The first time I saw a film by director Mark Waters, it was the dreadful Freddie Prinze Jr. model drama, Head Over Heels, his second feature after The House of Yes, which was by Hollywood standards an independent production and one which I have since enjoyed. His second mainstream feature was Freaky Friday, an enjoyable remake of the classic Disney flick that was right on the mark with its strong casting of a much younger and scandal-free Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis. He followed up that effort with another Lohan feature, Mean Girls, which also introduced the world to the talents of Rachel McAdams.
I can't remember any other time that a director has done such an about face turn going from the dreaded "oh no, he has another movie" list to the curiosity of what he might tackle next so quickly. Although his last effort was the Reese Witherspoon movie Just Like Heaven that didn't match the two Lohan pictures in terms of overall enjoyability, it was still a decent little date movie and delivered more than its lackluster trailer promised. I guess it's true that given the right casting you can turn what might otherwise be an average movie into something magical. I recently had the chance to talk about the casting process with Mark as he joined me via phone from Los Angeles to discuss the casting call for his new film, The Spiderwick Chronicles.
Mark Waters: Howdy!
Mark McLeod: Hello Mark. How's it going?
MW: I'm good, how's your day going?
MM: Not bad.
MW: That's good. You're up in Vancouver?
MM: I am indeed.
MW: Very nice.
MM: It's kind of rainy but that's nothing new.
MW: It's actually raining here in L.A. for once, too. Just to be sympathetic for you guys.
MM: A couple of your more recent films, Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, were both tremendous hits primarily due to the casting of Lindsay Lohan, and in the case of Mean Girls a then-relatively-unknown Rachel McAdams. How important is casting to the success of a movie?
MW: It's certainly the biggest thing because you know they're what's on camera. That's what makes acting such an intense and challenging job, is that everyone else can work hard on a movie set but when the camera roles they all get quiet and the actors are kind of the ones responsible for bringing everything to life. So it's everything. I think Eli Kazan said if you have a great actor and director, then you've already done 80% of your job and you can kind of kick up your feet after that. There's definitely some truth to that. For Spiderwick in particular, the reason I'm talking to you is because we're heading into the big unknown of finding these identical twin brothers and you're just not going to find identical twins who have acting experience and are ages 9-11 that have the look and the quality that is necessary for this movie. So we figured let's just open it up wide and see everyone in North America and see who (are) the most charming and interesting twins out there.
MM: You are doing the big casting call, which you mentioned. How did you decide to take that route as opposed to looking just in the L.A./New York agencies?
MW: You figure the agencies that represent child actors may have 5 sets of identical twins in the whole industry and most of them probably already have bad acting habits from being in doublemint commercials.
MW: I know that kids are at that age range where they are naturally good actors, and I feel confident that if the kids themselves have kind of an interesting, funny dynamic between themselves and are smart and pick up things quickly, it's going to be much more interesting to teach them on the job. You'll get really natural, authentic work out of them that way. We set up the website spiderwickcasting.com and will get anyone who knows a twin or has a friend of a friend who has a twin and get them to put them on tape and send them into the website. If we like people, then we'll bring them to L.A. for more intensive auditions and they may just end up being the leads in a major motion picture franchise. It's kind of like, they were searching for Daniel Radcliffe for Harry Potter, we're looking for the American Harry Potter.
MM: But two of them.
MW: American or Canadian actually.
MM: I mean there aren't that many identical twins working that I can think of. I mean, you have the Olsen twins but that's about it.
MW: There's a few out there but there's nobody quite in our age range or perfect for what we're looking for.
MM: Now Hollywood seems in the middle of a magical children's story-type phase with the Potters, the Narnias, and even Paramount having Lemony Snicket. Was this a genre you were always looking to work in?
MW: Not really. One of my problems with the genre is that I never really felt any personal connection to all of that material. Like the other book series are things like British wizards or gothic orphans, which is something I just can't relate to. I can relate to sort of normal American kids who are thrust into a crazy adventure. That's the thing about this, it felt really modern and kids from 2007 that are thrown into this crazy magical world and have to deal with it and are not from a completely different culture or time already. Just the juxtaposition of that seems more interesting than anything I've seen before.
MM: Although you haven't even shot any footage and are still in pre-production, what can fans of the books expect from the films?
MW: We're really quite loyal to the books. Toni DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, the authors, have been really involved in the script process and will be in the casting process as well. We're taking the first five books in the series and the books are really quite small as they are only like 100 pages and with very wide spacing and are geared more towards a teen/pre-teen-type audience. So we're taking those and making it into one movie and we're pretty much sticking really closely to the storylines of the books, though we did excise a big chunk of one of the books that was a big subplot. I know that Tony and Holly are writing another trilogy on top of these five, which means the (people) we cast in the movie could most likely be in more movies down the line if it becomes a big franchise.
MM: Now lastly, did you read a lot of fantasy books as a kid?
MW: I've read "Lord of the Rings" from end to end and "The Hobbit" and all those things when I was a kid. I've read all the Harry Potters as well, but so has everyone else. I was given this book series since I had just finished making Mean Girls for Paramount and they also had the rights to this book, and I'm glad they gave them to me.
MM: Thanks for your time this morning, Mark. Best of luck with the casting process and I look forward to the finished film.
MW: You're welcome and thanks for getting the word out.
For more information on The Spiderwick Chronicles and to find out how you can submit your tape, visit www.spiderwickcasting.com.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.