June 12th-14th in Bradenton Florida; the first official screening of a Khoa Le and Frank Licari collaboration. Although it wasn’t our production and we weren’t the ones in control, it certainly became our baby and we hope to see you all there.