Wednesday 19 March 2014

My son Jude White (age 12) makes his acting Debut today in Law and Order

I am on the set of  Law and Order watching my 12-year-old-son rehearse a scene with a  crowd of crew and actors including Bradley Walsh and Ben Bailey-Smith who star as the two detectives. This is my son’s first paid job and I am his chaperone, earning a fifth of what he is. My flat fee for the morning is £95. The money has gone to his head and he’s offered to buy us a “mansion” when he grows up and gets to Hollywood.  I feel as though I am at his mercy and that he has a strange new power over me. He is the undisputed star, and me and his father are merely the facilitators – the ones who get him to castings, or help him learn lines. He is  an A-lister and we are nobody’s. When he goes to his agent’s Christmas Party, he is the one who is taken around and introduced to all the other performers (he is at the same agency as Eddie Izzard, Rowan Atkinson and Dylan Moran) while me or his Dad linger around on the sidelines hoping someone will talk to us.

We never aspired to have a child actor as a son. When he was nine some proactive parents persuaded Olly Murs, Davina Mccall, and Oritze from JLS to come and judge the school talent contest. Our son won first prize, with a satirical stand up comedy routine he wrote about his family. The laughs were at our expense of course.

The first prize was an acting agent and we were somewhat taken aback, horrified actually. We did not envisage our child being a professional actor. His days were already filled with schoolwork, football and piano. Jude was determined that acting was his new vocation, and harassed us for a year. We eventually gave in and went to visit our first prize and discovered that she wanted us to pay to have his photograph in Spotlight - a mere £95. We went home and did nothing. She did nothing either and so we parted ways. I was relieved. Perhaps that would be the end of it.

He continued to harangue us though. Every few weeks he would ask us if we had found him another agent; and I would answer that it’s hard to  ‘find an agent.’ They have to see you act in something. They need to love you, and want to work with you. I asked advice from a casting agent acquaintance and she tried to put me off by saying having a child actor in the family was problematic – all the auditions you have to take them to, schlepping across town in rush hour.  I relayed the information to my son, but he was more determined than ever.

When he eventually ended up at PBJ Management, his brand new agent sat down one afternoon and explained that there would be many reasons he may not win a part – it could be as minor as having the wrong colour hair, or that he didn't look enough like the “parents” who had already been cast. Luckily he’s small for his age as most casting agents want a boy who looks younger than his years. He’s been put up for parts that occasionally I’ve had to veto because the content of the script seems too alarming or dark (think sexual predators or murder most horrid). He recently auditioned for a lead part in an American action film that if he actually won, would been reallocating to New Zealand for six months filming. Whenever I ask, ‘what if he actually he gets the part? Because that would mean turning our life upside down, his agent always replies, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Law and Order was about his tenth audition. An actress on the set told me that an actor will get about one job in every thirty auditions. The competition is vicious. At the various castings I have met extremely dedicated parents. Fathers who home school their children, especially so that they can get them to the castings and have time to learn their scenes without the constraints of a school day; children who are at full time stage school and do extra dancing and acting at the weekends.

Scenes are sent home one or two days before an audition and children are expected to know about three off by heart. Castings are usually in central London, at the end of a long, busy day. We have twice been called to the BBC in Elstree, (The first time we went, we walked from the station two miles up the road to the wrong BBC studios). There is unlikely to be any feedback on the child’s performance, and if there is a call back the child will have to go again, and do the same scene again, only this time in front of the producer and director. Not every child would be able to deal with the rejection, but my son is fairly sanguine about it, and my feeling is that it is good preparation for the real world.

The day of the shoot for Law and Order he is treated like a Prince. He has a bedroom in the house, with an en-suite bathroom where he can chill out between scenes. There are snacks delivered to the room from the studios (about a mile away) when he is hungry.  He asks for several different snacks, which are driven over by a man whose job it is to drive us around. He collected us at 6.00 a.m  and explained that on TV productions such as this, it’s only the lead and child actors who are chauffeured to the set, everyone else travels on public transport and only the stars and my son (because he is a child) get an en-suite bathroom.  

When it comes to the actual scenes, I watch on a monitor in the kitchen. There is no sound, but he does look like a nervous, guilty boy, trying to defend his mother as he is supposed to while being questioned by the police. I see him mouthing the words on the screen. He appears to be on the verge of tears and he is doing exactly what is says in the script – twitching his hands. For a shy boy like my son who often feels he’s “shrinking away” at school because of is height, learning lines, auditioning in front of strangers and finally acting real scenes has given him an enormous boost of confidence and some welcome extra pocket money.  I am a convert and glad he enjoys is career but still wondering what will happen if we have to relocate to New Zealand.

Law and Order (episode 2) tonight at 9pm on ITV

Friday 14 March 2014

Review of Labor Day starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin

Labor Day, released in the UK on the 21st of March,  is a movie based on the novel by Joyce Maynard and reduced both me and my girlfriend to tears.  Directed by Jason Reitman, (the director of Juno, which I loved) It's the story of a doomed love affair between a convict (Josh Brolin as Frank Chambers) on the run, and a depressed, sensitive, quivering wreck of a single mother, Adele Wheeler played by Winslet. (We were both impressed that to convey the 'depressed mother,' Winslet appears at the beginning of the movie, with matted hair and scarcely any makeup).  It's set  In 1987, in rural America. Adele has been moping since her husband left her and lives with her 13-year-old son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith) who brings her coffee in the mornings and helps her put the car into gear when they leave the house - its what's known as a co-dependent relationship! While they are doing their monthly shopping trip (Adele is agrophobic) a bloody man approaches Henry and persuades or mildly forces him to introduce him to his mother and then he forces her to give him a lift. The man is revealed to be Frank Chambers, a convict who is wanted by the  police after jumping from the second floor of a hospital where he was sent to have his appendix out.

Bronlin first appears with a goatee, (which he apparently persuaded the producers he had to have to make him look more menacing) the point is though, that not once, did I think he was menacing or that he would do the mother and child any harm. He ties up Winslet, to look as though he's kidnapping her, but with pointedly suggestive shots of Winslet's ankle, as he's tying her, you know that he's already lusting after her, and they will inevitably fall in love.  The audience are given more and more signposts incase we don't get what's going on - a repetivtive ominous drum beat whenever we are meant to think that Frank could be re-caught and huge flashing signs about the burgeoning relationship between him and Winslet - close-ups of their sweaty bodies and a cliched scene of them all making a pie together, thrusting their hands together in a bowl of butter and flour.   My friend said it took her, "a very long time to engage with the characters and that she didn't believe they could fall in love so quickly."  I was taken in by their love affair though; Adele  had been alone for years, and needed the huge physical presence of a man like Bronlin who wanted to take care of her, to knock her out of her mood and there was also the fact that he had been wrongly imprisoned for years and without the love of a good woman.

Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Frank is a Vietnam veteran who returned home and married his pregnant girlfriend, Mandy (Maika Monroe), who soon gave birth. A year after the baby's birth, Frank and Mandy had a fight, where she unintentionally revealed that he isn't the baby's father. During the fight, he accidentally pushed her against a radiator, resulting in her death. Simultaneously, the baby drowned and Frank was sent to jail for Mandy's murder.

By the end of the film, I was hooked, really hoping that they would be able to  run away together and start a new life.  When that didn't happen, most of the people in the screening were crying and still crying when in the last few minutes when they are reunited many years later (I don't want to give too much away here, but perhaps I already have).  The performances from the three lead characters are excellent. We both wished their had been more scenes between Henry and his step-brother, very funny indeed, perfectly catching that awkward teen phase, when parents are SO annoying. I award 3 stars out of 5.

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