I arrived in Iowa late Wednesday night, and have spent the last two days from 10am -7pm seeing local actors. Production placed ads in the local newspapers, the director has done interviews on radio and TV inviting kids to come audition, and my assistant, Ben Easter (more on him later), even went to the Iowa County Fair and handed out flyers headed with the title "Want to be in a movie?"
We were all so worried that no one would come to the casting call. Ha! On our first day people were lined up around the block! We couldn't keep up with them. It was completely overwhelming. If it wasn't for Ben and Production Assistant Melinda Burns, I would have spent the day cowering in my hotel room crying
On day one of casting, kids (with their parents) arrived as early as 6:30am to be first in line for our 10am start. We were behind even before we started the day.
Then we had to walk along the line of people and decide who would be pulled into my office to read lines. I have to confess, I just didn't have the stomach for this. I couldn't walk down that line and say "you" "you" "you", passing over some hopeful eight-year-old and his eager mother. I am a coward. I made Ben do it.
In the room reading, the kids were all sweet and of course somewhat nervous. I definitely found some talented kids who will be reading for the director this weekend.
There were a few chilling moments--examples of overly ambitious parenting. A young girl of maybe thirteen read, her reading was good, but she had braces on her teeth. I told her gently that because of the setting of the film, we couldn't use any kids with braces (there is no "Orthodontist of the Corn"), I wanted her to know that it wasn't that she did a bad reading--it was a "look" thing. Ben told me that her mother pulled him aside after the audition and said forcefully :"I want you to know that I will have her braces taken off. This is THAT important!" Ben was stunned. Having a small part in our little TV Movie is so important that she would put her child's well-being second? I am worried about the message this young girl is getting about the priorities of her life.
I was a child actor, I started at age six, and I definitely had some emotional fall-out from spending my formative years in the competitive world of show biz. The sets were great, it was the auditioning. Whether or not she gets the job, I think it is dangerous for a child to be in a situation where they will be "picked" or "not picked". I had enough trauma in the schoolyard when the "captains" picked teams for the softball games. Being hopelessly afraid of the ball, I was always picked last. (Don't even get me started about Dodge Ball--having bright red hair, there I was picked first!) Now imagine an almost weekly situation where I was led into a room full of adults and asked to "perform", and then waiting for the phone to ring to hear if I got the job.
For many years, I wouldn't teach acting to kids. I felt that they should be sheltered from this kind of life. But around a year ago I started giving private lessons to a little girl named Madeline Stauffer. When her mother contacted me we had a chat and I realized that she was a completely supportive and caring parent. She explained that Madeline was driven to become an actor and she wanted to give her the support to explore her dreams. Madeline gets great grades at school and has plenty of other extra-curricular activities so I know she is having the full "childhood" experience. And she approaches her work with me with absolute dedication and seriousness. While I know she has dreams of being the next Miley Cyrus, she also has a deep love of the craft, she wants to be a great actor. It is my pleasure to help her towards this goal.
If it wasn't for Madeline I don't think I would have been able to do this job of casting "Children of the Corn". She has helped me to understand that acting can be a wonderful enhancement to a child's life. I love meeting each child who comes in to read. I feel like I have a chance to make them feel safe and accepted, and in this way it is a kind of healing for me. I get to give the kind of audition experience I would have liked to have had when I was a little girl.
OK. More soon. I am off to another day of Iowa casting! Until then, enjoy this clip of me in my first acting job. A "Kool-aid" commercial. I'm six. I'm the one with the curly hair.