Friday, December 3, 2010

Casting Toast

Screenterrier reported on the casting of Freddie Highmore as the teenage Nigel Slater in the BBC's adaptation of the food writer and cook Nigel Slater's memoir Toast. And also the casting of Oscar Kennedy (now represented by Curtis Brown) as the younger Nigel.

Finding both a younger Nigel and an older Nigel to represent the two areas of Slater's youth that are covered in the film was not an easy task, according to the director SJ Clarkson.

"We were looking for someone who carried the spirit of Nigel," says Clarkson. "It's always difficult casting child actors because we wanted to find someone fresh who hadn't done much before. Our brilliant casting director Rachel Freck and I both wanted to find a boy who captured the spirit of Nigel, who had that naivety and innocence."

Oscar Kennedy, a young aspiring actor from Nottinghamshire, came to the audition with very little acting experience. He had been training at the Nottingham Workshop, a forum for young actors, when he received a call from the production to come to auditions.

"Oscar has a rare and wonderful quality of innocence and wisdom running parallel, which was perfect because I think that's who Nigel was. Oscar had a great understanding of what was going on around him but yet he was this little lost boy," Clarkson remembers.

"He was initially quite quiet – he just sat there. He had long and cool, skater-boy hair and we asked him to clip it back, which he hated. I think we brought him back into the room 10 times that day to work with different children and to see how he compared with the others. It's such a big ask for a child who's never really done anything like that before but I believed in him enough to take that risk. He still has the innocence but is also wise with it. I could talk to him like a grown up."

Freddie Highmore is no stranger to working as a young actor in major films. The star of Tim Burton's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Luc Besson's Arthur and the Incredibles and Marc Forster's Finding Neverland, Highmore is sensitive to the requirements needed to work among a busy crew and deliver on request any emotions needed to convey Nigel's journey from young boy to young man.

"Freddie is just fantastic," says Clarkson smiling, confident in the knowledge that he has been able to fill Nigel's shoes. "I don't think I've worked with a more technically brilliant actor. I remember there were a few scenes with a lemon meringue pie where he would have to slightly waft it past camera or Mrs Potter and lift it up and bring it perfectly into frame and he just could do it in one take. It was extraordinary. As an actor, I think he's always flawless in whatever he does. To be able to make those looks to camera and get them just right is hard. I think we really lucked out with Freddie."

"Thank goodness he said 'yes' to playing the older Nigel," says producer Faye Ward. "It was so hard to find a match – to find two boys who are both great actors and who encapsulate the real person. When we met Freddie he had quite long hair, actually quite like Nigel's now, which we completely chopped off to match the Nigel of 1970. But he also brought a physicality that really lent itself to Nigel's character. Freddie is a true film star, he offers those extra unrehearsed moments that give true life to a character and light up a scene."

Toast will screen on Thursday 30 December 9.00-10.30pm on BBC One.

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