Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang casting notes

Unlike the child characters in the first film who worked together as a team against their father and their nannies, the children in “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang” are adversaries from the moment they meet. “There were only five children this time around rather than seven,” says Lindsay Doran, “and that made it easier to give each of them a distinctive personality as well as a distinctive role in the story. But because each one is so different, even within their respective families, it made casting more of a challenge.”
Director Susanna White saw Asa Butterfield for the first time in Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and was astonished by his screen presence. “It is not only that the camera loves Asa’s face, but there is an incredible sensitivity behind those amazing eyes. He is capable of great emotional truthfulness. And he also had the great advantage of really looking like Maggie Gyllenhaal.” Adds Emma Thompson: “Asa is perfect for Norman who is, in this story, the quintessential hero. He and his mother are the two heads of the household and are struggling together to make sure the rest of the family doesn’t go down. Asa is straightforward and emotionally very powerful which is crucial since Norman (which is my Dad’s middle name) has to carry the emotional centre of the film.”
Lil Woods plays Megsie, the tomboy of the Green family. Says White, “Lil is the genuine article - a girl who lives in the countryside and actually has pet pigs [named Itchy and Scratchy]. She has a lovely openness about her and a natural sense of justice, a sense of right and wrong.” Adds Thompson: “As soon as Lil walked in, I said ‘Now there's a girl who looks like she lives on a farm.’ This was because Lil actually does live on a farm. Outdoor face, freckles, open features, she looked like fresh air. In fact, no-one else came close because the urban dweller really does have an entirely different atmosphere.”
Oscar Steer plays the youngest Green child, Vincent. “We had to cast Oscar as he was totally yummy,” remembers White. “I wanted a boy who was still young enough to live in a world of his imagination - playing pirates or living out a fantasy world. The external expression of that imaginative inner life is his explorer’s helmet. I had borrowed one from the costume department for a filming project my daughter had at school and it was sitting on the side, waiting to be returned, when Jacqueline suggested putting it on Vincent. That helmet tells you everything you need to know about Vincent’s adventurous spirit.” Adds Thompson: “The lines I had written for Vincent were for a child who is still very young but just on the cusp of understanding sentences with sub-clauses. It was the combination of that understanding and Oscar’s extraordinarily mobile face, immensely impressive in one so young, that made us all shriek "He's the one!" as soon as he'd left the audition room. Also, I have never known a child so able to make realistic NOISES - like sad noises and whiney noises and happy noises - without sounding actory.”

Thompson feared that in creating the part of Cyril, she had written a character who was impossible for a child to play: “For a long time I thought, ‘We’re never going to find someone funny enough to play Cyril.’ I’d written a sort of lounge lizard part for a child - it was never going to happen. So it was miraculous that we found Eros Vlahos.” Doran remembers watching Eros’s audition tape: “[Child casting director] Pippa Hall asked Eros to perform an improvisation about a haughty child who’d been sent away from home and was now begging his parents to bring him back. His improv was hilarious, and we later learned that he had been doing stand-up comedy from the age of eight. We could all see immediately that he knew how to play a dreadfully spoilt child. Our one concern was, could he be likeable? When Eros auditioned in person and performed some of the script’s more serious scenes, he was terribly moving, so casting him became an easy decision.” Adds White, “What was also impressive about Eros was seeing him develop as an actor over the course of the shoot. His background was more in comedy than in acting, but he was very quick to learn from the great actors around. He paid attention and learned something from them all.”
White remembers that the role of Celia took the longest to cast: “We looked and looked and couldn’t find the right Celia. We needed a girl who had an aura of class about her and who was capable of going on a big emotional journey. Then one day I was doing open auditions with Pippa Hall in a church hall near the British Museum. As soon as I put the video camera on Rosie Taylor-Ritson I knew we had found someone very special. She looked absolutely beautiful on screen, combined with great ability as an actress. And there was something period about her face - her looks were classic rather than modern.” Adds Thompson, “Rosie walked in and was so peach-like and delicate everyone immediately leapt to their feet in order to prevent her from getting bruised. In actual fact, she is incredibly un-bruisable and brave but just looks as though she has been carefully brought on in a hot-house with the other soft fruits. She had ballet training, of course, and held herself like Margot Fonteyn at all performances.”
Comments Rhys Ifans who plays Uncle Phil: “I have to disagree with that old adage of don’t work with children and animals as the children in this film were just a joy to be with. I’ve worked with kids several times and it’s always a very fulfilling and joyous experience. They don’t have the hang-ups of grown-up actors.”

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely article! I assisted on part of the casting for this (mainly sending out rejection letters...) but a wonderful read. Thank you for posting :)

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