By Tahir Jetter | Shadow and Act April 1, 2014 at 12:44PM
Casting is arguably one of the most important components of the entire pre-production process. Normally, we would, of course, have had a casting director handle all of this, but considering our budget--we really just didn’t have the money.
In film school, professors would often encourage us to root through performer resumes on Mandy.com, Actors Access, Backstage and similar sites to find prospective cast members, but often times I've found that in most cases, the people with the most chops are the people that you've seen before...at least in something.
So while I did go use those websites to find performers, I already went into casting my featured roles with a list of at least 20-30 people that I wanted to see before even bringing in anyone from online listings. These were people that I'd seen personally in film festival shorts (which I totally recommend seeing) as well as television shows, and movies.
A brief aside -- in response to a previous comment:
Understandably, prefacing certain castings with the whole "yeah, there might be some nudity up in this piece" did scare away a good number of prospective actors, but you know what? I'm doing a show about stripping.
Know what I'm tired of seeing in short films and student films? “Bra sex." Nobody in real life fucks with the covers on, and yet, time and time again, we're subjected to seeing people-holding-garments-and-
Obviously, In most cases, in such films, these actors aren't getting paid anywhere near what they would want in terms of a wage that would justify some degree of nudity. A direct correlation between the amount of money paid and a willingness to remove clothing on-screen makes perfect sense. But ya know what? Bra sex looks fuckin' silly.
While casting, we saw anywhere from 20-30 people over a period of 2 weeks. Finding chemistry between performers was key, as was finding actors that we thought best epitomized the looks, attitudes and personalities that we were seeking to convey. HARD TIMES had 4 lead roles. We had a whole slew of actors come through and we saw a lot of great talent.
THE FINAL CAST
For DEREK, we needed somebody that was handsome in a kind of unassuming way--definitely tall, with strong features, and with a nice build that wasn’t already too cut up, but a nice build, nonetheless.
I’d gone to school with Abe Amkpa a few years back, and we always got along in a very bromantic kind of way. Although I’d always gotten the sense that I’d wanted to work with him, it wasn’t until I saw him in an HBOGo series called, The Boring Life Of Jacqueline, that I felt that he had the capacity for nuance and timing that would really make Hard Times pop. So after that, I felt that Abe was our guy.
For NIA, we wanted someone that could be both seductive and cunning, having all of the assurance of a woman who is slightly older than our lead while capturing a certain spirit of mischief that I think is typically common in younger characters.
I’d seen Bianca way back in a short film that Keith Davis did, called Men In Love, and I thought that she had the perfect look and disposition for what we were doing with Hard Times. She came in to read with Abe and I thought she was very strong. For me, she knocked it out of the park, so we went with Bianca Laverne Jones.
Finding LARK was a challenging process. I knew that she had to be “attractive,” but that, at the same time she also needed to have a certain tangible perspicacity, charm, intelligence, and wit that all came naturally and could serve as a complement to the sort of pigheaded mentality that I felt I wanted to push with our lead guy.
I’d known Ashley for quite some time—we’d gone to school together (briefly) and then ran into each other, again, when we were both working at the same gym, a few years back. She came in and read with Abe and their chemistry was way better than it was with anyone else that had read before her--like awesome. So I didn’t have any choice but to cast Ashley Denise Robinson.
Then, there was FELIX. Originally, “Felix “ was supposed to be Dominican. He had pretty much had an accent written in and was supposed to serve as this comedic foil to Derek’s silly straight-man angst. It was getting late in the game, and we couldn’t find anyone--I called every single Latino actor that I knew (a ham-handed, last-ditch effort), but it was too tough to find anyone available, at the time.
Then there was Vlad Versailles, one of the most fantastic people that we had auditioned. Vlad is naturally very vivacious and gregarious and he just blew us out of the water in the room. I asked him, “hey Vlad, can you do a Dominican accent?” He was like, “yeah, sure.” So I had Vlad do the accent and it wasn’t quite what I was thinking, so I was like…ok. Then, I thought, having recalled that I had seen Vlad in Side Effects, weeks before, doing a Haitian kreyol that (from what I could tell in my Yankee estimation of it) sounded pretty damn good, I said, “wait, you are from the other side of the island, anyway, aren’t ya? Can you just do your Hatian accent, again?” He said, “yeah.” And that’s how Vlad got cast as Felix.
[Images Designed by Charles Alexander.]