Ten years ago my complex had a generation of kids roaming about what my wife refers to as our 'campgrounds'. These children split off into all sorts of different groups. I got to know a bunch of them.
There was one group I didn't get to know so well. Boys that were brothers and cousins to each other, all Latino. Having grown up in a lily-white conservative Massachusetts town, it was simply a new experience for this curious screenwriter.
The first time I said 'Hi' to this group -- that were all under 12 -- they presented to me their fierce street personas. They led me to believe they were either moments from joining a gang or already in one. Trust me -- I'm not being racist here -- their message was don't mess with us, dude. And so I didn't.
Ten years pass. These little guys grow into young men. They eased up on the street thing, but I noticed something surprising about one of these 'bad' boys: he's always dressed up like Brando or a... Latino James Dean.
Where most kids his age consider THE MATRIX an 'old' movie, this one kid is walking around doing fifty eight years ago. James Dean. FIFTY EIGHT YEARS AGO. That even predates me, and more and more that's getting trickier to pull off.
So when I sat down to write my first draft of iSpy, I had to dream up four modern teenagers. As this post explains, I was subconsciously kinda/sorta duplicating Hughe's famous Breakfast Club cast. When it came to creating a 'tough guy' teenager, this Latino James Dean kid jumped right into my head. Replicate him, that voice in my head instructed.
How hard would it be to find a young Latino actor in the vicinity of Hollywood? Harder than you might think. This newbie producer learned the hard way that the industry would much rather I cast an experienced 26 year old who could pretend to be 17. It's a funny thing, but on the planet I live on most kids in their late 20's can't pass as teenagers.
There's also another problem. Most boys who choose acting (I was one once) aren't James Dean types. We're more like Michael J. Fox types. (Yay -- that old reference is now new again!) We run sweeter than fiercer. That, by the by, is why people respond the way they do to the likes of James Dean. They don't come off like glossy stage musical GLEE types.
Since this kid who inspired Latino James Dean lives about 50 feet from me -- I wondered if I should knock on his door and see if he had ever acted in school. Or was an actor -- which might explain his look. It had been so long since I had spoken with him I didn't even recall his name. So I knocked on his door, he was out, I tried again a few days later --
-- and the young man answered the door. White teeshirt, cuffed jeans, greased hair... Latino James Dean. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Will. I explained I was producing a short film and all, but my experienced inner stage director knew he was a candidate. He didn't mumble. His voice was low and clear. He stood up straight. Like this --
Since Latino James Dean is a smaller part in my four page piece, the issue then became if he could deliver lines. He's never acted before. So I gave him a crash course in acting. Ninety minutes, to be exact.
I taught him to find a gesture which would help him 'feel' like his character, Will simply combing his hair. I told Will that Harrison Ford was once in construction too, and that although Harrison wanted in on acting it took him years on screen to actually get any good at it. I train Will to never look at the camera, something I tested by sticking my iPad in his face while delivering his lines. He laughed at first but got real used to it real fast. The kid's a natural...
I later learned that Will has dabbled in painting, poetry, and music. So instead of forcing something like acting upon a guy that doesn't want to be seen or heard, I'm only complimenting his repertoire in a logical fashion. I'm certain that once he performs his part, the complimenting will be coming from all sorts of people.
I presume his posse will tease him a bit, but hey, that's their job after all.